now on a flight to jeju, after our family reunion in gyungido. excited, but also nervous, because i know jeju exists at the fray of transformation in korea, and its history is one of incredible struggle and loss, including a genocide that has gone unnoticed by the world.
it was joy to spend time with my whole family in korea for the first time in ten years. though i live on the other side of the world and have seen them only a few times throughout my life, i have always felt very close to them somehow.
spending time with family made me revisit the constant struggle in my mind between individualistic vs. communal ways of life. while i have always idealized family, community, and culture, i realize that doing so often rejects and ignores my own complicated identity. i was born and raised in american society, and while valuing family and community as necessary to our survival as human beings, i have also existed in such a way that my daily life has become somewhat independent of these structures.
as a person who lives in her head, i like being alone most of the time and don’t function very well in large groups. i have always had trouble reconciling myself with the inherited cultures, traditions and social norms of both my korean family and american society. i came to be who i am now by questioning everything and often breaking away from expectations so that i could choose the reality and standards for my universe. while i love my family and recognize how they have informed my life, i would not be able to fully thrive within that space alone. and though i’m often an apologist for the value and even superiority of communal lifestyles, much of my identity has formed in opposition to the expectations of conformity to any community’s structure. i have come about my own convictions in a process of choosing what i know to be right, and have refused much of what is asked of me to participate in the community i idealize.
the things about me which i fiercely protect, i also end up putting on a pedestal and accepting unconditionally. my korean identity and family structure are also the parts of me i have had to resist and recreate for myself and my mental/spiritual survival. while as an american, they are the marginalized parts of me i must fight to love, as a korean, my failures in these spaces have been used to make me feel inadequate, inappropriate, and alien in different ways.
none of this is wrong, however, but a necessary contradiction of surviving as a bicultural person in a world that marginalizes you twice for it rather than valuing the added depth of your experiences. while i create these nostalgic representations to barricade myself against the constant pressures to assimilate and reject my heritage, i realize that what i most sincerely value is the experience of living as a person of color in the US, and especially as a second generation immigrant with very concrete ties to another world, another way of imagining the universe.
the experiences of a person of color in the US expose us to constant struggle and trauma, but simultaneously give us access to a world of profound understanding and exploration of our existence. they privilege us with unique perspective, and as people who live in the US, where there may be a more culturally acceptable tendency to question and correct things about society that we don’t appreciate as individuals, and more opportunities (though rarely used positively by most americans) for us to consider each others’ differences in order to arrive at a reformed understanding, we have more room to create new communities and cultures of understanding. it allows our imaginations to transcend what any of the cultures we were born into can provide for us.
i would not choose to exist in any other way than a second generation immigrant poc in the us. despite the anger, pain and frustration we endure in response to the constant attacks and messages thrown at us that we are pathological or nonexistent, we survive and reach a place of human understanding that once we experience, we could not live without.