“So, you’re half-Asian and half… what?” Not understanding, I stared back for a minute until I realized that my friend was asking about my ethnicity. “Asian,” I answered, and she laughed, saying, “Right, but what’s the other half?”
I am Korean and only Korean, and nothing about my physical appearance would suggest otherwise. I realize, however, that with regards to my behavior and personality, I do not fit the stereotype of the “typical Asian,” leading many to wonder about my exact racial identity.
I do not speak Korean or even like Korean food. I don’t listen to K-pop, and I wasn’t particularly offended by “The Interview.” In fact, I’ve only been to Korea a couple of times in my life. For all of these reasons, and more, I’ve never felt comfortable at Andover Korean Society meetings or even in Korea for that matter: in Seoul, the birthplace of my parents, I am the American — the outsider who mangles words that feel strange in my mouth.
Still, I am not white, though, but embarrassed by my “Asian-ness.” I have often wished I was. I look different. I am Mulan and Cho Chang, and when Ice Cube mentions “Korean Jesus,” my friends nudge me with raised eyebrows. I think the reason I am reluctant to embrace my Asian heritage is that I am not Asian in the same sense as my parents are. They moved here from Korea in the 1970s, but I am not from Korea; I have never lived there.
What I am is a member of a growing population of Asians who, while genetically Asian, have lived their entire lives in the United States. We are, in many respects, more American than Asian and, therefore, do not fit society’s idea of the stereotypical Asian. I am stranded in ethnic no man’s land — suspended in limbo between the culture of my blood and the culture of my country. There is a distinct and growing difference between Asian Americans and those with entirely Asian heritage who live in America, and this difference has yet to be acknowledged.
These cultural misconceptions are a problem, and the first step in solving it is recognizing that Asians in America have their own culture — one that we should embrace.
Being Asian is a part of my culture, but so is being American. So it’s time that I, as well as others like myself, recognize what it means to be a proud member of a distinct but incredible aspect of Asian-American culture.
Erica Shin is a three-year Upper from Pasadena, CA., and a News Associate for The Phillipian.