Inspiration Overseas Life

What is Korean American?

March 10, 2015

My husband and I were both born in America. Our parents immigrated to America from Korea in the 1970’s. Growing up in Pennsylvania was really difficult for me because I was often made fun of for being Asian in a predominately Caucasian town. Throughout childhood and adolescence I experienced an identity crisis, because although I looked Korean, inside I felt pretty much American like everyone else.

Thankfully, as I grew older, I found my identity in Christ and He healed me of many of my insecurities and pain from the past. I am so grateful for my healing in this area because since moving overseas, it has definitely been tested!

Our family sticks out for many reasons here. Unlike the “melting pot” found in the United States, our home is in a primarily homogeneous city. Most people here speak the same language (not English), they eat the same foods, they drink the same strong tea throughout the day, etc. Our family stands out because:

  1. We are very obviously a different ethnicity
  2. We have 5 kids, while most families in this city have 1-2 kids.

Often when we walk down the street, people make very loud remarks about us. Mostly people are kind and when we pass we hear them counting our children and they speak out this phrase that means something like “God has blessed you.” However, there have been some occasions when we walk down the street and people mockingly make some prejudiced remarks or gestures.

It is apparent that I have gone through a measure of healing from my past because when these rude things happen, rather than get angry and emotional, I am able to easily shake it off and ignore it. I am also thankful that I can quickly process these situations with my kids since they are not used to it. These encounters are not shocking because like I said, we CHOSE to move to (a mostly) homogeneous country.

But something that was a bit unexpected were the reactions of the locals when they ask, “Where are you from?” We would tell them that we are from America and in disbelief they would literally keep repeating the same question.

Over time, we realized that this was not the answer they were expecting. For the sake of simplicity, we now respond to this question by telling people we are from Korea (My husband has not been to Korea since he was one and I have only visited twice in my childhood). This feels rather strange for us to say considering none of us speak Korean, but we realize that people here have no paradigm for the diversity in America, so it makes sense that they don’t understand that we are in fact, American.

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But something even more unexpected here is meeting Korean people, from Korea. We have met several Koreans here on different occasions. They too seem to have no paradigm for Korean American people. My husband and I barely speak any Korean. This is VERY shameful to Koreans. Although we don’t speak the language, we love Korean food, we take our shoes off before entering homes, we understand some nuances in Korean culture, and physically we look Korean.

When we meet Koreans here, they kindly approach us and greet us in Korean. In KOREAN, I greet them and then I explain to them that we do not speak Korean well (thankfully my college roommate taught me how to say this well). Usually, they blankly stare at us and then in Korean they say, “So, are you Chinese?” Then, in Korean, again I explain that we are in fact Korean, but we were both born in America. Often, after this interaction, the Koreans nod their heads and keep walking. I am often mistaken for being Chinese from non-Asians, but I am totally unfamiliar with Korean people asking me if I am Chinese after I have already told them that I am Korean.

These random encounters are so strange to me, but they have actually forced me think more about my identity. “Who am I? Am I Korean? Am I American?”

Honestly, all of these situations have actually given me a better perspective on life. They make me ponder and embrace my identity in Christ. This passage in 1 Peter 2:11-12 has become more real to me everyday,

“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.” The Message (MSG)

Amen.

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  • Reply
    christinehd
    March 13, 2015 at 2:01 pm

    Haha you know what’s funny? I used to get that question all the time, sometimes even in the States! “No, but where are you FROM?” “America.” “No, but where really?” “I’m American.” And I usually let them get puzzled for a bit first and then I’ll throw in “My parents are from Taiwan.” “Ohhhhh you’re Thai.” “No, Taiwanese people are ethnically Chinese.” “I knew you looked Chinese!” . But coming to Hong Kong has made me realize how very American I am. In the States, I could point to my Chinese heritage and make a point that I’m very culturally diverse. But living in Hong Kong made me realize how deeply rooted my beliefs and practices are in American culture. Sometimes I look at Nick and exclaim, “Honey, I think I’m whiter than you are!” Though I don’t think either of us could ever be whiter than you & Chris, haha! 😉

    • Reply
      Yoon
      March 13, 2015 at 4:03 pm

      ha, Christine, in America people do ask me that…but not Koreans! Also, your last sentence made me laugh so hard I have tears in my eyes. love you so much!

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