As children, our father used to take my siblings and I to the annual Dayton African American Cultural Festival (DAACF). I remember buying my first Africa-inspired jewelry... a red, black and green continent of Africa on a black leather cord. I think it had beads. I also remember being timid about wearing it in public. I longed to own a "100% Black Queen" t-shirt or a variation that I spotted at the festival, but I was worried that I would be called out as a poser or a fraud. It was the "100%" that troubled me as a child of a Black man and a Korean woman. My young mind couldn't reconcile what I believed was the exclusion of my Korean heritage from the celebration of my Black pride. Our father taught us that we were Black, regardless of what society labeled us. And though I secretly wished that I was 100% Black, the Africa-necklace stayed in my jewelry box and I never asked my daddy to buy me the "100% Black Queen" t-shirt. 



My story is not unique. In elementary school, when taking standardized tests, I was sometimes forced to choose a race or instructed to "check all that apply." When I did have to choose one, my teachers and my parents said I had to choose Black. When I was teased by other children, it was because of my "slanty eyes", so Black felt safe...it felt strong. By the time I got to college, I was more militant than mild, to the point that my dad asked that I "tone it down," at least in public. Another layered lesson.  

Years later, with the rise of social media, it became easy to connect with others who shared a similar heritage. At first, it was exciting to connect and swap stories of our bi-racial, bi-cultural experiences. It was a bittersweet mix of experiences... of immigrant parents worried their children wouldn't assimilate and find success in America... shame from not being able to speak our Mother tongue... unique blends of soul/seoul food at family meals... the embracing of our labels of "half" or "hapa"... Then I noticed how some of my fellow "Blasians" felt that by being "mixed" they were somehow the envy of all others. Just enough drops of Black, but not too much cause good hair and all. 



Well, damn. Should I spoil the party and tell them that the "hateration" they feel may not be because of jealousy but due to their anti-blackness and self-hatred? That being called "exotic" was not necessarily the compliment they thought it was...? I did not want to confront the anti-blackness of my Black friends, regardless of their percentage of Blackness. I was not equipped and I was tired, so I pulled back.

How you gon’ win when you ain’t right within
How you gon’ win when you ain’t right within
How you gon’ win when you ain’t right within
Come again
Come again, come again, come again, come again
— Lauryn Hill, Lyrics from "Doo Wop (That Thing)"


Fortunately, I've discovered some thought-leaders who are working hard to combat anti-blackness and white supremacy in the Asian community, among other battles: 

If you have more to add, please let me know via twitter @onjena


So, what have I learned? I am not required to choose. I am 100% human. 

And... I can say it loud. You don't have to be Black to celebrate Blackness. What the hell is 100% Black anyway? No, seriously, is there a test? Do we get a certificate? Is that what the race card is for? Or maybe, the 100% is about keeping it real.

FUTURE TOPICS: Celebrating vs Appropriating Blackness. Queen/King/Monarchy/Imperialist/Colonial shit must end. 

~ Onjena Yo

Share your #MultinationalPATRIOT story with us by participating in our PATRIOT SURVEY SAYS!!! blog series. Click the pic below to learn how to share your story! 

PATRIOT SURVEY SAYS: Korean-American: Reese, TT, Pocket, Mokja, Miss Piggy

Teressa jean aka reese, tt, pocket, mokja, miss piggy

Teressa jean aka reese, tt, pocket, mokja, miss piggy

I. Name/Meaning:

  • Teressa - Harvester
  • Jean - Gift from god

II. Nickname/Backstory:

  • Reese - Dad gave it to me

  • TT - college friends

  • Pocket - I like clothes & bags with strategic pockets or I won’t consider buying it.

  • Mokja - I enjoy food and drinks.

  • Miss Piggy - I ate well as a child and had big cheeks.

III. Country(ies) of Origin and Residence:

  • USA & South Korea

IV. States/Regions Lived/Visited in the United States:

  • I’ve visited 38 out of 50 states plus D.C.

V. Languages Spoken:

  • English, Spanish



VI. Favorite Dish:

  • Are you ready??? Soul Food & Korean food (mac&cheese, greens, dressin, fried chicken like grandma style,fried catfish,  jamaican oxtails, fufu & goat & moi moi (nigerian), Kalbi, tegigogi, mackeral, kimchi, buchu kimchi, dukguk aka ricecake soup, mee ok guk aka seaweed soup, Busken cookies, Tates cookies, sweet potatoe pie and peach cobbler with a crispy flaky crust.

