Q: What should you do if a watermelon sues you?
My extensive amount of Konglish (Korean + English) jokes may or may not be one of my claims to fame. Yet, these jokes always remind me of the gray (or should I say yellow) area where myself and many other Korean-Americans can be found. The term 교포 (gyopo) was a negative nickname historically used to describe Koreans who had left Korea, consequently losing touch with their “roots.” Nowadays, prominent Korean-American figures in South Korea have revitalized this name to be cool, unique, and something to be proud of.
Growing up in a small suburb meant my exposure to my heritage was incredibly small. I grew up speaking English and had very few Korean friends. I was the only Korean in my class, one of the few Asians at school; I lived my entire childhood all the way up to my junior year of high school moderately out of touch with my Korean heritage, except for a few annual traditions my grandparents took charge of orchestrating each year.
I remember in the 8th grade I was asked by a classmate where I was really from (which should’ve been the first warning sign in itself). I told him I was born and raised in California. When that answer didn’t please him, I said I was Korean. I also desperately felt the need to justify myself, and followed with “And like, I’m really, really whitewashed.” He replied with the classic “So did your parents escape from North Korea?” and the ever-original “Your last name is Kim, are you related to Kim Jung Un?” to which I attempted to quietly brush away and switch topics. I was embarrassed to be different, not the norm, fearful that my classmates would ostracize me and associate my family with a deathly dictator.
Thinking back to my 13 year old self has made me realize how much I have changed. No longer do I feel burdened by being Korean, no longer do I feel an impending need to prove my Americanness. I am Korean; I am American. And I should never be ashamed or afraid because of my cultural background. With the recent storm of political events, I’ve found myself becoming more invested in the importance of cultural tolerance. I believe it is critical to remind ourselves of recognizing different cultures, promoting dialogue and acceptance, and never intruding or imposing judgements on a particular people. It is pertinent that we utilize our voices to ensure that no culture is discriminated against or subjected to unfair stereotypes due to the media that exists today.
I am proud to be a 교포, embracing and incorporating it as an essential part of my identity. And it’s a given that anybody of any culture should be able to do the same.