Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wearing the Hyphen

Growing up as a "hyphenated" American is a unique experience, and one that can cause one to constantly feel that they are living at the margins of society. As a Korean-American, I had trouble reconciling both labels of my identity as something singular rather than as separate parts. There was the Korean side of me, which consisted of my family and the celebration of special traditions that I assumed other people would not understand or accept. The other half of my identity, however, constantly yearned to be accepted as not the "other," but someone as legitimate as anyone else in the United States.

Though I wanted to feel "American" in my own right, whatever that meant, the racial stereotypes in the media, the blatant stares, the simple tugging at the eyes, told me that I would always be different. Of course, as a child I didn't think of it in articulate terms.

It has only been recently, however, that I've begun to accept my identity as a combination of two elements. I realized that there were people outside of my family that were like me, and in that way I felt less isolated in my experience. But in trying to shape my identity as an American, my "outer" identity, the one I felt I had to exclusively wear, I neglected to also fully develop that related to my ancestry, the "inner" Korean identity that I used to think I could only show to my family. One might even say that I, myself, marginalized my own Korean half.

I've always been interested in my family's history; I'm close to my grandparents, both sides of which immigrated to the US in the 1960s, and they made sure to instill some sort of Korean pride in me. And it's also nice to be able to root for two countries and increase one's chances during the Olympics (I love speed skating!!).

Anyways, this brings me a little closer to the point of this post: I've been given the opportunity to assist English classes in a Korean university this summer. Not only would this mark my first trip to Korea, it would also force me to use Korean for the first time. And no, I do not speak it. Since I would look no different than a native Korean (I would look like everyone else, which to me is a novelty), I also wouldn't be able to avoid using the language.

And so, during this special month of January, I'll be teaching myself the very basics of Korean. While the language does not sound unfamiliar to me and I know a little bit of baby-speak, I still need to do a bit of more formalized training. To help me, I'll be using the Integrated Korean: Beginning 1, 2nd Edition textbook, and I'll track my progress every Friday of January in this blog. By the end, hopefully I'll be able to hold an embarrassingly short and awkward conversation, or at least know how to ask to go to the bathroom.

And, by the very, very end, I might even feel I can do my hyphen proud.


PS: Thanks to UH Press (the publisher) for the textbook image.

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