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stuck between Kor and Amer

12 Dec

Recently, Macklemore’s song “Vipassana”, the tune and lyrics, has been rocking my mind. My thoughts danced to the tune and flow. Years of academics tell me I need to run them through dry outlines, revisions and double-checking and also I should OD on being OCD when I have these thoughts to muse: run them through the rat maze until their juices dry up into wrinkly, unpublished drafts.

And it does suck having an obsessive compulsive order when it comes to locks and digits. I circle around double-check my car doors and windows like an awkward merry-go-round. Also checking and re-checking that the numbers on my timesheet and paperwork are correct. Math used to be a childhood favorite but now at times fill me with dread.

I was with my mom yesterday in the store that sells glasses and the Korean owner was quick to comment on my fumbling mother tongue. I couldn’t but to feel self-conscious as a K-A – proud of my spicy fermented cabbage roots and my red-white-and-blue upbringing – but instead my identity has gone MIA.

Shot down by ethnocentric critics and self-doubt, it’s hard to reconcile my golden yellow skin and the cream filling inside.

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on being korean american

22 May

I saw the Wrath of the Titans at the La Mirada Dollar Theater a few days ago, and the quote in the movie that struck me was when Zeus told demigod Perseus that “being half-human makes you stronger than a god.”

No, this post has nothing to do with some argument about religion.

*

I’m Asian-American (Korean-American in particular), and there were times when I wished that I was either American (i.e. Caucasian) or Korean. I often have felt inferior for not looking “white bread” enough while not being able to speak Korean well enough, which in a way makes me a Twinkie, yellow on the outside but white inside. Never felt like I belonged fully as a Korean or an American. Like I was some mutant.

I even remember when I was a toddler that I insisted to my father that I was “American Korean” because I was born an American. How cute, or acute, or both.

To make matters more complicated, Asian culture is group-oriented while American culture is individual-oriented. Then I find myself contemplating deeply: when is it appropriate to identify myself with a group and when to identify myself as myself, an individual?

So going back to the movie quote, I understand why it is more powerful to be a hybrid (e.g. demigod) than a whole (e.g. god with lower case g). To understand when to embrace my Asian and American selves, and to make the best from these two identities.

In the film Big Dreams, Little Tokyo, Jerome, a Japanese American, struggles with being bicultural, and he overcompensates his Asian self by training to be a sumo wrestler, but at the same time, he shows no interest in learning to speak Japanese. It is at the end of the film that Jerome learns about his identity: an Asian American is a bridge between two cultures.

To be only an American or Asian only limits a person to one experience, but to be both American and Asian allows him to be immersed in two worlds at the same time, like the intersected space found in a Venn diagram. It is a strange paradox to be both the minority and majority, the immigrant and the resident. While I was born a U.S. citizen, I could sense some people assuming that I might have been born elsewhere by my eyes or my incorrect usage of verb tenses found in my college papers.

As a Korean American, it is my responsibility to not neglect one of my cultural identities in favor of the other, but rather to apply them when necessary.

As a Korean, I am thankful for my elders and cultural traditions because I have learned the importance of respecting authority and rules for the greater good of the community, but as an American, I must challenge them when I find something to be incorrect or outdated. Not to do so in a reactionary matter in the form of bigoted banners and signposts, but rather in thoughtful discourse and thought-provoking artwork.

As an American, I appreciate the diversity of ideas and narratives ranging from blogs and tweets to the bestsellers and blockbusters because I value the importance of being able to express one’s opinions and identity freely, but as a Korean, I must challenge them when I find them to be unnecessarily risqué or inappropriate that can become harmful to the community in the future. To do so in a way that allows me to voice my opinion clearly regardless of the popularity or opposition it may bring.

Both of these goals aspire to get people thinking about the matter at hand and not to appeal only to their feelings.

Of course, I admit what has been written is a tall order to myself and to those who share a similar background or sentiment. I do also admit that it may seem like I am breaking my own rules, but what one idea offends one person may enlighten another. It is impossible to please everyone without compromising your good conscience.

I am human and prone to my shortcomings, but I hope in spite of my weakness, I could contribute something worthwhile.