My face is the filter through which people see me. It can’t be helped. When people look at me, they see an Asian girl. To some, it’s the face of familiarity, but to most it’s the face of a foreigner. It creates distance, division, and tension. It brings up questions of heritage and place and home. It stirs mixed feelings of embarrassment, being respected, kindredness, shame. I wish I could be seen without the filter of my face, without the filter of what my face represents, but it’s not that simple. I understand why I’m asked where I’m from- no, where I’m really from- because sometimes even I forget who I am. At work, at Christian conferences, at gatherings, I’m often the token Asian among mostly white people. When I look at myself in the mirror during a bathroom break, I’m shocked at the face looking back at me. I look so… Asian. So un-white. So foreign. Why is my face so round and flat? Why are my eyes so small?? God! You could’ve at least given me double eyelids! I’m ashamed of what I see because what I really want is to look just like everyone else…
This month at The Mudroom, they’ve invited only women of color to submit their stories on race, culture, and identity. It’s not an easy topic to write on or to read, but they’ve created a safe space to listen with openness and respond with love, and I’m so grateful I get to share in that space today. Go to The Mudroom blog to read the rest!
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 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.
I had a Story & Soul Session with the lovely Ashley Abramson last week, and she encouraged me to turn down the editor’s voice in my head so I can write freely. I’ll be honest. It takes me days, sometimes even weeks, to write a post. I edit as I write, and too often people’s faces come to mind and I wonder, Will I offend them? Will they misunderstand my intentions? Will they get what I’m saying? I go over each word and its placement and question whether it’s the right or best one. It’s exhausting, and writing starts to become a chore instead of an act of worship.
I want to write freely. I want to turn down the critic’s voice in my head. I want to edit less and write more. I want to weave writing into every part of my life by making it a habit so I’m taking up the 31 Days writing challenge. The goal is to write every day for the month of October, and even though I was thinking of quitting even before it even began this morning, I’ve decided that there’s nothing to fear and nothing to lose.
There may or may not be a theme to what I write this month. Most likely it will be a continuation of what I write most about- faith, life, and motherhood- but I’m hoping that my writing will take us down some new paths. I’m hoping to explore and uncover deeper things as well as be surprised by simple delights, and I hope you’ll come along with me.
See you tomorrow! (Hopefully)
Each day a post goes live I’ll be adding a link + title below so all the posts will be accessible on this page at the end. You can sign up to receive posts by email or you can follow along on Instagram!