Ethnic Identity is your Special Fusion

People say weird things to you when you are an Asian-American. One thing I realize is that for many Korean people, I will never be a true Korean to them. And for many American people, I will never seem a true American to them. Many times in life, people have put me in a ‘box’ which made me question myself: ‘What am I?’

I’ve spent life in the States for the past 20 years. It still hasn’t made me fully American though. I never forget my Korean side. I appreciate my Korean side. Whenever people mention my Korean-ness, it’s a source of pride. Same with my American-ness. When I go to South Korea, I often stand out based on my open-mindedness, frankness and the American-ness engrained in me now. I appreciate my American upbringing as much as I appreciate my Korean upbringing. I’ve had more American mentors of multiple ethnicities than Korean mentors in my life.

The problem is, there’s many “pure” Korean people who don’t seem to get along with me very well. Granted their life arc is very different from me, based on military service, having spent their entire life in Korea and having problems confidently speaking English and so forth. I must rub them the wrong way, or maybe they have trouble relating to me. In the beginning, I felt hurt because they wouldn’t always consider me their own. Eventually I realized something. I don’t have to belong to them to be happy with myself.

On the bright side, There are Koreans who appreciate me. Not all Koreans are close-minded against Korean-Americans. For those people, I’m a unique, special blend. They don’t relate to me just because I’m Korean but because I can offer them a new possibility. By being true to me. Not having to be somebody else. It goes to show that you cannot please all people all the time. Some of the people will accept you all the time for no reason. All the people will accept you at some of the times for no particular reason. But you cannot make all the people accept you all the time.

In a way, many Korean-Americans and Asian-Americans are operating on a scale system, not a binary system. You are not just completely American or completely Korean. Oftentimes, you are an amalgamation of both to a varying degree. You might have spent 1o years of your life in Korea and then 20 years of your life in Connecticut, North Carolina and New York. So Are you Korean now? Are you a New Yorker now? I don’t know. I would say mathematically speaking, 34% Korean, 66% American. In that manner, we retain a piece of the environment around us wherever we grew up in. I know Koreans who spent most of their childhood growing up in Germany, India, Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, France or the Philippines. It doesn’t make them any less lovable or less respectable. They have their own valuable identity, which is separate from the pure Korean identity. And yet, we share that commonality, as the ‘in-betweeners’ which is also important. That alone is a unique identity in its own way. Being a precious hybrid.

For those of you who might be suffering from identity issues, believe me, it’s not an easy puzzle to solve. Especially if you are half-Asian or multi-racial, I can only imagine how much tougher it is for the outside world to consider you one way and then your internal world trying to express another. In a really funny way, I suffered from color discrimination from my own people based on my unusually dark skin tone growing up in South Korea. I was made fun of, along with my mom and sister growing up.

At the end of the day, the path I believe is “self-acceptance.” Not all Koreans will accept me, and that’s okay. Not all Americans will accept me, and that’s okay. But that doesn’t make you a watered down version of a Korean or a watered down version of an American. I am both of those identities and none of those things. Some people understand this better than anybody, especially those in America who call themselves ‘mutts,’ whose identity is so mixed from several generations of ethnic intermixing. Some people just like to disregard issues surrounding race and ethnicity altogether because it’s much easier to live that way in America.

I’ve recently been reading Professor Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu’s Book “When Half is Whole” which is an amazing read written by a leading scholar on the subject of identity. It’s been one of the best recent books I’ve discovered. He mentions that the 3 steps to living with your multi-ethnic identity is 1) Knowing and feeling different from those around you often in a negative way + 2) Struggle to belong, social pressure to conform and loneliness + 3) ultimate self-acceptance through self-definition of your own identity.

The ‘tweeners are a weird, special bunch. I truly believe that.

In marine biology, there’s a term called “Biodiversity.” Researchers say the most diverse, creative forms of marine life can be seen at the point where two completely different types of ocean currents collide. In that way, multiethnic individuals are like the meeting point where those two ocean currents collide. Throughout history, it is those multiethnic individuals who have given us amazing innovation and creativity only possible through cultural fusion. Jewish-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Indian-Americans, Asian-Americans just to name a few.

We can think different from those of our origins who are set in their ways. What will you choose to create with your own fusion? The world is your oyster.