I had never really attempted to express what it means to be Korean American in words until this internship.
I feel like I’ve always taken my Korean American identity for granted. It has always been this intangible idea floating in the back of my mind, a mingle of different moments– the sensation of tasting my grandmother’s fresh kimchi, writing my Korean name, Korean words woven into English sentences. I grew up with phrases like “fob,” and “banana.” If someone called me a fob, I would get defensive in the name of my American identity, but if they called me a “banana” (i.e. Asian on the outside, “white” on the inside) I would immediately try to prove my Koreanness. I suppose I always subconsciously believed that being Korean American meant finding the perfect balance between them.
Working for KoreanAmericanStory.org and witnessing other people share their stories brought my Korean Americanness into sharper focus. I began asking myself, aside from past cultural experiences, what really makes me Korean American?
Sometimes it feels like there is no answer to this question, but my experiences behind the scenes of the Legacy Project lifted the burden of finding an exact answer. Even though I’d spent the past few years watching Legacy Project videos with my mother at home, having the opportunity to watch new interviews, write blurbs, and watch the filming/interview process first-hand completely changed my perspective of what Korean Americanness means– there is no exact definition.
Being Korean American is simply a fact. It is not a checklist of experiences and actions you fulfill as you grow up. It is a given identity that cannot be taken away at any capacity. Even if knowing more about Korean culture, or being fluent in the Korean language, may help to identify more with your Korean identity, knowing less or speaking less doesn’t negate it. At the same time, being treated as a foreigner by the people around you doesn’t make you less American.
Ultimately what I’ve learned is, there are so many ways to be Korean American.