Koreans are known for being patriotic and nationalistic. I myself was a big a Red Devil myself rooting for the red uniformed South Korean soccer teams when I was a kid. Generations and history of fighting against oppression and fighting for freedom remain in my blood. I love Korean culture, the people and the amazing recent explosion of its potential. Who knew our culture and our unique fusion of fashion, music, dance and entertainment would become a global export loved by so many?
In a way, what people see in Korean fashion, music and entertainment is a delicate fusion of East and West. We’ve learned a lot from Japan’s once dominant music and entertainment industry that came long before us as well as hip-hop, R&B, rap and dance from the U.S. Fashion from Europe. Philosophy and literature from China. Food culture that’s a fusion of many neighboring Asian nations that’s also distinctively our own. I’m proud of all of that.
What I want to write about is the delicate confidence that you must have as a multi-identity individual if you are an immigrant in another country.
I’ve wondered about this for a long time. It’s rarely discussed but it’s very important. The problem is this. If you were born in another country but currently live in another, your sense of your self-identity will be challenged from different conflicts that can happen: both in yourself and with other people. And the challenge actually has more to do with other people’s acceptance and “view” of you.
For example, I traveled to Israel recently and had the opportunity to interact with Israeli locals. I actually didn’t know that K-pop was a huge hit among Israeli girls, and many locals asked me questions. But the nuisance I got from these people, when I told them that I was Korean-American, was a weird, mixed confusion. Granted, Israel itself is a country formed by the idea that all Jews share the same blood so I can understand how they will be black-and-white about having a “pure identity” but they just seemed utterly confused that a person who looks completely Asian and Korean on the outside can call himself an American instead. They started asking me factual questions like “When’s the independence day of South Korea” just to test me, which I thought was freaking stupid. I barely remember the exact day of Chinese new year. Or my mom’s birthday.
I actually think I must have been a novelty to them. That an Asian person who looks Asian on the outside can actually be different in their life experience and mentality and can speak perfect English. Outside of multiethnic countries like the U.S, Canada, Australia, and certain nations in Europe, I can see how it’s an uncommon thing.
As Korean-Americans and Asian-Americans, we are always walking a delicate balance. We want to be accepted by society but not everybody will accept us because of who we are. We can often cause confusion in other people (especially those who tout that they are valuable for being “pure” culturally or ethnically, having spent their entire lives in one country or only one culture). When I go back to Korea or interact with die-hard Koreans, some Koreans make fun of me for not being able to remember Korean words proficiently. When I live in the States, some people make fun of the Korean accent in my English. Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. Completely non-lingual lol.
In that way, the U.S. really is a blessing despite the existence of racism. Equality not based on bloodline or ethnicity or religion but equality as a basic, god-given right for all.
Being Korean-American is actually a 3-step process. First you realize that you are Korean and will always look Korean to people no matter how much you try to fit in with American society. Second, you realize that real Koreans won’t accept you fully because you think and speak differently from them, and have totally un-relatable experiences, that you’ve actually outgrown your motherland. Last but not least, third, you come to grips with all this non-sense and accept yourself just as you are. Both the good and the bad of being Korean-American. Holding onto the positiveness that comes with being Korean AND American, and also the negativeness that comes from both as well. People will ask you about both BTS AND Miley Cyrus’s latest meltdown.
That’s why I am the most comfortable with other misfits in society. I don’t believe in being a “pure Korean” or a “pure American” or any of that nationalistic non-sense. I’m proud of all things but I also don’t like to hold on to any of those things. Being multi-ethnic is the quintessential American identity. In this country, there’s people who are 1/8 Navajo Native-American and 1/16 Irish-Italian and 1/64 Japanese. Who cares.
I no longer let anybody make me feel bad by saying I’m not Korean enough or I’m not American enough. I’m me. We are our own group. We are ethnically Korean, legally American, and the ultimate magical balance that holds both of those things in one scale. Nobody else does that balance as well as us. The identity we have to own is the Middle path. Realizing That the Middle path is just as valuable as any pure path, perhaps even 100x more difficult. Being unbiased toward either but knowing both of those worlds fully. Embracing and criticizing them at the same time. That unique perspective is the unique power that we have.
In that mindset, there is no shame. There is pride. For being the rare, unique product that we are. Don’t let anybody tell you “you are not enough.” You were born enough.
Sometimes I like to eat French Fries with a little bit of kimchi and miso soup that’s all I’m saying.