It’s been a while, but I had a few things on my mind. So in 2014 words, I’ve decided to write out those things. If you make it to the bottom, you’re a trooper.
Thanks for reading.
It’s natural to want to embrace your heritage and be proud of it. I love nothing more than seeing people from different parts of the world embrace each other’s differences through finding similarities. Nothing makes me happier. It’s how some people stay stuck in their culture and refuse to see outside their own windows that irritate me.
Although I know there are several nationalities that would rather keep to themselves, there’s one in particular that I’ve seen that takes it to another level. And that’s Koreans.
Before anyone freaks out and jumps down my throat, I’ll have you know that I, myself am Korean. So, you can throw the gauntlets at me and burn me at the stake if you have to. The thing is I actually love my culture. I love where I come from, who I am and I’m proud of my heritage. However, somewhere along the lines between the World Cup, Gangnam Style, the rise of K-pop and all the fashion stores that now have infiltrated the American market (Forever 21, Skillz, Against All Odds, Southpole… to name a few), we’ve grown this sense of entitlement that we’re a superior race and to associate with anyone outside of it is beneath us… and that shit needs to stop.
Thanks to Psy’s pop/electric dance hit reaching a number on YouTube that no one knew could be reached, Korea’s now starting to pique interest in other, non-Korean households more often now than ever before. Ironically, not only has K-pop been around since before I was pubescent, Korea’s been funneling tangible goods to the world’s consumers for years. It’s only been in recent years that anyone’s cared to actually realize the differences between Korean, Japanese or Chinese products. In fact, I’m pretty sure half of the readers now still don’t know or care to delineate those differences.
My point is, now that it’s seemingly socially viable for Asians to come out of their hiding and pronounce themselves in mainstream American society and not be automatically pegged as “nerds” or “shy” or “quiet,” we’ve gone the extreme opposite. And it’s not cute.
I’m all for being loud and proud about my country and reppin’ my flag, but I guess with years of oppression and being tirelessly teased in grade school, some of us have taken a different approach to the social world. And that approach is to be complete douchebags to anyone who’s not Asian. And even then, if not Korean, there’s a certain series of “inner-Asian social tests” that are conducted for non-Koreans to be accepted into the elite.
I want to be perfectly clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being confident in your country and wanting to represent it with clout, but I think that message gets muddled when there’s lack of communication. What do I mean by that? I mean quite literally, there is no communication from the Korean community outward. Everything stays internally. Business, families, dating, religion, social events… if its run by Koreans, they’re all closed off to only Koreans. Granted, there’s no actual red tape barring non-Koreans from entering—just a lot of mean mugs and awkward glances to give the outsider a loud enough hint that they’re not welcome.
I don’t get it. Why does this happen? What is so exclusive about our culture that others aren’t allowed to embrace it? And another thing, why are we so quick to boot out our own when they don’t conform to “the way we are”?
Like most Koreans, and most Asians, I was teased for a good amount of my younger years. All throughout elementary school, my nickname was “flat face” and I have the yearbook signatures to prove it: “Hey, flat face! Hope you have a great summer!” Like it was nothing. Like it was a term of endearment. But on TOP of that, as if that wasn’t enough coming from non-Asian races, I was ALSO teased from my OWN race because I didn’t have an accent. Yeah. Let me repeat that, I was teased because I didn’t have an accent. I was “too” Americanized. Seriously? There’s such thing? It wasn’t even like I couldn’t speak my native language, because I can. Fluently. It was because I didn’t assimilate so closely to the social expectations of Korean-Americans that I guess I didn’t fit in well. I didn’t know who the coolest K-pop stars were and I didn’t watch any of the millions of variety shows. I didn’t have the cute key-chains on my phone, my notebook wasn’t littered with sticker pictures and I didn’t know the cutesy Korean slang. I hung out with American people, I did American sports, had American hobbies and dated American guys. I guess this wasn’t “cool.”
I was strayed by both sides and was left to my own devices a lot of the times because if I went one way, I was the token Asian friend and couldn’t hang out without being blatantly reminded of my race, and if I went the other way, I was being snickered at because my Korean accent wasn’t Korean enough.
Hardly 15 years ago, when someone heard the word “Asian” they immediately thought a petite, quiet book nerd who was smart in math. If someone heard the word “Korean” they wouldn’t even know what that was. Now, we jump a few years into the future and it’s “cool” to eat sushi, listen to K-pop and it’s a note of pride if you’ve found the best Korean BBQ spot in town. Asian women have gotten to a point where they’re exploiting the fact that they’re sexualized and looked at like exotic beauties. Break dancers everywhere are re-watching YouTube videos from previous world dance competitions because Koreans have taken the title for years.
