For all Harabeoji fought for, I wonder what he’d think of the dynamic now.
The following is a repost of a post I made on Facebook earlier today. Apparently it’s too important for me to bottle up, so I feel the need to repost it somewhere.
I make every effort to make it look otherwise, but I am a socially anxious person. I had a tendency to view any attention I got as negative, that people were making fun of me, even for something as innocuous as cheering my last name (which, as you saw last month, I actually take well now). For the longest time I didn’t know why. Now, at least, I have a theory, and this article helped me formulate it.
I remember it ever since…oh, I don’t know, 1st grade? 2nd grade? Elementary school years, that much I know. While I was never explicitly told to “go back to [my] country,” as children thankfully had a bit more tact than that, it always bugged the hell out of me that I was asked, “Are you Chinese or Japanese?” every. single. blinking. time. It was as if Korean, my ACTUAL ethnicity, wasn’t even an option. Then when I found someone who had actually heard of Korea, the inevitable next question is, “North or South?”
What, you expect me to nuke your ass into oblivion if I tell you I’m from the North? (That’s another discussion, though. And no, I won’t.)
Now I’ll admit I’m not exactly the most stellar example of a Korean person–my Japanese is much better than my Korean (and my Spanish is MILES better than both put together). The fact that I speak Spanish at all is apparently significant enough. But I don’t go around asking a white person, say, “French or English?” as if there are no other options. For one, I’d tire myself out if I tried to pose that question to everyone. I’d probably forget anyway due to information overload. It’s just easier to pick on the Asian person because, as it was in the classroom anyway, there is strength in numbers.
I’ve had kids make squinty-eye faces at me, or to pull the skin around their eyes back to make them look narrow. I’ve had people try to “speak Chinese” with me, as if I understood the “chings” and “chongs” that fell rather ungracefully in various combinations out of their mouths. I’ve been labeled the wrong ethnicity too many times to count.
This isn’t attention that I asked for, or that I deserved. It pushed me into that dark place in the back of my mind where I questioned whether people would ever see me for more than just my Asian heritage…and whether they’d ever get it right, to boot. Eventually, it turned into a simple equation in my mind: that any attention = just another person making fun of me and my ethnicity, that they’re probably going to get wrong anyway.
So I withdrew as a result, to keep myself from blowing up against such people. The aftereffects are arguably still causing me much consternation today. I prefer to stick to a familiar group of people, and I’m still rather uneasy in new situations that don’t involve game shows, martial arts, or Pokemon.
Perhaps it goes both ways, too. Even in Korea, people don’t know quite what to do with me; they recognize I am of Korean descent, but I don’t fit into their definition of “Korean.” Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but I always get a sense of, “he was raised by Korean people, he should know what being Korean means” from more than one citizen of Seoul (or any other Korean city I’ve been to, for that matter).
Thankfully, I *have* found enough people who see me as a person and not just an ethnic group to where I don’t feel as anxious as I used to, and I certainly don’t get the squinty eyes and the faux Chinese as much as I used to. But it didn’t come without a struggle in learning how to invalidate the negative thoughts in my own mind as a result of others’ ignorance. And I’m still figuring out graceful ways to deflect remarks like this.
Like I said, luckily, I haven’t gotten them nearly as much as I used to; that indicates there’s been some progress made, I’d like to think. But when stuff like this happens in the year 2016, I find it unfortunate that there’s still a long way to go.