More Than Serving Tea


In Times Like These We Are All Americans. Not Really. Let’s All Be Human.

By the time I finish editing this post, the name of the third victim killed in the Boston Marathon bombing will be making its way around the interwebs. Look at how the news media writes about her, her country. Please take a look at the comments on those stories. Maybe you will be surprised. I’m hoping to be surprised by our humanity, but so far not so much.

Because in times like these, we are actually not all Americans. Tragedy, despite what newscasters might have us believe, can often be quite divisive. I’m well aware of the many random acts of kindness, and how Bostonians literally opened up their homes and shared their resources. But when you heard about the bombing, did you think, even for a moment, “I hope the perp isn’t (fill in the blank with your choice of race, ethnicity, citizenship, etc.).”? I did. Remember Virginia Tech. That was only six years ago. The South Korean government apologized on the shooter’s behalf.

In times like these, the “other” is always to blame.  Don’t forget the erroneous reports about a Saudi national being held for questioning. Unless you are an American, and dare I say look “American”, your involvement, your presence may be called into question. There were plenty of people on the scene that looked like Timothy McVeigh or Terry Nichols. One comment on a news article read: “…we have enough problems without involving the Chinese.”

But the Chinese are involved. In fact, the world is involved. As far as I know, the Boston Marathon draws an international running community together. And she was there to watch, just like thousands of other fellow human beings.

She was a Chinese graduate student at Boston University, not much older than my own daughter, and very much like many of the college and university students I interact with through my work with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In fact, before turning on the news I knew through Facebook this young woman had attended an InterVarsity graduate student fall conference. She had friends. She had a roommate. She was known. And she was loved.

This morning I heard a talking head on the television say that her name had not yet been released because her parents had not yet told her grandparents. Her parents were concerned the grandparents would not be able to handle the news.

In a culture like ours, where free speech and an individual’s right to bear arms like a battalion headed into war are sacred, where news and misinformation are often confused for one another, where the news cycle never stops on any front, it may seem odd to want to keep such important, personal, yet devastating news from loved ones when people are wondering “who is the third victim”. But for Eastern culture, familial ties run deep and are visceral. Perhaps it is because we in America expect to see a grieving loved one bravely face the cameras or give the media a quote or statement. We respect the grief, but we want to be allowed to be a part of it. But for this young woman’s family, the grief might just physically overcome the grandparents. Or perhaps, her activities here could call her entire family into question under a government in a culture that seems so unlike “ours”.

We may never know all of the details of her life, but that shouldn’t make her less human, less a victim, less important. I do not know if she and I shared a faith in Jesus, but in times like these I don’t care whether or not she was an American. She was my sister, bearing the image of God just as the unnamed Saudi national, Martin Richard and Krystle Campbell.

May the Lord have mercy on us all.

 

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Identity Formation & Barbie

I grew up with Barbie and her knock-off cousins. My sister and I had the townhouse with the elevator. The pool. The dream house. With all of the furniture. The remote-controlled Corvette.

The collection finally made complete after a family trip to the Motherland where, in the Itaewon shopping district, we found the perfect outfit for our blonde, blue-eyed and busty dolls – a Barbie-sized hanbok (traditional Korean dress). All Barbie needed was some major surgery, hair dye and contact lenses and she would look just like me and my sister on New Year’s Day.

So when my firstborn came of age I vowed to never buy her a Barbie. She received them as gifts and we did let her keep a few, including Mulan Barbie, and I even broke out my vintage Barbie Dream house and furniture.

I still have the dream house and furniture in the basement, as well as the Barbie hanbok. But hen again, there is a lot of other garbage in my basement.

Admittedly it is a love-hate relationship with Barbie because for all of objectification and stereotyping, she was a part of my childhood which included more friends who looked more and lived more like Barbie. And I wanted friends. I wanted to belong.

I still want to belong. Somewhere.

So when friends posted this link about an ‘adoption Barbie’ I needed a few days to digest it all. The doll has been around for a few years, but the conversations around adoption, identity, desire, broken cultural systems, cultural appropriation, family, assimilation, gender preferences, and citizenship are ancient. Take a look at the Bible and read about Ruth, Esther, the Samaritan Woman, the Bleeding Woman, and a host of other Sunday School classics with grown-up eyes. In many ways, as we
Americans open our eyes to human trafficking, we can see how the world has not changed in how it sees women and girls. We are a commodity that can be dispensed of or used for the benefit of others.

But our genuine desire to find ways to connect our personal stories and experiences can make the adoption Barbie seem rather innocuous of even helpful as a way to commemorate an adoptive child’s “gotcha day”.

My husband and I have been a part of three adoptions, vouching for our friends and writing letters for their case files. We have celebrated with many more friends who have journeyed years through adoption, some with unconditional support of their families and some with reserved support.

And as a mother of American-born Korean children I notice the abundance of blonde dolls and Caucasian role models.

Seriously. Why do you think I went out and bought a copy of Sports Illustrated?! Sports Illustrated?

JEREMY LIN!!!

Years ago I cried with a friend as I told the story of how my daughter wanted a doll with ‘pretty hair’, which I learned was code for blonde hair. I’m still waiting for an Asian American American Girl historical doll. I just don’t know how they would market Jade – the Japanese internment doll. (In my mind, Ivy doesn’t cut it. She’s just Julie’s best friend.)

So the adoption Barbie doll makes me a bit uneasy and leaves me confused. What do you think? Great idea? Weird idea? Savvy marketing? Opportunistic?

And how many of you still have a Barbie or one of her accessories from childhood?

No judging.


It’s Time to Punch the Ballots

I’m pretty sure I won’t actually be punching a ballot so much as I will be touching a screen or pushing buttons, but in the end it’s all about casting my vote.

(And would someone please tell me if the ridiculous “bot” calls to my home and the shameful stream of campaign fliers and costly commercials will magically stop tomorrow? I never thought I would miss seeing the ED commercials, but at least the blue pill commercials talk about blindness, sudden drop in blood pressure and death without the character assassination and misrepresentation.)

This will be the first time I vote, having just been sworn in as a naturalized US citizen earlier this year, and I’m excited because the information I’ve been taking in and the questions I’ve been asking will mean a little piece of something at the end of the day. Years of  hyphenated American angst will not romantically fade away, but there is a good degree of relief in having equal access to the system regardless of where I was born.

One thing I am learning, and it is a rather steep learning curve, is how to talk politics and policies with friends. There is an American idiom about avoiding politics and religion, but I have found that in recent years the former is almost more deadly a conversation killer than the latter. What has been most difficult is to find that while some of my friends and I share a deep-rooted faith, I am still learning how to listen and learn from others with vastly different viewpoints when it comes to issues of politics.

Citizenship has added another layer for me, another slice of identity that gets so quickly called into question if perhaps I offer up an opinion that is not “Christian” enough. My sense of belonging in the only country I’ve known as “home” has always been questioned, but having dipped my toe into conversations about policy, the economy, the wars and politicians my sense of belonging firmly in the camps of “Christian” and “Evangelical” has a new identity crisis to wrestle with. And while much of my identity angst has been done while my family was very young, it has been a new thing to talk about faith impacting my politics with my husband and children. Worlds colliding.

And I am amazed. For all of the political garbage on the radio, on tv, online and on my doorstep, I am amazed that regardless of faith and partisanship, the polls will open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. at a neighborhood church where a wooden cut-out of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the church door is brightly lit. What a strange moment of convergence it will be…

But I’m curious. Will you, dear readers, be voting? Why do you vote or why do you not? Or, why are you choosing to opt out this time around? For fellow evangelicals, which is more difficult to talk about -faith or politics?

 


The 40s Are Not the New 30s. I’m Looking Forward.

No, this is not a serious case of denial. I’ve had some time to work this thing out.

No regrets. That’s essentially what my Mom wrote to me in my birthday card to me this year. Written to me in Korean (yes, Mom and Dad, I am thankful that you made me do all of those Korean worksheets!), my Mom shared the wisdom of one who has been down this same path. She encouraged me to live life without regret.

Until I was about 20 years old I couldn’t wait until I was “older”. Elementary and junior high teachers asked me and my classmates, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” which lead to daydreams and funny diary entries.

In high school I spent most of my time wishing I was in college.

In college I had a lot of fun. A lot of drama, but a lot of fun. So I guess there were a few years of enjoying the present…with a watchful and sometimes impatient eye to what the future would hold.

My 20s were full of transition. College to career and then another career. Dorms to an apartment with three amazing roommates to an apartment all alone to our first apartment, second apartment and then first home. Singleness to marriage to motherhood to mourning.

