Tell Me a Story
By Joel Peterson
Probably each one of us said it at some point when we were small children. Some of us said it almost every night. Some begged and pleaded. We laughed and giggled and screamed when our pleadings were granted.
“Tell me a story…”
Somewhere along the way, most of us outgrew asking for stories. We grew up and went to work or college or into the army or had kids. We started wanting just the facts. We demanded that people get to the point; cut to the chase; give us the punch line, the bottom line, the hard line.
All the while, as a mixed-race person, we navigated and lived in multiple worlds. Or sometimes in no world that existed. I was just me. You were just you. But to everyone else, it seemed that we had to explain ourselves, like poorly understood directions or a stand-up routine that fell flat.
No. I’m not Chinese. No. I really am Asian – sort of. No. I don’t wear colored contacts. No. I AM American. No. I am Korean. No. Not North, South Korea. No. I don’t speak the language. No…
Each person is unique and his or her life is a singular, unique journey. But some people – especially those of us who are mixed race and mixed Korean – may be uniquely unique, with uniquely unique experiences and insights.
Race and ethnicity have always been important in every society, but especially in the United States of America. It’s enshrined in the nation’s Constitution. In Article 1, Section 2, the Constitution requires that the legislative branch of the United States government must take a census – count every person in every household within every 10 years.
The Constitution specifies who to count – by race or life station – and how much each person counts. Historically, free people counted as whole persons. Slaves as 3/5ths. Native Americans did not count at all.
The reason that a census was crucial, as well as classifying and accounting for each individual, was because the United States of America was the first nation established as a representative democracy. Representation was dictated by who and by how many representatives could be elected.
According to the Pew Research Institute, race, ethnicity and origin categories used in the U.S. decennial census, from the first one in 1790 to the latest count in 2010, have been central but not constant. The category names often changed to reflect the then current politics, science and public attitudes. “Colored” became “black,” with “Negro” and “African American” added later. The term “Negro” will be dropped for the 2020 census. Through 1950, census-takers usually determined the race of the people they counted.
But from 1960 on, Americans could choose their own race. And starting in 2000, Americans could include themselves in more than one racial category. Before that – for 210 years – multiracial people were counted in only one racial category.
As of 2010, the multi-racial Korean American population is about 17% and it is the fastest growing segment our community. To learn more about this statistic and the breakdown of the entire Korean American population, go to: http://koreanamericanstory.org/multi-racial-korean-american-population/.
Those of us who are Americans – and mixed race, mixed Korean persons – finally are being acknowledged by our nation for who we fully are, rather than who we are not or who we are partially.
Therefore our stories matter. In fact, our stories matter more than ever.
At a time when many societies seem to be struggling to find a shared identity – with race, culture, and what it means to be a particular nation’s citizen – each of us can help reveal deep, unique insights, adding positively to the often polarized discourse on race, culture, and national and personal identity.
Our journeys rarely get much attention from any part of any society, because they represent such a niche subset of any society. Yet our lives and our journeys – our stories – contain within them all the most relevant, timeless, and deeply felt – and held – human themes, passions, values, insecurities, tragedies, and judgments. And loves.
Two of our mixed Korean sisters, Katherine Kim and Cerrissa Kim (not related), have launched a unique and important project: an anthology of our stories, thoughts, and articles, all written by mixed Korean persons. But beyond what is written and included in the anthology, the project itself is conceived by, edited by, compiled by, decorated by, designed by, printed and published by – mixed race, mixed Korean people only.
In reality, we actually never lost wanting to be told a story. We’ve all yearned for the wonder, the discovery, the heartache, the fear, the hope – the possibilities of a different world – that a story once brought us.
And we know deep down that a good story can still bring us all that. So join the project and submit something that comes from the uniquely unique journey only you have traveled.
Go on. Tell me a story.
Joel L. A. Peterson is the national award-winning author of the novel, “Dreams of My Mothers” (Huff Publishing Associates).
— 1st Place Winner, 2015 Readers’ Favorite National Book Awards (Gold Award)
— Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Winner
“Compelling, candid, exceptionally well written, Dreams of My Mothers is a powerful read that will linger in the mind and memory long after it is finished. Very highly recommended.”
— Midwest Book Review