Karen - "Pure"
Lynn - Named after one of my aunts. Means "Pond, Waterfall, Pool, Lake."
Onjena Yo - "Onjena" means "always" in Korean; the "-yo" is a common ending in the Korean language; "Yo" is also the last name of a family of robots featured in a children's book series that's been brewing for sometime...
Kare-bear - Some say because I am tender-hearted.
Hye Su - Given to me by my mother as my "Korean name;" named after a prominent Korean personality.
III. Country(ies) of Origin and Residence:
United States & South Korea
IV. States/Regions Lived/Visited in the United States:
Lived: Ohio, Texas, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida, California and, currently, New York.
Visited: Vermont, Maine, Louisiana, Maryland, D.C., New Mexico, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee
V. Languages Spoken:
VI. Favorite Dish:
My mother's spring rolls, seaweed soup, kalbi and sesame-fried chicken dishes.
Bacalao (traditional Portuguese dish made with codfish and heaven)
VII. Favorite Phrase/Slang:
It is what it is.
VIII. Favorite Quote:
Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, "Grow! Grow!" (Talmud)
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. (Pablo Picasso)
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. (Dalai Lama)
When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it? (Eleanor Roosevelt)
IX. Favorite Song/Artist:
Most of the artists from the Motown era (thank you Daddy) and my mother. If I had to pick a more recent artist, it would be a tough choice between Whitney Houston, Prince, Maxwell, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Massive Attack, Tracy Mothershed and Asen James.
X. Three words to describe each of the following:
USA: Bold, Strong, Arrogant
YOUR “OTHER” COUNTRY: Honorable, Competitive, Vain
YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE UNITED STATES: Outsider, Exception, TBD
HOME: Family & Friends, Brooklyn, My dogs
XI. Which cultures do you represent?
Black/American and Korean
XII. Where do people assume/guess you are from?
Many who have served in the military are fairly accurate at guessing my background (Black/Asian...even guessing the correct country). Most common: Filipino, Hawaiian, Samoan, Dominican, Jamaican/Chinese. Least common: Bangladesh. But the common theme was that I could not possibly be from the United States (this same sentiment carried over to my travels abroad and domestically). My height threw most people off (apparently there are not that many documented six foot Asian women...). The curious thing to me is why are people so curious...still?
For those who have concluded that I indeed was "American," many couldn't believe I grew up in a small town in the Midwest (Ohio). However, native New Yorkers always knew that I was a transplant to NYC. One New Yorker told me it was because I smiled too much. The others weren't so forthcoming with how they knew...
III. What is the most "creative" way (positive or negative) someone has expressed themselves to you with regard to your cultures?
Often something offensive, assigning my various qualities to a specific culture or race (e.g., athletic because I was Black, scholarly because I was Asian). The worst was "Freaky like a Black girl, submissive like an Asian..."
My saddest experience was when a Black woman asked me why I didn't "choose" to pass as anything else besides Black since it would make my life easier.
XIV. What are the biggest differences between your cultures?
The expression of pride and beauty.
XV. What are the biggest similarities between your cultures?
Respect for elders/ancestors.
Love of odorous food... (kimchi & chitlins...)
XVI. Share your experience/observations returning to your "other" country after living in the U.S.:
Too young to really remember any real observations.
XVII. Share your experience/observations returning to the U.S. after travelling/living abroad:
My how loud and entitled Americans can be...
XVIII. Share your experience/observations traveling to different regions within the USA:
Mixture of curiosity, kindness, awkwardness and suspicion ("where are you from?' to "you ain't from around here")...
XIX. How do you define patriot/patriotism?
I used to associate patriotism with elitism and arrogance until I realized I was really thinking of White supremacy. Having pride in one's culture/country doesn't necessarily mean one thinks one's country is better than all others. Despite what some may think based on my answers to this survey, I am proud to be from this country.
XX. What does it mean to be an “American” to you?
I would like it to mean "using one's fortunes, strength and wisdom to care for others, regardless of borders." It's probably somewhere between this and "bullying sovereign nations under the guise of spreading democracy..."
XXI. How would elders in your "other" country define an “American”?
Fame-hungry, instant-gratification seeking narcissists.