Now, the tables haven’t exactly turned, it’s like they’ve been flipped upside down. Everyone wants to get to know what I’m about. Or not me, I should say, but my race. They want to know the best spots to eat, the best music to download, the newest technology and where to get it… they want to jump on the swag that we’ve been able to create after years of being teased and laughed at. I get it; we’ve come up from a struggle of not being taken seriously or being remarked for being too intense in our studies or our work ethic. But now, with the fact that we have the world listening to us, what are we doing with it?
We’re showing them that we like bubble tea, we hang out in hoards, we don’t date out of our race because our parents will destroy us and we go to church.
In the media, who do we have representing us right now? An annoying girl who has identity problems on a singing show, an angry naked guy that pops out of car trunks and a stoner who rides cheetahs and hangs out with Neil Patrick Harris. Okay, the last one is kinda awesome, but still. We’re still not being taken seriously and we actually have enough attention now where we could be.
We’re intelligent, we’re witty, we know how to have a good time and still show up to work on time, we have ridiculous GPAs and even more ridiculous drinking games… but we still don’t have a concrete identity in American society. It’s slowly being acknowledged that the media is incredibly white-washed (notice I say “acknowledge,” it’s been this way forever, but now people are actually starting to realize it), and I think the Mindy Project helped viewers see that there really aren’t a lot of roles where an Asian (or South Asian, at least here) has a principal role. It needs to keep going in this direction where more and more of us can get out of the back seat and start taking the front… but it starts with broadening our network.
I’ve worked in prestigious offices that have wanted to do business with Korean clientele but couldn’t get in because they themselves weren’t Korean. I’ve worked in Korean businesses where they’re hesitant to do business with Americans because of either lack of confidence in their language abilities or because of distrust in doing business with a culture outside their own. If we can bring the world (and I mean, literally, the world) to their feet on a dance number that wasn’t even intended to do that, imagine what else we could do if we could learn to communicate outside of our comfort zone?
I want to see open minds and open hearts. I want to see a culture that has discovered advancement in technology, music, dance, food and fashion to show the world that they can do all of that and also embrace other cultures.
This isn’t going to happen if you keep hanging out in groups of twenty of your own kind and give dirty looks to the multiracial couple. This isn’t going to happen if you keep swearing up and down that you’re the best and you don’t need to learn from anyone else. This isn’t going to happen if you keep arguing with your parents who are from another time when you don’t have the courage to just do what you actually want to do without freaking out about them cutting you off. This isn’t going to happen if you keep letting your “culture” make your decisions for you and you use that as a crutch to stay in the confines you’ve gotten so familiar with. Branch out. Make a friend that doesn’t know what your culture is about. Make two. Get out of your comfort zone and stop shunning what you don’t know, because you don’t know a lot. Not until you go out there and learn it.
And in the process, stop attacking people like me.
Stop giving me dirty looks when I go out with my American husband. Stop calling me a traitor. Stop telling me I’m “ashamed” of my race and that I turned my back on you. I never left. You, as an entire community made it clear I wasn’t welcome in that circle anymore. You, waitress at the Korean restaurant who stares my husband down as I order our food in the only language you understand because you didn’t bother learning the one that everyone else speaks here because you have enough people of your own kind around you that you don’t have to—YOU made it clear to me that I made the wrong choice. That instead of going after someone that loves and respects me, to go after the one that my parents approve. The one that has a good job and drives a good car. The one that could be a complete jerk and treats me terribly, but buys my pain away so it makes it okay. Because all that matters is status and how we appear, not what goes on inside. You’ve made it clear where my priorities got messed up when you cut your eyes at me, throw my order on the table and speak to me in broken English even when I approached you in our native language to let me know that you don’t associate me as a fellow Korean, but as an outsider. You. You’ve made it clear where I stand in your presence.
So don’t tell me that this doesn’t exist. That this prejudice, this ethnocentrism, this closed-off entitlement isn’t real and isn’t shown every day to others like me who’ve gone after their hearts and didn’t stop when they reached their cultural boundaries. Stop attacking those who’ve overcome hurt on both ends of prejudice and step off of your own pedestal so that you can finally live life outside of what you already know.
And please, once you’ve braved that step outside, give me a call. I’d love to get to know you.