by Guest Contributor John Jihoon Chang
I often feel as though I’m two men living one life. Many of my peers and contemporaries from an immigrant background have learned how to blend their twin heritages, their cultures passed down from their parents and their cultures locally acquired and somehow become a coherent whole. In my case, an Asian American or more specifically, a Corean American. I won’t say this is true for everyone or even most people, but many have navigated this tricky path or perhaps have chosen one culture to adhere closely to in neglect or abandonment of the other.
Growing up, I was one who had never nurtured the Corean in me, rather concentrating on the present reality that I faced as a young person growing up with almost entirely white American peers. There was little value in my Coreanness, especially as it served to distance me from the only society I’d known. It was an inescapable part of my identity, as my genes had mapped my Asian roots upon my face, but it provided little to no advantages in my daily life, rather often distancing me as a “stranger”, though the life I’d known was, outside of food, language and minor household traditions, largely the same as my peers. Nevertheless, the appearance of difference combined with the few elements that my household practiced always seemed to divide, even as each white American household, I found, had different sets of cuisine, traditions and even occasionally the use of language.
As such, I was an all-American type, as it proved the path of least resistance. My sister naively would label me as “whitewashed” or a “banana”, claiming my abandonment of my Corean heritage while she, all the same adopted the similarly American “AZN” identity, one of the Asian American subcultures defined by heavy adoption of urban mainstream American media tied together with that of a mainstream Asian media as well.
Such a moment left me defensive at the time, but to some extent, she was correct.
Back to that later.
After high school, I’d move on to college and discover my Asian American identity. I found myself socializing a lot more with other Asian Americans, built upon the shared experiences of being differentiated from mainstream white America and often (but not always) upon the shared upbringing by immigrant parents. It’s certainly a comfortable place, where those around you don’t expect you to be different and share the same racial angst as you. And it also created a space for a new part of me to grow: the Corean me. Continue reading