Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Collective Seoul

As a Korean-American guy, born in NYC and raised in a predominantly white environment, I have often felt the pull of being trapped between two cultures. I would imagine many of you whom are either Asian-American or are raising part-Asian children can understand what I mean by that.

Personally, I cherish that duality in myself. Growing up, I used to make turkey and kimchi sandwiches all the time. Sometimes, it would be bologna and kochujang sandwiches. And though now that type of cultural melding of foods is considered "fusion," back when I was a 6-year-old kid, I liked to think that, by combining the best of both cultures, the sum of the parts was greater than the whole.

Now, despite the fact that I'm about as American as apple pie, I've still got a great sense of Korean pride. When the World Cup or the Olympics are on TV, I always find myself rooting for the Korean team. Part of the reason is obviously due to my family's Korean heritage. However, another part of it has to do with rooting for the underdog (Those of you familiar with the Korean concept of HAN may understand how poignant it is to root for the underdog, especially when that underdog is related to anything Korean.)

Why am I babbling about all this today? Because recently, Korea beat the U.S. 7-3 in the World Baseball Classic. Keep in mind that the U.S. team is a collection of Major League Baseball All-Stars. The best players on the Korean team aren't even stars on their own home teams! But collectively, the Koreans persevered and basically spanked the snot out of the U.S. team!

When I heard the news, I practically jumped for joy and looked around for someone to high-five. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anyone so I just high-fived myself. Then, I started thinking about how interesting it was that I could feel such enormous pride for the Korean team. I barely speak any Korean. I have virtually no family living there. And when I go back to Korea, people still very much consider me a foreigner.

And you know what? I realized that, paradoxically speaking, all those things are relevant only in the sense that they make me MORE AMERICAN.

Because isn't it true that the greatest thing about this country is the fact that we're ALL from somewhere else? That this experiment in democracy and melting pot of ideas is what makes this country so great?

As future American generations become more racially and culturally mixed, I think the actual notions of race and culture will be diminished. And while I think that's a beautiful thing, I hope that everyone always remembers where they came from. Because as a wise man once said, it's only by looking back that we can see where we're going.

But is it me or do other people feel the same way also? Is it strange that I consider myself a very patriotic American but I always find myself rooting for the Korean team? What about those of you who are half-Asian or raising half-Asian kids? Do you think my 3rd-generation daughter will feel marginally less pride in her Korean heritage? Is there a law of diminishing succession?

Talk to me, people. An inquring mind wants to know...


L said...

Excellent post. I feel similar to you as well. I feel very fortunate to live in America but I still find myself leaning towards my Korean side when it comes to things like patriotism and loyalty in sports, politics, culture, etc.

I hope we are able to raise our daughter in a similar way my husband and I were both raised so that she understands and embraces both cultures, although I hope she speaks better Korean than I do!

weigook saram said...

Hey, even I cheered for Korea during the World Cup. The enthusiasm of the fans was contagious. I was also rooting for Korea in the World Baseball Classic. Sometimes the arrogance of American fans makes me want to cheer for anyone but the U.S.

Marcie said...

Mmmm, kimchi & turkey sandwich. How about kimbap made with hot dog.

Soccer Dad said...

I feel ya, MD. Check out this story i wrote a few years back during WC 2002.


I recently went to USA/Japan friendly dressed in my J-league jersey, rooting my peoples on. When the US scored, I kinda sat glumly as the frat boys in the seat in front of me hooted and hollered. One turned around looking to give a high five, looked at me, and turned back around to high five his buddy.

Gia-Gina said...

I feel the same way all the time. Here in Italy, no one believes I am American, they keep asking me originally where am I from, China, Japan etc... Italians are Italians by blood, it does not matter how long you have lived here, you are a citizen by blood first and foremost. When I was a child I knew I was Chinese, I mean just look at my parents!

Now after years on Guam and years in Seattle, I feel no link to Vietnam, where I was born and my parents were born, or China, which I have never seen. But I feel a very strong connection to my Chinese family, Chinese food and Cantonese. Once my dad said to me I am no longer Chinese but American. I wish someone would tell that to the Italians.

If I have a child I will raise her in the same manner I was raised, minus the spanking.

L. said...

Even more importantly, JAPAN IS NUMBER ONE! Wooo-hoooo! Can I tell you, my family went nuts here?

Thanks, MD. You`re making me feel better about my weird home as usual.

al said...

i'm gonna have to disagree w/ you on the whole melting pot thing. i think when communitites get incorporated into the melting pot, at best they're slightly diluting the white stew of hegemony-- losing most of their cultural distinctions. being incorporated into white dominant culture while being allowed to sop up my kimchi chigae w/ bread, while tasty, is not that encouraging.

also, even if mixed race people are the future, we'll still find ways to oppress people.

Deanna said...

I am fourth-generation Japanese, and only half at that. YAY TEAM JAPAN!!! That being said, after I went to live in Tokyo during college, I learned just how American I was. It seemed that American society (and the public school system especially) was determined to remind me that I am Japanese, and that it was important that I "celebrate my diversity" or some such crap like that, which basically meant that my classmates thought I spoke Japanese at home (I speak more Japanese than my third-generation father) and I should be eating onigiri (rice balls) for lunch. When I got to Japan, it seemed as if the Japanese culture, which I had been told to embrace and identify with, laughed at me, this "ainoko" (half-breed, according to my Obachan) who thought she was Japanese. I am so American. I love Japan and all that it has given to me, but I was born and raised here and that's what I am.

I still want to go back to Japan someday to visit, and take my kids along when they're old enough. And I love rooting for Ichiro (and the Seattle Mariners) during the baseball season. But I know that my roots are here. Even my Obachan, who went through the internment, knows she's more American than Japanese.

Anonymous said...

I think it comes down to language, which is why my wife and I decided our 1/2-1/2 boy should do an immersion program (cantonese and mandarin) starting at 5. Since he is going to look chinese, he will be much better off speaking Chinese. My wife, who is british, has full-blown, old-school chinese parents (I'm the local white guy). She dropped speaking mandarin as a kid because the rascism was so bad. The language skills will help our kid locally, since much of SF is now chinese. And it can't hurt if he can communicate with the grandparents in their native language.