Something weird has been happening to me lately. I’m finally starting to care about and value my ethnic heritage, and I feel like a baby bird who’s just hatched out of its egg. Stumbling, awkward, and naked. I’ve tried to separate myself from my culture for so long that I’m not quite sure how to navigate this new… thing. I’m in my mid-30s, and for the first time in my life I’m wanting to know a part of me that I’ve tried to ignore since I moved back to the States.
I’m a mishmash of identities. I’m Korean, born in Southern California to immigrant parents who ended up becoming missionaries when I was in elementary school. Our family of 6 and my grandma moved to Kazakhstan when I was 9, and I lived there until I was 16. I came back to the States when I was a junior in high school, and I’ve been living here since. I’m a Third Culture Kid- Korean by ethnicity, American by citizenship, but after that I don’t know. There are times I could be both, there are times I don’t feel like I’m either, and then there are times when I just feel like I’m something other.
I don’t remember feeling like that when I lived in Kazakhstan or even before we moved there. It was when I moved back in high school that I first started feeling like a minority instead of just being one. It wasn’t just the struggle of being Asian because even within that group there were subdivisions. There were fobs (those who had newly immigrated), there were wanna-be fobs (those who were born in the States but identified more closely with fobs), there were “whitewashed” Asians (those who assimilated into the majority culture), and those were just the main categories. Some of us spoke two languages, some of us only spoke English, some of us were second generation, some were third. Some of us were nerds, not all of us were smart, and most of us were pressured to work hard for good grades in order to get into a good college in order to get a good job so that we could be successful and make our parents proud.
I didn’t fit into any category very well, but I wanted so badly to be normal, to fit in, to be part of the majority culture. I started to reject things from my Korean culture that I didn’t like or agree with, and over time it became instinctual not to like anything “too Korean” (except for food, of course). It’s been 17 years of that, and I’m finally starting to come around. I’m finally starting to see the worth of being both and being neither. I’m starting to understand that being Korean-American is a subculture of its own. I’m starting to learn that I’m naturally a bridge-builder, that I like to float between different groups of people, and that there is value in being able to do that. I’m becoming more open to know my history- even my language- and becoming more gracious toward the generations above me. The walls I’ve built up are coming down, and my heart is getting softer.
It feels awkward, but He is doing a good work in me.