VII. Favorite Phrase/Slang:

  • “Big ol’ nasty..” (It’s a positive precursor)

VIII. Favorite Quote:

  • "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." ~ Frederick Douglass

  • "Never look down on anybody unless you're helping them up." 

IX. Favorite Song/Artist:

  • Marvin Gaye and Whitney Houston. You can’t make me choose.

X. Three words to describe each of the following:

  • USAOpportunity, individualistic, arrogant

  • YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE UNITED STATES: Diverse, fortunate, segregated  
  • HOMEMom, Dallas, Brooklyn

XI. Which cultures do you represent?

  • Black and Korean

XII. Where do people assume/guess you are from?

  • Hawaii in the summer. Mexico when they find out I teach Spanish. 

III. What is the most "creative" way (positive or negative) someone has expressed themselves to you with regard to your cultures?

  • "Ni hao ma."

XIV. What are the biggest differences between your cultures?

  • Genotype, language, food

XV. What are the biggest similarities between your cultures?

  • Hardworking, family oriented

XVI. Share your experience/observations returning to your country after living in the U.S.:

  • Food is how I remembered...delish. I was welcomed but I did not feel like I belonged in Korea. It stems from a combination of my shame of not speaking Korean and of people staring.

XVII. Share your experience/observations returning to the U.S. after travelling/living abroad:

  • I have been conscientious of representing two distinct cultures since before I can set an age (at least 5) because people have made a point to either call me names 01+++or ask curious and ignorant questions about my mixed family. Upon returning from Ecuador to study Spanish or Jamaica & Korea to vacay, my perspective regarding ethnic differences had broadened and my humility increased. I became more appreciative of some basic opportunities of education and extracurriculars that many young girls would never consider.

XVIII. Share your experience/observations traveling to different regions within the USA:

  • Even though there is prejudice everywhere you go, it is interesting to hear the difference of perception of hospitality and courtesy versus someone who is being frank. 

XIX. How do you define a patriot/patriotism?

  • A person who is proud of, fights for and promotes the ideals of their country

XX. What does it mean to be an “American”?

  • To live in the Western hemisphere. To be U.S. American is simply to have citizenship. The American dream is a loaded and relative term because there are many cultures and subcultures that have different ideals, values and expectations

XXI. How would elders in your "other" country define an “American”?

  • White

XXII. How would the youth in your "other" country define an “American”?

  • White

XXIII. What “American” qualities/traits do you most admire?

  • The possibilities of economic prosperity

XXIV. What “American” qualities/traits do you least admire?

  • The process/negative effects of the pursuit of economic prosperity.

XXV. What makes a country exceptional?

  • It’s ability to create a just, safe nation in which to live and prosper.

XXVI. When you watch international competitions like the Olympics or World Cup, who do you root for?

  • I become Switzerland.

XXVII. In what countries have you eaten McDonalds or Starbucks?

  • Ecuador & USA

XXVIII. Favorite country/place you have visited or lived or want to visit/live? And why?

  • There are too many that I have yet to visit and I don’t have a favorite. I loved Ecuador, Jamaica, Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico and I have touched/traveled to 38 of 50 states.

loca for cola?

loca for cola?

XXIX. Share a significant memory (or memories) two involving both/all of your cultures.

  • National holidays like Thanksgiving always had soul food and kimchi.

  • When I was seven during a fourth of July parade, my brownie troop was invited to sit on a float with an international theme and I wanted to wear a Korean hanbok dress. My troop leader said I had to wear this beautifully adorned burgundy sombrero. (but my 7yr old mind could not appreciate or see past it’s large round brim). My culturally insensitive troop leader touched my arm and said I had to wear it because of my brown skin. Regardless of her intentions, I cried as I walked home with my big hat.

  • Listening to this talkback from my students as a Spanish teacher: 

    • "I'm Black, I don't speak Mexican."

    • "I'm White. I speak American."

    • I'm Mexican. This ain't Spanish."

XXX. How has living in the United States impacted/influenced you?

  • I bought the dream that anyone can be “successful” if they work hard and then as I matured, I realized how imbalanced opportunities truly are presently and historically. There is superficial equity and systemic injustice throughout most organizations. I fight for the underdog and the miseducated. Living in the U.S. has made me humble, appreciative and conscientious of these socio-economic and gender inequalities in education and opportunity.

Share your #multinationalPATRIOT story with us by participating in our PATRIOT SURVEY SAYS!!! blog series. Click the pic below to learn how to get involved!