XXII. How would the youth in your "other" country define an “American”?
Perhaps the same as the elders but in a more positive light.
XXIII. What “American” qualities/traits do you most admire?
Perseverance and ability to reinvent itself.
XXIV. What “American” qualities/traits do you least admire?
Refusal to acknowledge the role free and discounted labor had in creating (one of) the biggest economies in the world.
General hyper-sensitivity to criticisms of "America." Criticism is not renunciation!
XXV. What makes a country exceptional?
How it cares for its most vulnerable.
XXVI. When you watch international competitions like the Olympics or the World Cup, who do you root for?
I almost always root for the USA teams. I get conflicted when they are competing against South Korea, Australia or one of the Caribbean countries.
XXVII. In what countries have you eaten McDonalds or Starbucks?
That would just be the U.S. and Mexico. I'll never forget ordering a "McPollo" sandwich...
XXVIII. Favorite country/place you have visited or lived or want to visit/live? And why?
I've loved Brooklyn before I arrived in this city. It will always be one of my homes.
I would love to visit Accra, Ghana as a starting point and make my way through the continent. Why? For love.
XXIX. Share a significant memory (or memories) involving both/all of your cultures.
As a child, I remember being pressured into being a fan of the boy band "New Kids on the Block (NKOTB)." It was never a question of whether I liked them. It was always "Which one is your favorite?" I attended a concert with some "friends" and sat very still throughout the event, trying to ignore their screams and glares at me for not participating in the mass hysteria. It wasn't until more than 25 years later that I recalled this experience during a conversation I had with a childhood friend who had come to visit me in NYC. He refused to purchase Bieber-related art for his young daughter during our stroll through Chinatown. We never discussed why...but I knew...
I was placed in speech class when I began elementary school. My parents then decided to forbid us from speaking Korean in the home. It is still a source of shame for me that I cannot speak my mother's tongue, but I still have time to learn... Repeat: "Can I borrow your roller blades?" The R's and L's still get me from time to time...
In first grade, I was sent to the principal’s office because I had used the word “too” on a writing assignment. We had not been taught how to use “too” yet. I thought I was in trouble, but to the contrary, as a promising new student, my teacher wanted to introduce me to the school’s leadership. So much anxiety over a three letter word... Over thirty years later, I think of the “Black Lives Matter” and “Black Girls Rock” movements and the vitriol for the “exclusion” of this same three letter word from their message. To these haters, you really don’t want the shared experiences that lead us to this movement, do you? Black lives matter, too... Black girls rock, too... It ain't always about you, too.
Respect for all elders was absolute, but I will never forget that "talk" with my parents... trying to explain how some adults were wrong (e.g., the neighbors who told me I couldn't ride my bike on "their" sidewalk or use "their' hill to go sledding with the rest of the neighborhood kids). That day my neighbors chased me home, I defied them. As I ran home, my 8 year old self was in more fear of the repercussions of disobeying an adult than what would have happened if I had got caught...
My junior high school recognized ten students from each grade as "extraordinary" during an annual year-end awards ceremony. After they called the 9th student, my family and friends giggled as they said the school was saving the best for last (I was a straight A student, named "most valuable player" on many of my sports teams, active in various extracurriculars, blah, blah). I was devastated when they did not call me to the stage. The next day, I was called into the principal's office (where I was a student aide). "A mistake has been made," they said as they handed me a plaque, "but please don't tell anyone." I nodded enthusiastically as I hid my plaque in my backpack. I was thrilled to show my parents that I was indeed recognized for my efforts. They were furious. We had another "talk." I was 13 years old.
After watching a news clip about how some local police officers had shot a stray dog over 45 times, my dad glanced over at me and said, "Must have been a black dog."
One unforgettable day...spring break in the late 90's, while walking along the beach in Zihuatenejo, Mexico, two curious teens approached me and asked, "De dónde eres?" I replied, "Los Estados Unidos." They were puzzled. "Pero, cómo? Tú eres morena!" (Translation: "Where are you from? The United States. But how can that be? You are brown!"). Two elderly women, also on vacation, strolled by me just then, smiled and enthusiastically complimented me, "Bonita! Muy BO-ni-TA!"
