I just had one of the most excruciatingly awkward and difficult conversations of my life, but it perfectly encapsulated my childhood.
Little me struggling to explain why I felt uncomfortable going over to my White friends’ homes. Or how much I desired to bring packed lunches that looked and smelled just like everybody else’s. Why my mom never came to parent-teacher nights. Why I resented my friends whose parents worked white-collar jobs. Why my biggest wish was for my mom to volunteer as a chaperone for a field trip. Why I visibly cringed when my mom spoke Korean in a public setting. Why I hated it when people asked me about what it’s like to be Korean. Why I didn’t understand the comparison of the US as a melting pot when it felt more like a colander, straining the mess to capture the desirables.
How can I put my life into comprehensible words and sentences so you can feel my pain too? How do I reduce myself to the farthest extents without becoming a stereotype? How can I ease your understanding of me? How can I make your life comfortable?
By changing my name so you don’t butcher the name that my parents gifted me with. By ignoring your micro-aggressions about my race , nationality, and class. By packing lunches of ham and cheese sandwiches, potato chips, and fruit even though the taste was incomparable to Korean food and the cost was definitely not worth it. By saying “I understand. No you’re good” when people stumbled over their words when addressing my identity. By fighting with my mom to be more “American” and speak English so random assholes as the mall or grocery store wouldn’t shout “Ching Chong Chang” at us as they passed. By excusing your ignorance.
I can write an entire memoir but you still wouldn’t understand and that frustrates me because I wish you could. I wish you wouldn’t see me as this angry Asian woman but as a fed up American who feels marginalized from her own damn birth country. Who sees the hyphen in between Korean-American and asks, “Why does such a thing exist? Why can’t I be just an American? Why do I have a hyphen and you don’t?”
How can I explain to you that speaking another language isn’t simply “cool”? No it is damn ridiculous because I cannot embrace either culture without hearing criticism from either end. I cannot love both my Korean and American self. If I try then I isolate myself from both groups. I end up seeking refuge with other hyphenated individuals.
I am an American who is ashamed of her fellow countrymen and women who view her as an other.
I am a Korean who is ashamed of her fellow countrymen and women who view her as an other.
I am not the other, the undesirable, the child of the same people that legislators and half of this country is trying to keep out. I am not the reason why this country is going down the drain. I am the reason why this country will become the great power it once was. The country that drew millions to its cities. The country that literally brought forth the greatest inventions of this century. The country that inspired so many men and women to go off and defend what we’ve accomplished so far. The country that began it all.
I and hundreds of other Americans who live on the margins will change the future because we refuse to accept present conditions that are geared towards keeping us in our positions– on the edges and at the bottom.
I cannot take pride in a country that does not take pride in me.