This blog is really becoming eclectic, isn’t it? I really do try to stay on the topic of laughter in the face of diversity and seeing the funny irony of life. Sometimes though, real life is so in your face, you can not help but talk about it. Since my Bipolar blogs have gotten a lot of good feedback, I will take a risk and talk about something near and dear to my heart. I’m not taking a political stance – just talking about my personal issues.
If you are a subscriber you know that I am half South Korean and half Hungarian by ethnicity. I was born in Pohang, South Korea in 1967 and I immigrated to the US in 1976. I moved around a lot as a child and have lived in Louisiana, Kentucky and North Carolina mostly. As an adult, I moved all over North Carolina then to Georgia then back to North Carolina. Even though most of my friends are Northern or immigrants like myself, I have mostly lived in “The South”. My husband is from Florida.
I have always identified as Asian. It is not that I do not like the other half of me – it is just what I am strongly rooted to. I also did not find out that I was Hungarian until about 6 years ago. My Korean grandmother was the biggest influence in my childhood. I love our culture – the music, food, art, etc. I found most of the American values not to align with my own and I was in conflict for most of life with it. I’m not saying American values are terrible. It is quite the opposite! I think differently is all.
Because my skin color, hair color and face structures are a mixture of Hungarian and Asian features I am often mistaken for other cultures. I have had Cherokee insist that I am a part of their tribe. Mexicans and Colombians are constantly coming up to me speaking in Spanish expecting me to reply. Koreans are always shocked when I tell them I am half Korean and order in the native tongue in restaurants. People from the Philippines often think I am a Filipina. In the winter when I wear a fur trimmed hooded parka, I get asked if I am of Eskimo/Inuet descent. I also had a lovely African American student say once that I had the essence of an African Queen (best compliment ever!).
So I can blend in with many cultures but always stick out like in “white” culture. Strangely enough though, my Polish, Italian, German, British, Indian and Swiss friends have never pointed out that I am different. They patiently wait for our conversations to turn toward our family and we learn in the most organic way what ethnicity we are. It was always my white counterparts that would ask, “What are you?” “Where are you REALLY from?” or say, “You are not from around here are ya?”.
My experiences with racism was not ever-present but would happen on and off all my life. The only physical hate I ever received was when I was in grade 3 and some boys threw rocks at me accusing my father of killing their fathers in Vietnam (they assumed all Asians were alike?). I was ignored a lot in all levels of school by the opposite sex as well as girls who didn’t want a weirdo hanging around them. No one asked me to the homecoming dance, the prom or any other dating event. I have no evidence it was due to my race but I always wondered.
In college I either had stalkers who thought I was hyper sexual because I was Asian or boys who dropped me after the first date or two as soon as they found out I was biracial/multiracial because their moms would “freak out”. That left me in a really odd place not knowing where I belong. It did not help matters any that most of these boys grew up with fathers who watched moves of Asian women portrayed either as submissive or overtly sexual.
There are many different layers of racism. Yes, when people called me “slant eyes” or when my former boyfriend’s father said that when we had kids we could blindfold them with floss it was painfully obvious they were being overtly racist. There were other times that I dealt with more subtle racism that a lot of people would dismiss. I have had someone ask me, “Why do you talk about Korea so much? Don’t you like it here?” That may seem innocent to you, but to be questioned of loyalty simply because I enjoyed sharing my culture made me feel very uncomfortable. I stopped talking to him about it and he has never asked me about my heritage for 15 years. I guess he was really saying he was tired of hearing about it? One of my bosses corrected me when I said I was Asian American. He said, “Don’t say that – just say American”. He found my pride in my culture to be divisive. I’m still trying to figure out why he felt like he had to say that. It’s not like I asked him to call himself just sexual instead of homosexual. I’m not mad at him about it – just puzzled. How about people telling me and my husband that our kids would turn out beautiful – don’t ALL kids turn out beautiful? Why do people feel the need to tell people of mixed heritage that their kids are attractive? We were not worried about that, were you?
I am not hyper sensitive nor judgmental but I am ANTI-racist. Plenty of my dear friends have inadvertently said some pretty stupid things that could have easily been interpreted as racism and maybe they really were racist statement. I CHOSE to teach them better because I love them. I felt comfortable and safe enough to tell these specific people that what they are saying is not really “nice” or polite. Sometimes they are apologetic and eager to learn. Sometimes, even my husband, would become defensive and argue with me.
Race relations is very touchy and very grey – I get it. However, if everyone would just LISTEN more and talk less I think it would be a lot easier to get along. If the person you are talking to offers up a lot of information – listen, absorb and learn. If not, don’t dig even if your intentions are pure. Let conversations about race, ethnicity and culture occur organically rather than forcing it. If you like K pop – say it and tell me your favorite band but don’t assume I know EVERY K pop artist by name LOL. I do love BTS and BlackPink though. =)
The recent mass killing in Atlanta has really brought Asian Hate to the forefront of many American minds. For the first time in my life I am seeing people rise up and defend Asians. That is awesome. I’m not sure where they were when kids were taunting me on the playground while stretching their eyelids into slits. (By the way my eyes are almond shaped LOL) Where were these heroes two years ago when the cranky old white lady at Harris Teeter was telling me that the sushi counter guy did not understand a word I was saying and I was wasting my breath (his name is Peter and I know his wife Apple and their kid and we were talking about them but I am sure she knew more LOL).
Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad awareness is being raised. I hope it will change how people see Asians. I am angry that the elderly are being targeted by the racist haters. We all love and respect our elderly and their actions are abhorrent. I hope people will become more tolerant and accepting. I am proud to be a Korean/Hungarian American and I love living in the US despite the ugliness. I try to surround myself with open minded people who love me just the way I am. No matter who you are always let go of toxic people and draw in people who are kind, openminded and honest. Always, always love yourself because as the book of RuPaul tells us: