what have you learned about yourself? what have you learned about someone else?
When people asked the younger me, “What are you?” I would answer, “Filipino”, taking no offense to the question. It wasn’t until recently that I started identifying as Filipino American because it feels like a more accurate, complete description of who I am. The term sounds natural, especially since I grew up close to “Fil-Am” grocery stores. I was never confused about my racial identity, and I am very lucky to have grown up surrounded by understanding people who made it easier to define myself. With my interview of Skylar Kim, I learned that not every individual has an easy, simple experience realizing and accepting his or her Asian American identity. Until our conversation, I had only read about struggles with identity in books like Dragonwings by Laurence Yep and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. However, Skylar managed to express her feelings of having two different, conflicting identities because of her race and her childhood lived in Korea; she has had a hard time existing and being herself. This disconnect, though hard to explain, is so real. To hear first-hand Skylar describing her clashing identities taught me how relevant this issue is and that self-definition is a unique, often difficult, experience for each individual.
Growing up, I often struggled with the concept of what it means to be Korean American and reconciling what felt like two separate identities. During my interview with Krista, I discovered that some of my insecurities and uncertainties haven’t completely vanished. They still exist. However, I’ve realized that I’m still on a journey towards cultivating my identity, while figuring out how to harmonize the different components that make me who I am.
Despite being Asian American, I didn’t grow up in the U.S. For most of my life, I lived in South Korea. Hearing Krista’s story helped me gain a better understanding of what it feels like to be Asian American in a predominantly white community and a minority in this country.
krista interviews skylar
Growing up knowing this Korean folklore, how has that informed your identity as a Korean American?
So when I was in Korea, I couldn’t speak Korean, like, at all. Like, my parents wouldn’t really speak to me in Korean when I was in the States and stuff. It wasn’t until I got there that I was trying, struggling in the real world. It was difficult. I think the stories were kind of nice. I think it was kind of a way for me to connect with my dad. ‘Cause he was pretty busy, like, he was doing his thing and...he was just busy a lot of nights but he still found the time to tell me these stories, which I’m really grateful for. ‘Cause it’s still a part of my identity. You know my parents won’t ever let me forget that I’m Korean. You know what I mean? You are always going to be Korean. Like you can say you’re American; you’re always Korean, Skylar. I think they hope to instill that idea in me, which I’m grateful for. But I think… I don’t know, I feel like I’m still struggling with the fact that I have these two completely different identities, and I still feel like there’s kind of this wedge between me and my parents, if that makes sense. That, like… it’s hard to explain.
So it’s like there’s still a divide between being Korean and American?
Yeah, I feel like Korean American isn’t cohesive to me; it feels like two different identities, and I’m still trying to find a way to satisfy both of the demands. Or I’m trying to find a way right now to just exist. To just be...just exist as who I am.
I know, and especially like ‘cause Korean American is not something you hear often, ‘cause it’s just like “oh, you’re Korean” not Korean American.
It was interesting because I was actually meeting my parents’ friends yesterday in Jersey. I was talking to this girl, and she’s telling me—‘cause my parent’s friend’s daughter, who I know kind of well, is about my brother’s age; she’s younger—she was talking about her friends or something. She kept saying that her friends were American, but she was also born in Jersey. Like, she was also American. I just felt like so uncomfortable, well, not so uncomfortable. I felt that it was interesting that she called her friends American like she wasn’t American. And I desperately wanted to tell her, “You’re American, too”; they’re white… It just felt weird that she was calling them American but she’s also American.
skylar interviews krista
When people ask “what are you,” how do you respond?
I just say Filipino. I don’t get asked that much just because, to be honest, I actually I think I provoke it almost because… it’s a question I expect to get asked but I’m not always. At my high school, I’m one of two Filipinos at my grade and one of them is only half [Filipino]. It’s interesting because I didn’t really realize how Asian I was until I got to high school. Even in middle school there’s always the stereotype “oh all the Asians are the smart kids.”
What does being Asian mean? How do you— When you say you feel more Asian…
Yeah. It’s just I realize— Especially with like education… Ms. Lee who taught literature today she was my ninth-grade English teacher so I’ve had discussions about what being Asian is like. You realize that you’re more of minority and you’re more of a silent minority than you think. Or than I thought. ‘Cause in middle school, when I was in Catholic school, like maybe 25%, which is like, 10 kids out of 50 were Filipino, so it’s like you don’t realize how much of a minority [you are]. Another thing about being a minority… Growing up, I never paid attention to race. I didn’t even like calling African Americans [...] Black people ‘cause, like, I don’t know, it felt offensive to me, when I was younger. As I got older it got more comfortable because that’s just the reality of how people referred to different races. [...] I do a lot of musical theatre. At my local community theatre I was the only Filipino in the group and one of maybe three or four Asians out of 20 people, of 30 people actually. That’s not something I really thought about until I’d done community theatre for three years. Sometimes I’m just like ignorant in bliss, you know? ‘Cause it’s not something you think about until you have to.