Here’s Part 2.
6) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?
No. From my 20s on, some of my closest friendships have been with white and black Americans. The only other Korean-American coworker I’ve mentioned could not have been more different from me in values and lifestyle. She came from more money and attracted a white crowd. Incidentally, she married Jewish.
7) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?
Christians define themselves by their faith. Hence the term born again. Because the Christian journey is really a new life, believers share a depth of intimacy and understanding that supersedes race, language, class. But I enjoy an ease with white Christians that I swear is missing in the Korean-American culture, even those of my faith. Though I was conscious that my family was a slim minority in the two fairly white Christian homeschool groups we joined last year, I have never felt self-conscious. Our son plays well with a Caucasian classmate; they whack each other with swords like brothers. We were bemused last year to find that our little man also happened to gravitate to blondes in their tweens. I enjoy the most ready connections with people who share my values, which include lifestyle, faith, and all that goes into child nurture. So racial ties do not determine my social network as they did before my working years.
8) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?
It is not a strained effort but yes, I do. I find myself wondering, though, how many whites share this mindfulness.
9) Optional. Children seem color-blind. How have you explained color and culture to your children or grandchildren as they got older? Did you ever have to handle a situation where they were a victim of racial slight or slur?
The challenge of explaining race hit me when my son was about four. I was elaborating on the slavery we had just read about. We also had a new blended family on our colorful block, an African-American man with a white woman and her two kids. I think I’m the one who put black and Korean on the radar of a child who never seemed to notice color in himself or others. I almost regretted bringing up the categories at his age. We have not had to deal with any racial insult. I am not sure if we can attribute this to our fairly well-to-do neighborhood (that is, class) or the fact that we are not with the public schools.
10) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?
I’ve always been told I was noticeably unique, even among Korean-Americans. You love me or hate me. I’m Pistachio ice cream, not Vanilla. The contrast that called for a vote for or against me has softened over time but I always embraced my individuality. Being different doesn’t mean you have to feel alone. What kept me rooted? I was told even as a kid that I carried myself well. I think the confidence that has not easily shaken stemmed from the unfailing faith my mother expressed in me ever since I can remember.
My values, perspective, even personality also did a 180 when I really understood the gospel of Jesus at 17. Through the many challenges I went on to face in the years ahead, I’ve remained secure in who I am knowing Whose I am. Christians often give pat answers. In this discussion, some would say their identity as a child of God is the source of all assurance and self-definition. God indeed has been my deepest anchor but to say He is all that matters in contexts like this discussion bores me. Faith doesn’t nullify the importance of ethnicity, upbringing, or the many factors that shape us. It so happens that biologically I am a Korean daughter of God. As such I can learn from others outside my race. Thinking in platitudes doesn’t do justice to the richness of God’s designs. It is my God who gives meaning to all aspects of my life. He cares to redeem them, make them all beautiful. Interestingly, we are said to be adopted by the Father – one big multiracial family. And behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…Revelations 7:9
11) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?
Every culture offers its own hue, rhythm, voice. You could not confuse Brazilian women with Korean, as a group. The first are more vocal, even physical. My husband has seen Brazilian women fight tooth and nail, stew, then kiss-kiss on the cheek and make up. Korean women don’t put the dukes out on each other but will hold onto the enmity. The air is different in each company. The problem arises when we make value judgments on the differences. One’s strength is one’s weakness, and this duality holds for groups as it does for individuals. It hit me as I worked through this post that the Korean preference for like company is actually an extension of the fierce loyalty that’s part of the culture. All traditions, in their imperfections, hold out qualities worthy of respect.
12) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?
I was surprised at the internal resistance to writing my story. First off, my life was all I’d known, that it didn’t feel special. It was my normal. Knowing many in my community with similar experiences heightened the sense that I had nothing really unique to share. Secondly, this was the first time I’ve explored when and how I have navigated social streams, which communities I have sought, which have embraced me. I was split in the culture I aligned myself with as I wrote. In speaking of Americans and Koreans, I wasn’t sure when to use our or their. A thought also struck yesterday. Did I shy in sharing because the Korean culture seemed to bear less weight on the global platform than the African-American drama that has achieved validation in the history books and media? Have my own perceptions been influenced? Finally, my story was difficult to write for the feeling bared. I’d just finished saying I give you my all on this blog. I was speaking as an artist. Here, I’d shown you into the rooms of my past as a human being.
The gestures of intolerance or bigotry leveled against me were mild compared to the ugliness many have known. And it is the pioneer generation that breaks through the gates of a culture that has it the worst. My parents lived the friction everyday. My mother was spit on by a customer in the delicatessen she owned. I remember how it pained me, a kid. But my parents were not faultless. All groups harbor distrust of foreigners.
President Lyndon B. Johnson’s remarks at the signing of the Immigration Bill on Liberty Island, New York seem fitting here. October 3, 1965:
And this measure that we will sign today will really make us truer to ourselves both as a country and as a people. It will strengthen us in a hundred unseen ways. This is a simple test, and it is a fair test. Those who can contribute most to this country – to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit – will be the first that are admitted to this land.
Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more they have poured forth into an empty land, joining and blending in one mighty and irresistible tide. The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources – because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.