Tag Archives: Korean-American

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Racism Made Me Who I Am Today

By Guest Contributor Ellen Oh

When I was a little girl, I was already very aware of what racism was. It felt like the cigarette burn to my flesh by the high school girl who called me a dirty chink. I was eight years old.

Racism has been seared into my psyche, like the shame that filled me when a white boy spat on me as he screamed “Go back to where you belong!” It sounded like the laughter of the crowd of middle school kids, both Black and White, that surrounded me and called me chink and gook. It looked like the jeers and smirks on the faces that pressed close, like nightmare images I couldn’t escape. I was 10 years old.

It was the fear I felt as I held my little sister’s hand tightly as we ran away from a group of Puerto Rican girls who pelted us with rocks and told us that slanty-eyed chinks don’t belong in their neighborhood. I was 11 years old.

It was the pain of my hair being torn out of my head by the middle aged Russian woman who spoke no English but knew every dirty, filthy word that she could use with “ching chong,”when I confronted her for stealing from my parents store. I was 15.

It was having a kind looking white grandmother scream at me to go back to my own country because she didn’t want my kind ruining the USA. I was 22.

It was having the managing partner of my law firm ask me if I had any relatives on the Golden Venture, the smuggler ship that ran aground in NYC with over 200 illegal Chinese immigrants. I was 24 and not Chinese.
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Quoted–Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown: Koreatown Los Angeles

I am shy about exploration.  I’m perfectly comfortable asking a million questions at a Taco Stand, Ethiopian restaurant, or Russian Deli.  But when I’m sitting down to a bowl of Ramen, Pho, or Naengmyeon, I point and slurp quietly.

Maybe this has to do with the fact that I can “pass” and don’t want to make a spectacle of myself by asking too many questions.

This area is the subject of Anthony Bourdain’s latest episode of his new CNN show, Parts Unknown.  I was pleased to see my favorite chef, Roy Choi, as one of his Ambassadors.

Artist David Choe also played tour guide – when they stopped at Sizzler, I felt an immediate connection.  I, too, grew up going to these and related to his memories of feeling a “need” to get your money’s worth from the buffet.

“Parts Unknown,” by Lynn Chen of ThickDumplingSkin.com

 

I’ve already heard some people criticizing the episode for being inauthentic, ignorant, and even culinarily offensive (‘Jollybee in an episode about Koreatown?!’ said one friend of a friend), but I thought it was pretty interesting for how it was so adamantly Korean American, regardless of whatever essentializing of Korean culture and history the two native informants accomplish. Their Ktown is, for this current boom in K-cuisine (yes, I think the aggressive marketing, experimentation, and exoticized domestication of Korean cuisine warrants it becoming a K-product), such a defining site for the history of Koreans in America. But they do identify in different moments as Korean (un-hyphenated), like when Choe’s father connects the conversation about the impact of the L.A. riots and the rise of Ktown to Korea’s current global cultural presence: ”now Korean culture, K-pop, Psy, it’s all over the world, [the] influence.” The somewhat random assemblage of cultural practices and food as what defines Ktown and Koreanness is what’s interesting about the story, because it says more about how cultures are personally codified (through food, location, interactions with different communities, parents, punishment…) and created emotionally and physically through consumption (mostly food, in this case).

“LA Kalbi is as Korean as Ktown,” by Jenny Wang Medina of subject object verb

Meet The First Asian American Gold Medalist, 91-Year-Old Sammy Lee

by Guest Contributor Jen Wang, originally published at Disgrasian

The last time the Olympics were in London in 1948 was also the first time an Asian American won a gold medal in the Games. That distinction belongs to 91 year-old Dr. Samuel “Sammy” Lee, who was born in Fresno, CA, and is of Korean descent.


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