Hello, APC! I’m Emily, a Korean-American, junior in high school, and Maryland resident. Firstly, I want to share that I had the amazing experience of attending a diversity conference, the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), for two consecutive years. There we were split up into smaller affinity groups, mine being the East-Asian group. Secondly, I’d like to share with you all a short reflection piece of my racial identity I wrote after my experiences:
“How could you be considered a Person of Color? You’re way lighter than white people anyways.”
“Okay, but where are you really from? China? Japan?
“How can you call yourself Korean if you can’t even speak your own language!”
“Emily, you’re not really American, though. You speak Korean with your grandparents.”
The amount of identity crisis and struggle I’ve experienced with my race has been a rollercoaster of experience and emotion. In middle school, I would never be caught openly identifying myself as Korean, or even Asian for that matter; it’s just another reason for me to be different, isn’t it? The eurocentric beauty standards that were pressed upon me since I was young were the catalysts for the self-deprecation and misidentification I had forced upon myself. I didn’t want to be Asian. But, I couldn’t call myself American, I don’t look like the other “American” kids. This was when I was branded with the term “white-washed;” I was told I couldn’t call myself Korean because of my blonde-dyed hair, the language I spoke at home, and the fact that a majority of my friends were of European, white heritage. Yet, I couldn’t call myself American because I had spoken Korean to my grandmother that one time she came to pick me up from school. No one had ever defined to me what being Korean or being American meant. It seemed I could only be one or the other, not both – that’s impossible! So, then, what was the right answer? Am I Korean, or am I American? What I thought could answer that question was my parents: both immigrants from Seoul, South Korea, my parents had actually grown up in Maryland. They attended PWI schools and had also seemed to lose their cultural touch with their ethnic heritage. This was the difference. When I thought I could finally identify myself, I found other kids my age; their parents were also immigrants, except they were born and raised in Korea; they spoke fluent Korean to their kids, and their kids spoke the language back. They attended Korean churches on Sundays and wore hanboks on special occasions. This was entirely different from my immigrant parents: we went to the local church on Sundays, I wore jeans and a sweater on New Year’s Day, and my parents spoke English and broken Korean when they wanted to order something at the Korean BBQ joint down the road. Why couldn’t I be like the other Korean kids?
It wasn’t until highschool when I finally opened up about my racial identity. I met Asian kids who lived lives similar to mine. I was introduced to stories of identity struggle that seemed so similar I thought they had come from my mouth. I learned I wasn’t alone. I learned that there are no solid definitions for being Korean or American – it’s what you define them as. No matter how
“American,” or, “Asian,” you may be, it does not determine whether you must identify as one or another. It’s how you see yourself, how you identify as. No one else can define you.
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