Invisible, often liminal- Growing up as an Asian-American Immigrant Woman in the United States

Often when we talk about race in the United States, the classic picture is that race is polarized into two: black and white. Starting from a very young age, I had never truly understood these divisions, and felt confused as to where I fit in. If I was labeled into a color, it was always “yellow” and it was often said as an offensive joke.  I didn’t understand my place…I wasn’t white and I wasn’t black. I remember looking around the demographics of my classrooms noticing that I often felt alone. In history class, we talked about Columbus, the slave trade, and 9/11, but rarely did we ever engage in dialogues about asians, much less Koreans, except in passing when we note that North Korea is still radically separate from its southern counterpart, and the fact that the United States fought in the Korean War.  I remembered a clear moment in my U.S history class when we discussed apartheid in the United States, and I sat in the room wondering which restroom and school, if any, would I have been able to use and attend if we were still in that time? Was I a person of color?

The ever familiar sense of liminality and not quite fitting in was also manifested in my college life through my labeled identity as an “ undocumented” student, or from opposing side’s terms, an undocumented alien. Already, I had felt a sense of confusion growing up all my life in a country where I didn’t always find people who looked like me or understood me or my background. My identity as a Korean-American was treated as a novelty, an exquisite chance for somebody to stumble through the two or three Korean words and Korean people they knew, as well as informing me how much they loved Korean food. Of course, many of these statements were harmless and were not meant to create the sense of separation and isolation that often came as a consequence. Statements like, “So, where are you originally from?” have been scattered throughout my life, and I felt a sense of guilt or confusion as I always explained (much more thoroughly than someone expected) how I lived in Maryland most of my life, lived in Washington State for when I was young, and oh, yes, if this is what you were really asking- my family is from Korea and I was born there.

Overall, I am still exploring my multiple identities and it has been quite a journey. Through my work at the Women’s Center and beyond, where I am surrounded by people who are ready and willing to engage in thoughtful and critical dialogues, I am inspired and gradually feeling that I am worthy and do belong in this space equally.

A really awesome and affirming article from Time, brought a lot of my insecurities and feelings to light, explaining that, this idea that Asian Americans are “tech” oriented and know how to sit in front of a computer, overlooks the disproportionate amount of Asian American tech workers and those in leadership. In addition,  “What it says is this: Asians and Asian-Americans are smart and successful, so hiring or promoting them does not count as encouraging diversity. It says: there is no such thing as underrepresentation of Asians and Asian-Americans. The problem with this belief, historians and advocates assert, is that it not only obscures the sheer range of experiences within Asian and Asian-American populations, but also excludes them from conversations about diversity and inclusion in leadership and non-tech sectors.” This statement rang true in so many aspects as I have had students and faculty alike, assume me to be in a STEM field or that I would be “good at math”, etc. I look forward to bringing to light these cultural stereotypes, assumptions, as well as working to break them, to work to have representation of Asian Americans as the diverse and whole people that we, and everyone else, are.

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