I was born in South Korea, and immigrated to the US as a nine-year old. Although my dad and I first stepped off the plane in Los Angeles, I was dropped off in Olathe,Kansas within a month to live with my maternal grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousins. I had to try my hardest to learn the language and the culture right away. Surprisingly, this came very easy for me. I quickly picked up English and found myself assimilating to the midwest culture. No matter how hard I tried though, there was one thing that I couldn’t change–that I look and still carry some Korean culture within me. When you’re nine, the last thing you want is to stand out as being different (although everyone else at my school embraced me… almost like a novelty!). At nights, I would scheme up ways of how I could look “more American”–bleach my hair and I prayed for color contacts to be invented by the time I got older.
The summer after 7th grade, I moved back to Los Angeles to live with my dad. By then, I pretty much had adapted myself as an American. However, on the first day of school, the only girls that would talk to me were Hispanics and Asians. I had absolutely no interest in being friends with them. I wanted to be friends with the “white-American girls.” However, I learned quickly that in order to survive in school, I would have to make friends… and began to hang out with a group of mostly Asian kids. In LA, I quickly learned that the different ethnic groups are more segregated than assimilated… Now, the new name for me was “Asian-American” or “Korean-American.” Since then, I found a place to belong with other Asians who didn’t quite have love for “our own people.” We identified ourselves as 1.5 Korean-Americans… and we could make fun of “the fobs” or other old school cultural things. As time went on, I started to reject Korean culture more and more because I’ve had SO MUCH negative experiences with Koreans that really irked me. Don’t get me wrong–I’ve, for the most part, come to be comfortable in my own skin and be proud of being bi-cultural. However, I would look down upon other Asian-Americans. The irony is… I still have and hang out with A LOT of Korean-American friends. When I resigned from my last church, I told God that I would go anywhere but to another Asian-American ministry. I’ll save this conversation with God for another blog.
Well, it took my trip to the Dominican Republic to realize something big about myself. It’s really, really easy for me to love everyone whether they’re Dominican, African, other Latino, European, etc… but it’s really hard for me to love Asians, and especially Koreans. One of my conversations with one of our translators was about his love, compassion, and pride for his country, people, culture, and life. At that point, I was deeply ashamed that I didn’t feel the same way towards my Korean heritage. If anything, I’m often embarrassed by the Korean culture. After that conversation, I began to converse with God about my feelings toward Asians… and I was convicted of my need to forgive, let-go of my old hang-ups, and embrace Asians-Americans, and especially Korean-Americans. That was a big challenge and a turning point… and funny that it took a trip to the Caribbean and a simple conversation to really make me think… this is just the beginning of my crazy journey.
By the way, upon returning from the DR, I had to fly out to Loveland, Colorado, another place where I stand out as the only Asian in the room. So I had been away from LA for close to 2 weeks when I went to meet my friend for lunch at a Korean restaurant, and upon seeing a crowd of Asians, I stopped on my tracks, gasped, and took a DEEP breath, looked up as if to say “here I go, God!” and walked into the restaurant. This journey continues… so stay tuned!