There is a part of me that I cannot escape and that is being Korean-American. I am not saying this because I want to escape but I am sharing because it is a fact and actually a very big part of who I am. My family immigrated to American when I was 7 years old. I started 1st grade, not knowing any English, and was a quiet kid as I did not know how to communicate.
I lived in a majority white and Latino-neighborhood so I knew I was different from the shape of my eye, wider nose, and color of my skin.
Thankfully, I was never severely bullied but many times I felt embarrassed and shame as my family's culture was different from my friends. I was often jealous and wanted to experience this 'American Dream' - big family dinners, houses with dogs, and this unexplainable feeling of freedom.
I was embarrassed by my parent's accent, their lack of understanding this 'American' culture, our living situation and lifestyle, such as calling them "umma" and "appa", instead of mom and dad.
I had a group of friends in the Korean community of where I grew up, but it was in school I felt the isolation. I was physically different and I knew there was nothing I can do to change that. It was 7th grade when an encouraging comment from my friend changed my life.
A close friend of mine approached me and said, "It's so cool that you are Korean. I would love to be Korean!" My young heart was so flattered by this comment. I was a young girl, just wanting to fit in, and although I loved my family and cherished them deeply, there was a part of me that always daydreamed on the "What if's".
Because of her comment, I truly felt appreciated of my culture and race and began to think about what it meant to live as a Korean-American.
It definitely was some heavy thinking for a middle-schooler, but I was a kid with a lot of thoughts.
As I am growing older, I am incredibly grateful to be Korean-American. Linguistic classes have been adding on to this reason as well. I am learning about how important it is to have this birth-given biculturalism. I overcame my embarrassment in high school and there is a big part of guilt in me for even the smallest embarrassments that I had as a kid, but I am thankful for the experience of the effort in finding myself as a young Korean-American.
I still notice my difference in white-majority classes, struggle with discrimination, feel unaccepted by people, and the hardest to deal with - when people look down on my parents because of their accent, but that is a whole different conversation.
I have been proudly calling my parents umma and appa and there is a satisfying feeling when I am able to connect with friends and even strangers because of my biculturalism. Speaking fluent Korean has been one of my greatest strengths and I credit that all to my parents and Korean school.
There is no greater joy than expressing and interacting with my parents, my grandparents, my friends and church family in Korean because it was brought me to a closer and deeper relationship with each and every one of them. Growing up Korean-American is still a part of my life and will be for the rest of my life and I am excited to dig deeper into my roots and hope to represent and empower this community as I grow older.