Shortly after my Mexico trip, I traveled to Montreal with a few of my friends. On our way back from a dance club, we passed by a group of people who happened to be Black. We asked, "Where are you from?" When they responded, "Canada," we had to fight to keep from asking where they were REALLY from.
In college, I participated in a domestic exchange program with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and got sick. I visited the student health center and asked the receptionist if my health insurance from my "home" college carried over to UCSD. She politely nodded her head and asked me to wait as she got some help. Shortly thereafter, another woman from the back office approached me, and speaking slowly and deliberately, asked me how she could help me. It took me about half a minute to realize that they thought I was a foreign exchange student and needed a translator. I grew up in the Midwest. But, apparently, my appearance affects my perceived "accent." I get it. When I don't have my glasses on, it's difficult for me to hear. I wasn't offended. Just tired.
I spent an "alternative spring break" volunteering on a Navajo reservation (affectionately referred to as "the res") in the late 90's. We were scheduled to host a traditional dinner for two "medicine men (hatáli)." However, we were running so late from our earlier excursions, that not only did we not have time to cook a traditional Navajo meal, we were late to the dinner itself. The two gentlemen were patiently waiting for us at the youth center where we were bunking. A decision was made to pick up some buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken en route. I was mortified. When we finally arrived, I literally grabbed a bucket of chicken, sprinted into the youth center and began serving these men while profusely apologizing for our lateness and the inappropriate meal. They were silent. One of the two held up his hand, palm facing me and said, "We don't eat chicken." My.heart.stopped.beating as I just stood there clinging to my bucket of chicken. Then, they both cracked huge smiles and said, "Just kidding," and helped me serve the rest of the chicken. I once read that tragedy plus time equals comedy... and there it was...
The whirling log symbol (the swastika) appeared in many of the textiles and art on the reservation. Makes one question who's history matters when determining the cultural significance of a symbol...or a flag...
It was during this time that I discovered "Native American" CDs were filed under the "International" section at the music store... (Maybe this has changed since then. If you check, I highly recommend R. Carlos Nakai).
Jaw-drop. The reaction of my environmental studies professor to a student's response to her question on what levels are "safe enough" (e.g., parts per million, # of deaths) when developing environmentally-friendly policies: "It doesn't matter because it will never happen in my backyard." Glimpse into the minds of our some of congressional leaders when sending someone's children to war...?
Because I didn't appear "Black" to some, I've overheard things like, "Black people are good to taste, but not to marry."
A few years ago, after a bad snowstorm nicknamed "Snowmageddon," we "built" an igloo in the shape of Heman's Castle Grayskull in the front yard of our brownstone. We received a lot of love from the community (cameras flashed all day and night) and from a few local publications. A theme emerged in the comments section of some of these online articles.... when readers found out that the "Castle Grayskull Igloo" was in Brooklyn, the assumption was that it must have been in Park Slope.... (it was in Bed-Stuy). It was a fringe element, nevertheless, it was a reminder of something toxic...and familiar...
Why do I feel compelled to hide my love of watermelon...still? (Please watch Wanda Sykes' comedy clip "Dignified Black People." If you are short on time, start at the 2 minute mark and enjoy!)
Years ago, I commented on a friend's behavior as being "typically American." To which she responded, "Weren't you born and raised here?" I was immediately struck by how I had unknowingly internalized this into my own identity as an "atypical American." Ironically, for me, being "American" was feeling like I was not an "American..."
When the USA flag fell during Serena William's gold medal ceremony during the 2012 Olympics, I felt a slight twinge of anxiety for how some would interpret it as an omen... But, like the champion that she is, Ms. William's won with her response:
XXX. How has living in the United States impacted/influenced you?
I do believe in the American dream....it may be easier for some to achieve than others, and it may not be a true meritocracy and public schools may be failing to truly educate, but I am filled with hope and tenacity and believe there is enough for us all. Is that uniquely "American"? No. But it is my story.
BONUS: Which would you rather have named after you... a mountain or a theory? Why?
A theory. Even if it were disproved, at least I would have contributed to thought leadership that in some way, advanced our civilization.
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