Tag Archives: diversity

The Single Space Between Korean and American

By Jacqueline Choe

Throughout middle school and high school, if someone asked about my cultural heritage, I always said, “I’m more American than Korean.”

Korean American. That single space between Korean and American divides this compound word in half. Obviously, nationality and ethnicity aren’t as distinctly partitioned. But language is a tricky thing, and English had fooled me into thinking that I could develop only one half of my cultural identity without missing the other.

I’m a second-generation Korean American, but I grew up speaking English, and only English. I’m from a small suburban town half an hour’s drive from Seattle. In high school, I knew of maybe three or four other Korean kids, but  I didn’t know them on a personal level. My Koreatown was the H Mart (the local supermarket) in Bellevue, the only place outside of our own house where I could eat jjamppong and jajangmyeon and practically the only place where we could buy them.

Photo by Laura on Flickr

My brother and cousin don’t speak Korean either. On New Year’s, when our family meets up for mandu-guk, our parents would have conversations with our grandmother that we couldn’t understand. Sometimes our names came up. We accused them of gossip and laughed about it. Then we grasped for words in the common language between frustration and loneliness: two lands in which we are not outsiders.

Photo from Wikipedia

Los Angeles is different. Los Angeles has the largest population of Korean Americans in the country, and Koreatown is the most densely populated district in Los Angeles county. In a world like this, Korean Americans are Korean American, and that single space between the two words is not a divider, but a connector. Identity is intrinsic to life and vice-versa. Language and culture bond people together in ways I didn’t understand until I came to LA, walked down a city block, and saw what I couldn’t be a part of because I had spent so much time disregarding my Korean identity.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
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Dreaming of Tanzania

By Ashna Tanna

I come from dark nights without electricity, to vibrant fireworks. From scorching heat, to shivering showers. From 20 people crowded around a tiny 1996 Samsung television watching Manchester United play Chelsea, to the largest screen in East Africa. From arrogant mosquitoes, to twirling palm trees, from skin burns, to cooling coconut juice.

I come from an international school with “Twiga” domes, swimming pools, music rooms, a couple of holes in the ceiling, stacks of year books, heart-warming teachers, and a bunch of completely strange teenagers. I come from sleeping with rats when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with 24 of my friends, while also listening to the stories of the porters who have been climbing the mountain for 20 years.

I come from literature that has been shaped by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I come from a severe case of eye-rolling from questions like “OMG if you’re from Africa do you have elephants in your backyard?”. The ironic compositions of my environment, and the contrasts that continue to lace my life have given “my world” diversity that extends beyond diverse ethnicities, but stem from a diversity of opportunities. I have seen young girls walking with broomsticks to school, and I have seen students go off abroad to study. With two ends of an incredibly large spectrum, I have come to understand that opportunities are scarce, and that one should always be ready for them, and that no matter how hard your life is, there is no such thing as a life that’s better than yours.

I come from split cultures that have been merged through history. The cultural foundations of my life have influenced how I understand people, how I make decisions, and how I continue to try and break stereotypes, defend authenticity and truly value the cards I have been dealt. I have been privileged enough to have a sheltered, but exposed childhood, where I have had several opportunities and international experiences that allow me to thrive in any global environment.

Despite my “global” exposure, moving to LA for college was something I initially struggled with. I missed the warm ocean water, I missed my amazing friends, I missed the food, I missed the music, I missed the people, the language, the sunsets, the sunrises, the humidity, I missed everything, and I still do. At first, swimming amongst a sea of blonde hair was overwhelming, and I became so attached to what I had lost, that I forgot to live and enjoy what I was so blessed to have. I didn’t bother to meet new people (how could I possibly find better friends than the ones I already have?), I didn’t explore LA (because what could be better than my city), I didn’t make any effort to embrace anything. Eventually however, with time, I changed my perspective.

I made it a priority to explore as many opportunities, places and food as I possibly could. Embracing change, and adapting to change is a skill, and I envied people who mastered the ability to change with time, because I really struggled with this. However, I have finally realized that change is less scary when you understand that you have control over how you are going to react to that change. Your attitude can shape your relationship with change and lead to an abundance of fun times, stories, and opportunities if you allow it. I have made some really great friends here, met some really inspiring professors and have accomplished things I never would have dreamed of. And of course, I still miss home, but it’s comforting to know that my relationship with my friends back home have strengthened over time despite the distance, and I haven’t really lost anything, but instead, I have gained so much. I love LA in all its basic-ness, and you may just catch me chilling on the beach, dreaming of a Tanzanian sunset while sipping on some Starbucks iced coffee with nonfat milk.

Featured image from Wikipedia

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Understanding Diversity

By Tahrima Bhuiyan

I am the child of two Bangladeshi Americans. Every summer until I was ten years old, my family would visit our relatives back in Bangladesh– and then again, when I was fourteen, and then again this past summer, at eighteen.

I grew up travelling. I had visited a number of countries by the age of ten. To me, differences were normal– different colors, different cultures, different foods, different clothing, different religions. This was further reinforced by the fact that I was brought up in a very diverse community in Dallas, Texas.  

I have been raised amidst every possible race, culture, sexuality and religion. To the left of our home, there lived a Chinese family, to our right an African-American couple, and straight across, an old Colombian couple. In high school, my best friends represented every possible ethnicity. On Tuesday, my Vietnamese friends and I went to eat pho; on Friday, my African American friend’s mom gave me a dashiki, and on Saturday, I learned to do the salsa (even though I’m not good at it).

Diversity was a significant part of my experience; I was naive growing up, for I thought it was as normal to embrace differences for everyone else as it was for me. However, as incomprehensible as it was to me, discrimination soon became impossible to ignore. The older I got, the more I noticed misogyny, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia and intolerance. It was sad to see my friends and peers experiencing hatred and prejudice due to their skin color. It was difficult to experience it myself. It was heartbreaking to interact with refugees from places such as Yemen, Syria and Myanmar and hear their stories of hardship and injustice and watch the world fail to care. I witnessed a lack of accessible healthcare, education and, many times, of basic human rights in developing nations abroad. These experiences led me to want work with NGOs; I have been working with UNICEF for three years and I hope to continue to work with  NGOs to address human rights violations.

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