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Sun streaked blonde hair, and ocean blue eyes. I remember praying that one day that I would look like the rest of my friends. While growing up, I mostly attended Caucasian schools and was surrounded by American pop culture. However at the same time it was also instilled into me by the tight-knit network of the families of my Korean American church, the sense that Korea was my homeland. This led to a struggle of my entire life to which nation is my “homeland”.
Born in America raised a Korean, and as a second generation Korean American, it is the real truth that I’ve had times where I had trouble with what I call myself. With this, I believe in the importance of staying true to yourself by respecting your originality and the traditionalism of your culture and the appreciation of family.Ever since I was a child, my mother always said to me to never assimilate to the ways of the “worldly” people and sent me through countless hours of Sunday school torturing me to memorize bible verses and stories in attempting to shaping me into being the “perfect “morally balanced Christian.
In the Korean American Church the fact being my parents were respected elders of the church and highly involved, it was not until later that I realized it was the part of Korean culture where everything reflected back to your parents I realized every action and how I presented myself determined how I was treated by the rest of the church members. How you dressed and your presentation was the proper “mannerism” and a key factor in judging if you raised your child “the right way”. This constant stress of fear of judgment motivated my choice to switch to an American church searching for acceptance , where I was immediately accepted and felt a more sense of belonging regardless of race. This led to the advancement of realizing I identified myself to be an American, proving the claim made by of diversity and acceptance of differences in the land of the free. In school, because I was treated like everybody else, never sensing myself as different except for the visage of my face, I called myself American. Unconsciously I surrounded myself with American friends and adapted more and more into the American culture falling into the backdrop of mainstream America.I wanted to look like my friends, wanting to change my hair color or eyes to get an even more sense of belonging. My heart had begun to harden toward the strict nature of Korean culture and slowly grew further apart from my Korean roots. I was raised in a household where my hands quickly grew accustomed to the smooth keys of a piano and grades were important and I had to be better, faster and smarter at everything. I assimilated into the “Americanized” way of life and when my rebellion to being the best in academics and refusal of traditions such as wearing the traditional dress worn on holidays shocked my parents and clashed with their ideas which had been influenced by their up-raising of immense pride of their home country.
My parents had never experienced this, my older sister being the perfect Korean child, the complete opposite of how I was acting, They made a choice that they would send me to Korea. In the land of America, where I had no other family, they wanted me to go to the country where the rest of my family was, hoping to link me back to my Korean origins. Unwillingly, I was flown to Korea, leaving my parents and all my friends behind. When I arrived, I went on a journey through what was supposed to be the land where I was from. The longer I stayed, the more intrigued I became. I relished in the fast paced environment and was astonished by the highly populated cities full of lights.
How starting from one of the poorest countries after the war, now one of the wealthiest countries in the world, grasping that this merely the result of the peoples diligence.Traveling to the mountain, a famous landmark in Korea, physically, what I saw was no different from what I had expected; an impressive, but not overwhelming, mountain. However, my moment of epiphany came with my realization of this excessive pride in Korea. Staring at the 5,000 foot peak of the mountain, I felt the sense of pride that this mountain was unquestionably, undeniably Korean. The dirt, trees, and cliffs of this mountain were filled with the same values and ideals that I was raised with. I understood that the strict environment that I was raised in was only because my parents possessed the hardworking, diligent nature of the Korean culture. I became ashamed that I bought into meaningless stereotypes, while avoiding the true identity that I possessed as a Korean. I know all the casual claims second generation Korean Americans make when regarding their parents, all of which I do not refute. To this day these stereotypes are clearly evident in my mom’s shrill voice as she demands I study my math textbook or practice piano. However, had my parents not sent me to the land of my ancestors, moving heaven and earth in order for me to accept my origins, I never would have been able to embrace and be this proud of my country. This shows their love and support for me is immense, and how important it is to keep traditionalism alive.
A person’s identity is rooted in their identifications, in what they associate themselves with. What a person associates him or herself with is ultimately who that person is, for all identity is ultimately in relationship to something else. Resulting in this, I believe in the importance of staying true to your origins, the importance of traditions in your culture and appreciation of family.With this, I proudly call myself Korean- American.
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