While eating lunch in the high school cafeteria as a freshman, one of my peers unflinchingly said to me, a Korean, that I was basically white, that all Asian people are white. At the time I didn’t disagree. The reasoning seemed logical: whites and Asians are both light-skinned. However, seven years later, I disagree with his statement.
Being an adopted Korean who grew up in a white family and a white neighborhood greatly impacted my view of my Korean background. Ever since I could walk, I was immersed in traditional American culture – Fourth of July parades, trick-or-treating, Thanksgiving. I studied my Korean heritage only when required for school projects. As a child, exploring my background was never outwardly encouraged by my parents, so I didn’t do it. My interest level was low; I was content with identifying with the culture around me.
The turning point to the acceptance of my complex identity came through my college experiences, my work experiences, and my experience with hip-hop music. School and work have exposed me to diverse people with a myriad of behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. Simply being around and working directly with these people have shown me that while we are all human, we are also racially different. Seeing people who accept and celebrate their own heritage have encouraged me to accept mine. Moreover, mainstream hip-hop music has inspired me toward cultural acceptance. In their music, hip-hop artists show contentment, and most importantly, pride in being black. Their songs are based on real-life experiences; their voices – guttural, visceral, rhythmical, earnest – demonstrate urgency for and pride in their intricate background. Although the black experience is different from mine, their own racial acceptance serves as an inspiration for my own.
The acceptance of my unique identity has revealed itself in many ways. When I tell people I’m adopted from South Korea, I say it with conviction. I know that I belong to a family that cares about me. I no longer shy away from my Korean culture. I’m currently taking a class in a Korean martial art, Tae Kwon Do. I also embrace the two other cultures I identify with – black and white. I no longer shy away from the fact that I like hip-hop music. I talk about it and share it with friends. How I talk and how I act are influenced by the culture I grew up in, and I will never forget this; I will show respect to the people around me.
I accept the facts that I look Asian, live in a community of whites, and identify musically with blacks. Most importantly, I must continue in the process of learning more about my Korean background, the culture that people will identify me as and the culture that I know the least about. I believe that growing up in a culture different from your own ethnic background is a slow process of acceptance, yet in the end, it will only enrich your life.
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