My 30s felt a bit like a test run. I tried healthier habits. I tried to figure out a bit more about myself and my baggage and my legacy. I got a decent dose of what it meant to be a dutiful Korean daughter and Korean daughter-in-law and tried to learn a bit more about being a wife and mother. I tasted bitterness and sorrow, and I swallowed a few doses of each.

I made some choices to move forward and pledge allegiance and embrace both my identity and declare citizenship. I came to understand the darker, more anxious moments of my days needed more than an hour of cardio to give me a boost and stabilize things.

But that was literally yesterday. My 30s were wonderful and amazing and painful, but I don’t want to buy into the lie that tells us women that we’ve peaked in the decade prior. My memories may be gilded but my life isn’t.

Sure, today has enough troubles of its own, but I’m ready to look forward to today and each today after that.

Here’s to the 40s! Thank you 30s for preparing me for this next season!


Reasonable Suspicion

My college girlfriends and I had considered Arizona as a spot for a 40th bday bash, but I’m not sure we’d pass muster. We’ve all been questioned before. We’ve all been told one way or another that for some reason that surely has absolutely nothing to do with race, color or national origin that we just don’t look like we belong.

It usually goes something like this…

Someone trying to make conversation with me: “Where are you from?”

Me: Oh, I’m from (fill in the blank  – Chicago, Seattle, Columbus, Portland, Phoenix, Flagstaff).

Same Someone: No, I mean where are you REALLY from.

Me: Huh?

Still that Same Someone: You know. Where are you FROM?

The only place I knew as “home”, as the place I was from, was Chicago. Why wasn’t that answer enough? Because I don’t look or sound like a Chicagoan? Just ask me to say “hot dog” and “beer”. I’ve got Chicaaahgo.

Being told in so many words in so many ways that you don’t belong, that you couldn’t possibly be from where you say you are actually from can make you reasonably suspicious of people who ask the “where are you from” question.

But now the “where are you from” question takes on an entirely different level of fear, intimidation and distinction. Will all American citizens living in Arizona or traveling through/in Arizona, as a precautionary measure and to be in full compliance will the law, carry proof of their immigration status? You’re not an immigrant so you don’t need to carry identification? Prove it.

One of the provisions in the Arizona law “requires police officers to ‘make a reasonable attempt’ to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation. Exceptions can be made if the attempt would hinder an investigation.”

Help me understand what are the other things to consider in implementation? If the person speaks with an accent or can’t speak proper English, is that enough to raise reasonable suspicion? Jeez, I know plenty of folks who had better laminate their birth certificates or carry their passports if they are going to be in Arizona. How can you tell national origin by looking at someone, listening to someone?

I’ve been following the reactions to the new law, and the responses that confuse me the most are the ones that argue the only ones who are worried or angry or concerned about this law are probably illegal and already undocumented. Obviously, citizens who are here legally should have nothing to be worried about. But doesn’t the law apply to everyone? Anyone’s immigration status could come into question, but it’s not really “anyone” we’re talking about here. Not just “anyone” is going to have their immigration status questioned because not just “anyone” gets asked “where are you from?” more than once. Not just “anyone” gets pulled over in certain neighborhoods and communities. Not just “anyone” gets followed in certain stores. Not just “anyone”. Just those who raise reasonable suspicion. Right?

I am trying to make a reasonable attempt at understanding how this law will be implemented but I’m reasonably suspicious.


How Many Times Have You Sworn This Year?

I have raised my right hand and promised so many things so many times this year – to be truthful, that I am really me, that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law…So help me God.

Monday the cold medication was working remarkably well so I took the kids to our local library so they could check out books, video games and a movie while I took another oath. Actually, the plan was to register to vote…which required documents and another oath.

So there I stood with my kids at my side and with lookers-on looking quite confused as I again raised my right hand and repeated the words, which I can’t remember. I think I swore that I was who the documents said they were and that I lived where they said I lived. I don’t remember…

Which is a bit troubling to me. For all the oaths I’ve taken this year in my American journey, I can’t say that I remember many of those promises and allegiances. Hmm…


Do You Exercise…Your Right to Vote?

February 2nd is the season premiere of my favorite show on network television.

It is also Election Day –  the reason why there has been so much hot air on the radio, tv spots with staged handshakes and conversations in cafes and automated “messages” from the candidates who really want to get to know my voicemail!

