As I’ve written on this blog over the past six months or so, I have had the privilege of sharing the stories and experiences of several unique and special individuals. Today, I am excited to bring to you an interview featuring someone very important to me, my boyfriend. Daniel is a first generation Korean-American, meaning his parents came to the United States as Korean citizens. By possessing this identity, he has experienced many situations that most Americans can’t even begin to imagine and that’s why we decided to finally conduct this interview. Before I started getting into the specific questions, I asked Daniel to just start talking about how he felt about being a Korean-American.
“I’m treated like a foreigner.”
At first I wasn’t so sure what he meant so I gave him the opportunity to elaborate.
“Being Korean-American, people look at you so different because you don’t look like a white American. Also, there are those people that come up to you randomly and ask you something random about Korea and try to relate but you don’t. Like k-pop or something. There have been many girls that have asked me over and over again about k-pop but I don’t know anything about k-pop so it’s annoying. I’m not interested.”
Daniel has not only experienced being fetishized by k-pop obsessed girls who only express attraction to the fact that he’s Korean, but also brutal racism. While we would hope that people would be more open minded to people of diverse backgrounds, that was sadly not the case for Daniel in middle school. Enduring physical and verbal attacks, Daniel was forced to grow a thick skin to stick up for himself.
“People have tried fighting me because I’m different. In middle school there were random people I didn’t even know tried fighting me because I didn’t look like them. I was the only Korean kid in my middle school and I was so different to them. Most of my school was white and some kids didn’t like an Asian kid going to their school. But I beat them up.”
I continued our interview by asking Daniel if there were any extreme differences between Korean culture and American culture. As we spoke, he began to express his frustration about being raised in one culture (Korean), and growing up in another (American).
“Family is a huge part of Korean Culture. A lot of people ask me why I don’t do certain things since I’m 18 like get my own bank account or move away from my family. Because in Korean culture family is the most important thing. But i feel like American culture is just do what you want. People don’t understand how annoying it is to be constantly asked about Korean culture especially if you’ve lived in America your whole life and don’t know much about it. You just look Korean.”
Additionally, Daniel experiences frustration from Korean people when they discover that he is not fluent in the language. When they speak to him and he cannot respond, witnessing their disappointment makes him feel “rather depressed”.
“They make me feel like I’m not Korean.”
I have also witnessed, on multiple occasions, other students at our school making fun of Daniel’s birth name, Hyun-Woo. Seeing him become physically uncomfortable and still making fun of his name proves how completely ignorant some people can be.
“People keep saying my name wrong on purpose to irritate me. Or people insist on knowing my first name even though I know they won’t be able to pronounce it right.”
Despite feeling a cultural disconnect, a recent trip to the Korean Bell Gardens in Fairfax, VA helped Daniel begin to feel good about his culture. The Korean Bell Gardens were created with the sponsorship of the Korean American Cultural Committee, with the intention of creating a safe space for Korean-Americans to experience their culture from their American perspective. For Daniel, it was a very enlightening experience.
“It made me realize more that there’s more to Korean culture that just singing, dancing, and studying.”
Big thanks to Daniel for doing this super long and detailed interview for me! Leave any comments down below and let me know what you think!
Until next post,