Written by: Regina Yi
Being the avid tumblr user that I am, I stumbled upon a certain post a few weeks ago that really interested me. It was a post someone made talking about how white people don’t experience racism and they explained it in a very creative way.
The post unfolds with the author correlating racism with the man who walks on the moon; aka, similar to Neil Armstrong. The author’s audience is focused on white people as she opens with the question of “What is it like to walk on the moon?” Perhaps they wanted to connect how after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, it was as if Americans in general walked on the moon because Neil Armstrong represented for America as the first man to do so. Except, Neil Armstrong ALONE walked on the moon, not all Americans. Therefore, no one besides the man who walked on the moon can truly understand what it’s like because they’ve only seen it and heard about it, but never experienced it for themselves.
Towards the end, the author stops using the illustration and instead gives real scenarios of how people of color experience racism. There was something they said that really made me see it differently. They said that people of color can’t remove themselves from environments that make them targets because it is always constant and sticks with them no matter where they go. Whereas white people may experience discrimination with small, mundane, arbitrary things, but once they get out of that situation or environment, they no longer experience it. Needless to say, this post really made me look back on my life and all of the times where I was treated differently because of the fact that I am Asian.
Not until recently, probably about 2 or 3 years ago, I came to the realization that I never truly felt like I belonged here or fit in. After learning about the forever foreigner concept in class, it was pretty much almost exactly how I felt. When I was little, my first language was Korean even though I was born in the U.S. and a few weeks ago when I was organizing my den, I found my old report cards from kindergarten and first grade and they all showed how I was struggling with writing in English. Of course now, I’m completely fluent in English but looking back at that, I couldn’t remember if I had a hard time or not. Throughout my elementary, middle school and high school years I drifted so much from my Korean roots and wanted nothing to do with it. I wanted to be seen as an American and not as a foreigner even though I was born in the U.S. My cousins who are half Korean, half Mexican always made fun of me because they saw me as an Asian girl that wanted to be white and wanted to ignore that fact that she was Asian so they called me a twinkie; yellow on the outside, white on the inside. It wasn’t until the end of my high school years that I dove back into my roots and embraced my culture and appreciated who I am and where I came from.
I suppose part of the reason why I hated being Asian was because of how I was treated during my school years. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me / said to me: “Are you Chinese?”, “Are you Japanese?”, “Well then what /are/ you?”, “Why are your eyes so small?”, “Are you Asian?” (Really now? I mean /really/ ?), “I thought you were supposed to be good at math.”, “Are you Oriental?”, “Where are you from?”, “No, I mean where are you REALLY from?”, “Can you speak the language?”, “Are your parents super strict?”, “How do you say my name in your language?”, “Can you read what this says?”, “Why do you all look the same?”, “Do you know karate?”, “Go back to your country.”, and of course, even the “Ching chong ling long.”
Even when it came to the media, I grew up hardly seeing any Asians on TV or in the news. In the midst of the symbolic annihilation and non-recognition that Asians received and that I witnessed growing up, it made me want to forget about my ethnicity even more. I didn’t want to be a nobody.
Being young, I didn’t understand why people treated me so differently even though I was born an American citizen. Just because I looked different, it automatically marked me as a foreigner. People always expected me to be smart and know all the answers to everything. Just like how the author of the tumblr post pointed out, no matter where I go, there’s always some kind of label, some kind of stereotype following me. There were even times where when I was a senior in high school and getting ready for college, I called the admissions office and the person on the other end talked to me in a very slow voice, enunciating every word and speaking louder, as if I didn’t understand English.
I’ve heard people say that racism doesn’t exist anymore but it still does. I see it every day.
When I got back into my Korean roots and started getting into the Korean entertainment industry and followed it up until now, I saw so much hate expressed from people in the U.S regarding the popularity of Korean music in the U.S and all around the world. Perhaps it’s because of yellow peril; that they will take over the U.S market and that there will only be Asian music playing everywhere. Even with the Olympics that happened a few years ago and Korean athlete Kim Yuna won in the figure skating division, I saw my classmate post a Facebook status that shamed her and just said incredibly mean and racist things about her. That same classmate had a Facebook conversation on someone’s wall about how since this is America, everyone should speak English and that she can’t stand it when she hears multiple languages when she walks along the street.
I can’t tell you how much it angers me how ignorant people still are. What happened to diversity? What happened to everyone is created equal? What happened to being the “melting pot”?
There is no set definition of “American.” Canada is part of North America and there’s even South America and yet we don’t see them as American. We only say that the U.S is American. What makes the U.S so special that everyone else is a foreigner when they really aren’t? Why does the color of our skin even matter?
After reading the section about Bollywood in our “Race, Gender, and Media” book, I found myself feeling the exact opposite of one of the characters mentioned in the section. The character said that they feel more comfortable being an Indian in New York and he does being an Indian in India. In my case, after visiting Korea twice, when I was 18 and just this past summer, for the first time without my parents and for the first time since I was little, I realized that I was more comfortable being a Korean-American in Korea than I was being a Korean-American in America. I even went so far as to decide that I want to move to Korea after graduation to start my new life there because of how much I loved it there.
I saw an article about how more and more Americans are moving to other countries to pursue careers and new lives. 1/3 of the people who are doing this are Asian Americans. Their parents left Asia to come to America in order to pursue a better life and to have more opportunities. Now, the situation has reversed; in essence, it is reverse diaspora. Now, their children are moving back to where their parents came from because there’s more opportunity there rather than in the U.S. I found myself easily relating to the article because that is exactly what I want to do because of how I fell in love with my culture.
I’m not just Asian. I’m American, I’m Korean, I’m a daughter, I’m a senior in college, I’m a dancer, I’m a writer, I am a 20 year old 2nd generation Korean-American who was born and raised in the U.S but sees the world through two different lenses; “American” and “Asian.”
We aren’t foreigners but are made to feel like one. One truly won’t understand what it’s like until they experience it for themselves.
“Color is only skin deep.”