I don’t like to boast about my own talents because praise always seems more legit when it comes from an outside source, but not enough people have appreciated this skill, so I’m just going to spotlight it myself. My box taping skills are pretty incredible. If you receive a package from me in the future, please take a minute to notice the crisp end cuts and the crisscross pattern I use for extra security.
Moving something like 20 times in 33 years has allowed me to hone this talent. These moves include 2 continents, 5 states, and 12 different cities. I’m not including the cities I briefly called “home” during my time as a runaway. Whenever possible, I like to set boundaries to keep the chaos in my life to a minimum. As I started adding up all the pieces of my previously nomadic life, I decided that the defining mark for officially claiming a residence as “mine” was whether or not I received mail there.
People ask most about my childhood in Texas. “Were you the only Asian kid in your school?” “Did you experience a lot of racism?” “Does everyone own a pair of cowboy boots in Texas?” “How come you don’t have a drawl?”
Everything else is easy to answer, but the racism question always stumps me. The truth is, I experienced almost no grief from my predominantly white community as I was growing up. But I’ve experienced a lot of it. From other Korean Americans.
And because my answer isn’t something that people expect or even want to hear, I just shake my head and say nothing at all. I’ve been too afraid to talk about the grief I’ve encountered from my own people, because all of my poor life choices already make me a Bad Korean. My biggest fear is that by speaking out about my disillusionment, I’ll travel to the place of no return- Really Bad Traitor Korean.
I’m finally okay with that. The truth is not always pretty, but lies are much uglier than an imperfect truth.
If I had to pick one word to sum up my experience as a Korean American woman, it would be this: Side-eye.
As openminded and modernized as Koreans like to think we’ve become, it’s still a culture of longstanding traditions and molds. And anyone who doesn’t follow these unspoken rules is shamed, vilified, and ostracized. They get the side-eye for bringing shame to their family and for not living up to their potential.
The few times I’ve tried to bring up these negative feelings with my Korean friends, I pretty much get the same response, “But, Elizabeth, how can you be so racist against your own kind. You need to have a more forgiving heart.” In the world of comebacks, if that’s the strongest argument against a stereotype, it means the stereotype wins.
Supposedly, I think this way because I’m a “whitewashed banana” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). I have “too many” non-Korean friends, and I don’t go to a Korean church because I’m “too good for that.” Fellow Koreans want to know if my mother has “gotten over” the fact that I married a Chinese man. “It must be hard for your mom not to be able to communicate freely with your husband.” They also want to know if my family has forgiven me for my reckless youth and the teen pregnancy, multiple drug addictions, and college drop-out status that resulted from years of rebellion.
I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what qualifies as banana-esque white people attributes because I’m too busy trying to embrace and accept myself, and I don’t want to define a quality as Korean or Other. That’s stupid as fuck, because at the end of the day, I’m trying to own ALL of me despite the category each piece fits into. I will NOT be shamed for who I am.
I don’t pick friends based on skin color. And I don’t go to a Korean church because the last time I did, the pastor’s wife told me to think about leaving my daughter at home because I was setting a Bad Korean example for the youth group kids as an unmarried mom. When I joined a fellowship group for another Korean church earlier this year, I was told that the way I dress reveals too much cleavage. I paid for these bitches. I will show them off if I choose.
And my “poor, shamed” family is relieved that I found anyone at all to marry me. They’re still working through my colorful past, but I’ve set the bar so low that these days, any small victory is, like, a big fucking deal to them.
I hope my daughter isn’t seen as a Bad Korean through association. But I’m not holding my breath on that one. I’d be giving credit where credit simply isn’t due. Just because my own experiences have not been positive also doesn’t mean I’m actively poisoning Cal’s mind either. It’s still our blood and history and heritage, and for that, I try to honor it. Even if I don’t like it.
P.S. I didn’t even get a chance to touch on Korean men. Like my ex-boyfriend who became enraged because I loved my daughter more than I loved him. Or because I didn’t offer to wash the dishes at his parent’s house. And asked me to wear long sleeves so his family wouldn’t see my “slutty tattoos.” I guess I’ll have to write another post about being a Bad Korean in the future.
P.P.S. Well, this transition is awkward, but on a bright note: There were so many amazing Six-Word Memoirs in last week’s giveaway post that I resorted to using names in a hat and Cal’s Winner Picking Hands to choose. Missljk, please email me at flourishinprogress at gmail with your mailing address and the state you’d like.
P.P.P.S. Not turned off by my Bad Korean ways? Then let’s stay connected until I offend you in another way.
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