21st Century Dad
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Dad is a Mix Too

January 11th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

Korean-AmericanLately, I’ve gained an interest in the issues that biracial children face. It never really crossed my mind during the pregnancy or even for the first couple months after my daughter’s birth. I want to be prepared for what she might face when she starts socializing with other children. As I learned more about mixed-race people, I realized that I faced many of the same issues growing up.

Embracing another culture, one another, and having racial tolerance fertilizes our culture with biracial children. They are the ultimate symbol of diversity and tolerance. If two people from different backgrounds can have a child together, that’s two people who transcended the racial divide, at least long enough to have a good time. One of my friends almost wears it like a badge. “I’m doing my part to make the world all one color.”

I did my best to be as un-Korean as possible for a long time. Why should I embrace it? It was the reason I was shunned, ridiculed, typecast, and misunderstood. When other kids teased me, it was beyond the normal teasing. There were times when I could feel the hate behind their words. Bloodlines competed with societal influences. My parents grew complacent, so I continued my “whitening” process.

My sisters either embraced it or just did their part to honor their parents’ wishes. For a while, they went to Korean school on Saturday mornings. They even had some Korean friends. I declined to participate, further distancing me from my family.

The culture that produced me wanted me back. My parents made strong hints to apply to certain colleges for their large Korean populations. This motive was unknown to me. My mother threw up a little smokescreen, touting the prestige of certain schools over others. I followed their suggestion yet failed to assimilate into the Korean community. The only Korean people in my entire address book are members of my family.

I’ve never liked really Korean food. There are a few dishes I tolerate, but I don’t go out of my way to get it. If I lived in Korea, I would either starve to death or elevate Morgan Spurlock‘s experiment into a lifestyle.

Abstaining from offerings of food is considered an affront in so many cultures, especially in Korea. This has created many awkward family gatherings. As soon as I was able to express food preferences, I eschewed Korean food at every turn. As a small child, I wouldn’t even eat anything remotely Asian. One night, my parents smuggled some food into a Chinese restaurant for me. They made me sit under the table to eat my big fat juicy American burger.

There is no disrespect intended here. My mother and grandmother accommodated my preferences throughout my childhood despite the fact that my father insisted on Korean food for dinner almost every night. As soon as I was able to cook, I started experimenting. Cooking one dinner is hard enough. I couldn’t ask my mother to do it twice every night. As a result, I’m completely self-taught in the kitchen. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t follow recipes.

I made some contact with my extended family a few years ago. It was also the first time anyone shared their story of internal conflict with me. My cousin went through the same whitewashing process. She lives in southern California, so she can’t run or hide from her heritage. I always felt isolated in my struggle. We don’t have much in common, but what we do have in common is profound. It shaped who we are today.

Now that the Korean population in my household has increased by a 0.5 people, I’m paying more attention. I don’t know how Korean I will become. I still find the food disagreeable. It’s a culture with some values that are different than the ones I forged for myself. The Christian denominations favored by the Korean community in South Florida don’t suit me either. The differences I have now are sincere preferences rather than being rooted in rebellion and rejection.

I owe it to myself and to my daughter to re-assimilate a little of my Korean heritage and wear a little more Korean pride. Denying her the opportunity to explore her roots would be unconscionable.

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