April 4, 2010


The identity of one changes with how one percieves reality. --Vithu Jeyaloganathan

Shakespeare without Othello, Lear, Macbeth and Hamlet would be all too much like Hamlet without the prince. --Brand Blanshard

 Perhaps one of the issues I think most about and directly impacts my life is my sense of identity. Back in 2004, fresh out of high school and entering college, I had a rather large identity crisis. While raciallyKorean, I spent the entirety of my life up until that point with the mentality of being Caucasian. It wasn't that I forgot I was Asian, that's rather hard to miss during daily visits to the bathroom mirror, but I wholly identified myself as an American, a white, middle class American girl that happened to have almond shaped eyes, rounded features, and very straight dark hair.

People who I grew up with, people who happened to know of me, they knew I was adopted. They knew my parents are white. We never engaged in those somewhat awkward conversations regarding my childhood and family simply because it was already known, and I wasn't treated as being Asian, but as being white.

So you can imagine how completely foreign and unsettling it was for me when upon college my peers began to ask me where I came from, what Korean traditions I observed, and which of my parents is the foreigner since my full name is, as a Japanese girl once said to me during my time at UW, a very American name. There have even been times where people have remarked on my fluency in the English language, it's difficult for me now not to laugh when I tell them I have a Bachelor's in English.

I never considered myself Korean, though I never had any qualms with people calling me as such in the past when describing my physical appearance, but it was hard for me to accept being referenced as the token Asian Girl in my classes. Harder still when I moved to Seattle where the Asian population is so large that it's just assumed I speak Korean and eat kimchi.

For the record, I speak German and I dislike kimchi.

What made this difficult for me is because I view myself as American. I identify with white middle class America, but since everyone else recognizes me as Korean, should I also identify myself as such? Or do I rebel against that on principle and ignore everyone else's rather valid perception of me? And if I can't convince people that their perception of me being Korean is incorrect, then doesn't that mean I should accept some amount of Koreaness to my identity? And if I do that, had I spent all of my childhood and teenagehood in an oblivious lie?

My head spun around these questions for months until I learned to adapt. No, I don't have to identify myself as Korean because, yes, I am American, and while I'm racially Korean my ethnicity is very much American. But since my race clearly suggests otherwise, I need to accept the stereotypes that come with it and that these questions about my family and the answers that coincide with them will be a constant, and will inevitably affect those who surround me who identify me for who I am, not my token position.

That said, I do have a hard time playing nice when people refute the idea of me claiming to be American when they expect me to say I'm Korean. A Frenchman visiting San Francisco went so far as to suggest I couldn't be American since I don't look English. And my favorite game is telling people I'm not adopted when they ask after revealing that my parents are white. My friend once irritatedly told me I was being rude for responding in such a way, but in all honesty, it's rude to challenge what I claim to be my identity. I feel that if I have to accept outside perceptions of me, the least they could do is recognize that when two white parents legally have an Asian child, that means the child is adopted, without me having to clarify that for them.

The worst, though, is when people give me tea as a thoughtful gesture. Unfortunately, I hate tea.


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