To preface, this post will mostly be about my relationship with my self, my Asian identity, and the community I grew up in. I’m not interested in blaming people, holding anything against anyone, nor in unleashing any bitterness towards anyone in particular in this space.
I’m very open to any further conversations regarding anything in this blog.
A friend of mine messaged me the other day after the tragic hate crime in Atlanta.
“Just thinking about how shitty it would be to die for being an Asian that doesn’t resonate with [their] culture whatsoever.”
“I just think about someone having to call my mom and dad to tell them I was killed in a hate crime. They wouldn’t be able to begin to process.”
“I’m still processing. Haven’t talked to anyone really. My friends see me as white. Which is fine. I see myself as white.”
“I have a pretty diverse friend group tbh. But we are all very white washed midwestern raised.”
“I just don’t know how to connect with what happened, yet I feel strong emotion towards it.”
I’m an awfully sensitive person, but I have consciously and unconsciously shut off the feelers regarding this for certain reasons: I have lived in Korea for the past year and it’s been difficult to be tangibly and emotionally connected to things that happen back in the United States. Most things aren’t a huge part of my life these days. And, partly for survival. I haven’t taken the time to feel what that’s made me feel because I haven’t had the time or energy to give to those emotions. It also touches a lot of deeper feelings for me that I really don’t have the energy to give space too. My counselor already has a lot on my platter already!
However, this is certainly connected to many things that have shaped my life. When I think about my above conversation with my friend, I get really sad. Really. Really. Sad. The feelings that come up are hard to separate and articulate, so I really relate to what I was told.
“Anti-Asian” rings some loud bells for me. In a sense, I relate to it a bit closer than other people in my circles would. “It’s racist, it’s hate, it’s horrible.”, “Who would ever think like that?”, “I would hope I never feel that way to a people group, ethnicity, race, creed, etc.” The mood surrounding discussions around race in today’s climate is heated and fragile. But PC-ness gives us something to focus on other than true lived one-ness with each other. We can identify with safe language. We can place personal and moral value on using the right words and going to the right businesses. While I understand the flow and process of white people becoming allies and opening their minds and lives to other cultures, I struggle to remain on the same level of emotional engagement and it doesn’t feel like enough to only listen and sympathize. Even to “show-up” so to speak, it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. And no it’s not fair, but let me explain.
I have a part of me that really resents my Asianness. It’s been buried deep in there and I’ve had a hell of a 25 years getting that shit out of my system. I’m not sure if I ever will, it shows up in a lot of different ways.
Kids asked me why it looked like my face was smooshed up against glass and why my eyes were so different. Probably because they’ve only seen 3 real Asian people in person (actually my school district has gotten much more diverse, now at 2% Asians in the district from less than that in the early 2000s). Teenagers wondered if I ate dog. In highschool, a boy broke a pencil next to me and he blamed the Korean child-workers that probably made them. That time was really frustrating because he didn’t know I was behind him, and when he saw me he profusely apologized.
When I was 14 or 15, a boy was making fun of my after school because “Asians have small dicks, everyone knows that.” So I went to the school counselor about it and she didn’t know what to do about it. She literally told me that she didn’t know how to help. I don’t blame her, but I for sure feel frustrated and left out to dry a bit. I’m not sure what happened but I guess “they had talked to the boy” and that was that.
I was at a relative’s house watching a baseball game and there was a Korean player on our state’s team that year. Park Byung Ho signed a 4-year, $12mil contract with the Minnesota Twins in 2015. Eventually he dropped to the minor leagues and then back to the Korean Baseball League. But what my uncle said was “Yeah, I only remember him because his name sounds like Bung Hole.” Not because of anything else in his athletics career, strength as a baseball player, hell even his baseball swing. But because of being closely nomered to an anus nickname.
I’m not saying this to make my family feel bad, but I just want to get to the point that the microaggressions and subliminal shit I dealt with as a kid has had a long term impact on my self-image. Being different at school, church, in my family, and not knowing what to do with how that made me feel was hard. There were several times that I just didn’t want to be different anymore. I later articulated that as not wanting to be Asian, and sometimes I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I just didn’t want to look and be different. When everyone in my family described me as so special, but not different, it created a pretty ambiguous identity that I didn’t quite know how to fill.
I used to think I was a “bad asian” because I didn’t hold any traditional cultural pieces in being Asian in my life. White family and community, didn’t know Korean language, didn’t eat the food, I was pretty much white, but also not white at all. So I was also was excluded from my majority community as well because I didn’t fit in there, so I felt. This poem is about that.
My identity is very much about being Korean. But also so much more than just being Korean.
So when I’m prompted with “Anti-Asian” or “Asian Hate Crime”, I get overwhelmed with a lot of emotions. Because I also hold some sort of anti-Asian sentiment that I’ve worked very hard to reframe and overcome. It’s led to self-loathing and issues with self-image. It plays a role in my body image, in my creative process, in my relationships with other Asian people, my significant relationships, my family, and myself.
A few people that I don’t know super well have reached out to me to “see how I’m doing” amidst everything that has happened. And I don’t have the energy to give them the satisfaction for being a nice ally. As much as this is a racially-motivated event, there are so many more connections at hand that I wish those acquaintances would pay attention to. Gun-control, mostly gun control. But also isolation, being a passive-bystander, being in a racially and educationally homogenous community, how race is much more than a social and personal issue, it’s political and deeply systemic.
I urge people to engage with local and national politics, get involved with area nonprofits that specifically work with communities of color, and to educate themselves with books or documentaries.
But as much as I do that, I also urge people to really consider all the hearts involved in things like this. That race in so many deep and emotional ways. Educate and get involved and do all the things, but also there please stand on common ground of the emotional toll it takes on people. Let that guide you into action too. There is a lot of surface level ways to engage with People of Difference in our lives. But it takes time and trust to understand like we want others to. Interact and engage with our personhood, too.
Which, in part, is a radical upheaval in how we understand ourselves too. That’s where I’m at, atleast.
I’m grateful for my loving family and the life-shaping lessons I’ve learned from my church and community. I’m grateful that I have opportunities to challenge and reframe my default mentality about myself. I’m encouraged by a lot of people to love myself and make space for me to heal, be joyful, and love others.
Thanks for being on the journey with me. Thanks for reading, as always.