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The Duality of a First Generation Immigrant

These are my own specific, one perspective experiences and thoughts. So, don’t hate. <- That’s a disclaimer that I don’t speak for anyone except myself in this short personal reflection.

I am Korean-American.
Yet, it was only recently that I realized that I had been socialized as White practically my whole life. I had always defended myself for having deeper Korean roots than an individual who would be considered “white-washed” but also realized that I was no F.O.B. My ‘level of American’ would definitely still fall under the “Twinkie” category. I was born in the United States of America (much to the surprise of some) and have grown up all my life in the States. I’ve been through American schooling and learned about American Law and American History. I’ve grown to live by learned American customs and also often hold more “American” perspectives, according to the mutters of my poor, tired Mother during fights. And yet, … sometimes I still have the feeling of not truly belonging. Because, to the naked eye I am still perceived by my physical appearance which, through the magic of Biology, equates to the very Asian features of my Mother and Father. Through this system, I am still perceived as a Minority. A Model Minority, in fact. Due to the socialization of society and being raised in the only land that I know as Home, it’s confusing to feel one way but be treated like you’re another.

Dol, or doljanchi, is a Korean tradition that celebrates the first birthday of a baby.

Dol, or doljanchi, is a Korean tradition that celebrates the first birthday of a baby.

So maybe since I look more Korean, it’ll be fine when I go visit Korea… right?
I actually haven’t visited Korea in a very long time but recently I met a lot of International students from Korea and have gotten to be good friends with them. It’s always good to try to practice Korean when I’m away from home.
But in addition to that, it’s been really fascinating to explore and discover the differences even between this “other” Asian-American. And I quickly realized that I often felt “too American” in certain situations. For example, there was a time when I was sitting in the library with a friend named, let’s say, “Jun-Ho.” A younger friend of his came by the table to say hello. Upon seeing me and that I was older than her, she gave me the formal custom of respect by speaking in formalities, addressing me by ‘Older Sister’, and bowing upon saying hello. And I replied by saying
“Girl, I’m too Americanized for that. You don’t have to do that with me.”
She looked flustered but laughed and continued anyway. This is only one of a few different circumstances where I could see the schisms between being able to identity with Korean Culture even though I was told that I was perceived to be more Korean than American. Now the Koreans would see me as more American than Korean.

This personal racial and cultural identity is an interesting line to dance along and doesn’t make sense at times. Too Korean for the Americans and Too American for the Koreans. A tutor in High School once told me a story about how she had gone to Korea to teach English but was turned to the side because they preferred White, or American-looking, teachers. I’m learning everyday about the experiences that I’ve had to understand my perspective and perception of the world, everyone on it, and myself. I hope this small excerpt gave you at least a short glimpse into the unique experience of a First Generation Immigrant.

3 Responses to “The Duality of a First Generation Immigrant”

  1. rosehasathorn

    I’m not going to lie, the idea of being called a “twinkie” seems unbelievably insulting to me, but it didn’t seem to bother you. Is that because you are just very used to being referred to that, or because it is a term you genuinely embrace? I am just curious 🙂

    Also, loved this piece! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
    • sonder-wanderlust

      Hey, rosehasathorn!
      I don’t feel bothered by it because I think of the term “twinkie” as almost a visual interpretation for the cultural duality of my experience as a First Generation Korean-American Immigrant. It’s not describing my identity but rather then cultural values and experiences I have had throughout my life. It’s almost a spectrum that one can place themselves in and “twinkie” would be closer to the end of experiencing cultural homogenization.

      Reply
  2. theelephantintharoom

    I absolutely love this post. A very close friend of mine is also a first generation American and I think that this post would be very meaningful for him to see. Thanks for writing. I really love how you write, and your voice really carries your message well.

    Reply

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