Living Between Two Cultures

Sometimes I feel like an illegitimate child of the world. Neither truly born of Korean culture or American ideals. My Korean speaking skills are pretty shabby, I prefer Big Macs over kimchi and rice, and I’m totally incompetent in the latest K-Pop hits. Yet I do complain when people don’t take their shoes off in my house, and I let my parents eat first before I touch my food. And as I look in the mirror each morning, I always see the flat nose and nonexistent eyelids that will always mark me as another ethnicity. Even if people claim America is a melting pot, I’m still the radish that doesn’t seem to quite dissolve in the soup.

It seems like Eastern society constantly pushes Asian-Americans to retain their culture. “Never forget your heritage!” Asian parents insist as they send their children to language schools and celebrate Asian holidays. Yet on the other side of the spectrum, Western society makes fun of FOBs and draws stereotypes from those who just seem “too Asian”. Expectations of Asian-Americans are pretty unrealistic – accomplish both complete assimilation and cultural preservation? It’s more likely that one will lean more toward one end of the spectrum or the other.

I probably fall somewhere near the American end. But when I tell other people I’m not too much of a kimchi fan, they gasp in shock. Of course, it’s a surprise – kimchi is to Korean cuisine as French fries are to fast food. But what bothers me is not the initial surprise, but the demand that I should chomp down a chopstick-full of kimchi to prove my “Korean-ness”. I can’t make myself like kimchi anymore than I can change the face that stares back at me in the mirror each morning (and no, plastic surgery does not count).

So what am I? Korean-American? American-Korean? Right now, I don’t relate to any cultural identity, and maybe I never will. But I see the faint beginnings of one that I may be able to identify with, as other Korean-Americans (as well as Asian-Americans) both desire and decline from certain aspects of Eastern and Western societies. We may feel like illegitimate children now, but maybe an “imperfect” marriage of Asian and American cultures will eventually become more acceptable. Maybe someday, I too will have a cultural identity to call my own, even if it’s as bland as “culturally isolated second-generation Korean-American”. But until then, I am an illegitimate child of culture, and I can’t seem to identify fully with one parent culture or the other.

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About Miriam Cho

Hey, everyone! My name’s Miriam Cho, and I’m a freshman in JE. I have no idea what I’m majoring in, but it’ll probably be in the Humanities, seeing as I’ve vowed never to take a math course at Yale. I’ve lived in Kentucky for most of my life, where I went to a high school between a cemetery and a cow pasture and enjoyed drives through winding country roads. My hobbies include running, eating, and sleeping – if only life could be that simple ☺. I’m part of the APA Blog this year because I think it’s a great way for Asian-Americans at Yale to connect online and express whatever’s on their mind, both on serious issues and random topics of interest. I hope you enjoy browsing around our site and I encourage you to submit your own cool stuff!

7 thoughts on “Living Between Two Cultures

  1. WHAT! You don’t start eating until your parents are finished? It sounds like a wolf pack where you let the alpha leader eat her full share before anyone starts.

    I feel more American, too, than Chinese. For example, I root for the U.S. team in U.S. v. China/Taiwan sports matches. Though I eat just about everything, I tend to prefer American or Western food over Chinese/Asian cuisine.

    Also, yeah, I went to Chinese School for nine years and I took L5 Chinese here at Yale, but I still can’t read the Chinese newspaper and I still stumble when speaking in Chinese, not having a sufficiently developed Chinese vocabulary.

    I want to learn the Chinese language better, partially because of my heritage and also partially because it’s a useful language, but as I plan to settle in the U.S., I know that I will never be able to acquire the familiarity with Chinese culture and language that my first-generation parents have. I might marry someone of a completely different culture and I know my children will be even less familiar with Chinese culture. But I accept these facts and am okay with them. In my heart, I identify foremost as an American citizen. I feel most passionate and patriotic for the United States and American culture.

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