I was born in Seoul, Korea, and was raised in the U.S. since I was 3 years old. My parents came to the U.S. to pursue their graduate studies, and since then until I was 15 years old, New York City was where I called home.
Having lived in two countries, I was surrounded with various cultures and stories, and to this day, I believe that I am pretty open minded about all that surround my life. Ethnicity-wise, I was Asian- Korean- and culturally, I was never Korean enough, nor an American either.
My childhood friends from the city were quite multiracial and diverse; the neighborhood itself was globalized and liberal in many ways. Or perhaps, luckily for all of us, my friends and I were just too naïve and colorblind. Conceivably, my parents were less informed about the societal ironies, racism, and oppression underlying in this society. Maybe, I was just never told about the real truth- the prevalent discriminations in the States that also targeted Asians and other ethnic minorities like myself. I never learned from my home that racism is reality and that the nativistic racism may be one of the pervasive aspects of the American society. I had never thought that this world that I called home may racialize Asian Americans in its distinct ways (Museus & Iftikar, 2016) either.
One of the first times that I felt hopeless as a minority Asian international student residing in the States was around the time of the 2016 Presidential Elections. The very rowdy and disturbing election campaigns made me feel impotent as a legal alien adult, student, and a mother with a F1 visa, raising a son- my F2. During the long campaign, I dealt with some difficult questions from my decade old son- things that I had never questioned to my own parents as their daughter.
“WHY DOES TRUMP HATE PEOPLE FROM OTHER COUNTRIES?”
“Will we be safe here?”
“Am I that different because I am Korean?”
“A lot of my friends say they are for Trump. Are they my friends?”
“Does Hilary hate people that are not American, too?”
His thoughts blew my mind.
I felt sorry that my son already had fears and worries, and that maybe I was the reason he may be feeling unsafe here in the States. It was depressing that he might already have acknowledged the uncomfortable lies and the unpleasant truths of this society he was a part of. He was a 10 years old Korean boy who lived in a history of time where race and class was brought to more spotlight due to the election and its candidates. He was living in the moment where racism all depended on the current interest of perhaps the White majority (Museus & Iftikar, 2013), and it was devastating to see this reality hitting him.
I was speechless for many moments not knowing how put the blueprint of reality in front of him. As a mother, I did not want to ingrain negative thoughts that may drag his hopes down and make him feel inferior- even before confronting the real world. I did not want to, at least not yet, show him the bare naked reality of truth that may hurt him some time in his life.
So for the time being, I answered his questions in a way he would learn during youth services at church- a perspective he might understand better. “No one in this world has the right to condemn or belittle another for the color of their skin, different values, or their economic status; that God only has the answer and he does not judge any individual that way; that this is only one of the many transitions of politics and society; that not only our family, yet many other families and children would be having similar questions like yourself in this time; that no families are superior or inferior to the other.”
During that moment, I felt very frustrated with the current administration that as a foreigner and as an international graduate student, I study and hope to work for the underprivileged, minority youth and their families. As a person with a goal to be the voice for the unheard youth, I did not have a voice myself in the first place. I questioned myself repeatedly, “Why am I dealing with this agony, having to fight the awkward discrimination that is brought up to surface? How in the world am I supposed to stand in the gap when there was no ground for myself, nor my family? ”
Even as a documented foreigner, we feel vulnerable. I can imagine the fears and distresses of the everyday lives of the undocumented families and youth and the less privileged youth of color
As a mother, I hope that my son stays strong in the very deepest core, and be proud of who he is and of his roots. In turn, I hope he has the respect to think the same way for others. I hope that he will someday understand racial realism- that the permanence of racism and that racism may still exist (Bell, 1992) in every corner of this country, as well as any other country he may live in the future. I hope he sees clearly enough to find racism wearing the mask of the “American values”, and beneath its surface lies an ideology of hyper-individualistic, self-indulgent, and neoliberal rationales that justify the exclusion of particular groups from resources necessary in creating thriving schools and communities (Stovall, 2017); that racism is built from the system of ignorance and power used to oppress African-Americans, Latino/as, Asians, Pacific Americans, American Indians and other people on the basis of ethnicity, culture, and color (Marable, 2007).
I hope he learns his history and the structure of the society well enough to not stay in the safety of silence- whichever country he belongs to. I pray that his ability to understand the not so comfortable reality may bring new wisdom and action. I also pray that one day, he bears witness to the power of knowledge, share his counterstories, and reach out for the roses that are growing from concrete; from the very unbendable soil the most disadvantaged (Kirkland, 2008) and once invisible individuals may rise and thrive to reach their potential- just like he himself had.
Bell, D. A. (1992). Faces at the bottom of the well: The permanence of racism. Basic Books.
Coll, C. G., & Marks, A. K. (Eds.). (2009). Immigrant stories: Ethnicity and academics i middle childhood. Oxford University Press.
Le Espiritu, Y. (2008). Asian American women and men: Labor, laws, and love. Rowman & Littlefield.
Kirkland, D. E. (2008). “the rose that grew from concrete”: Postmodern blackness and new english education. The English Journal, 97(5), 69-75.
Marable, M. (2007). Race, reform, and rebellion: The second reconstruction and beyond in black America, 1945-2006. Univ Pr of Mississippi.
Museus, S. D., & Iftikar, J. (2013). An Asian Critical Theory (AsianCrit) Framework.
Stovall, D.O. (2016). Born out of struggle; Critical race theory, school creation, and the politics of interruption. SUNY