Unfortunately I did not become a US citizen in time to vote for the primaries so I will register to vote on Thursday and get ready for the next round. I’m excited and very new to the process as a voter. During my former life as a newspaper reporter I spent hours covering campaigns, and election day/night/early next morning was always a long, caffeinated, adrenaline-pumping or mind-numbing time. But I was definitely an observer, watching the process unfold and fascinated by the many choices people made or simply ignored.

The 15th Amendment gave African American men the right to vote. The 19th Amendment gave women of all races the right to vote.

But I know plenty of Americans out there who don’t exercise their right to vote. Are you jaded? Are you not casting a vote in defiance or protest? Are you lazy or indifferent? Why don’t you vote?

And then there are those of you who will be out there tomorrow staring at the ballot. What wins your vote or what makes you want to vote for the other candidate? What issues are closest to you? Do you vote straight party or do you go seat by seat?

And what tips would you give a newbie?

I am genuinely curious. For me, becoming an American, in part, has been an intentional decision to become more involved in the conversations and process. I may not make policy, but I want to be informed and inform policy-makers. Am I being naive and idealistic?


Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – Goodbye

It’s final. I am naturalized citizen of the United States of America. I am an American – a Korean-American to be specific.

We filed in after having our identities checked against records and confirmed twice and then giving up our green cards. I wish federal law allowed me to snap a photo but we were in the foyer and not in the auditorium. There was something beautiful and poignant in that stack of green cards – so many stories to be told.

The ceremony was a mix of corny and genuine. The couple in front of me held hands and glanced several times at their 8-year-old-ish daughter who was presumably American-born and their photographer for the day. The couple and the woman to my right shed a few tears as 121 of us stood up as the names of the 44 countries we represented were called out. Lucky for them I always carry kleenex.

The immigration officer spoke about the sacrifices immigrants through the generations have made to make this country their adopted home – leaving behind lives to start anew, sometimes leaving behind everything for nothing more than hope.

My mind wandered a bit because I was eight months old when I left Seoul. I’m not sure what I left behind. The only story that tugs at my heart is that of my great-grandmother wandering the neighborhood, calling out for me long after we had left the country. I left her behind, and we never knew each other long enough to perhaps say a proper goodbye.

The ceremony also included recognizing the men and women currently serving in the armed forces, including the story of one man who was commended for his bravery and service in the Viet Nam War. Even before he was an American he fought for America.

Honestly, the well-scripted ceremony had me ready to pull out the kleenex for myself and then they played a music video complete with karaoke style lyrics of “I’m Proud to Be An American” on the three large screens. My apologies to those of you who love that song. Personally, it makes me cringe. The song rings a bit jingoistic, and if you’re going to showcase a song to welcome Americans let’s showcase the very best of what America has to offer. Or at the very least, play the national anthem recorded by a quality vocalist and orchestration. Ugh.

And before I knew it we were free to linger, take pictures by the stage or downstairs in the foyer  between the two flags, and leave the building as Americans. The security officer who had so humorously helped me and Peter through the security check-point congratulated me. We rushed off to pick up the kids from school after an equally rushed celebratory lunch – Portillo’s Chicago-style hot dogs.

As for my choice of proper attire, I dressed up. I paid way too much money to not take this day as a reason to dress up – a little black dress with a beautiful emerald green silk coat of my mother’s. She once told me that she had taken the fabric given to her by her in-laws as part of their wedding gift to her to have party dresses and matching coats made. She had imagined her life in America being full of parties and celebrations, but the dresses hung in her closet, dusty and unused.

I thought it appropriate that on the day I said goodbye to my green card I would wear my mother’s unused green party clothes to celebrate. Thank you, Mom and Dad for giving me your dreams, and thanks to all of you who joined me on this journey.


Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – The Pause After the Hyphen

My husband asked me this question last night: “Do you think you’ll feel different after you become a citizen?”

I can’t remember when I didn’t consider myself a hyphenated American. Asian-American, Korean-American. Always something-American. Sure, there are those who will argue that it should be just “American” but I don’t believe that “American” should be a melting pot or salad bowl. There are just too many cultural gifts we are able to bring freely when we come to America. However, knowing that legally I wasn’t an American I would often hesitate when describing myself. The pause after the hyphen.

Because in a land where  “American” can be defined along lines of culture, race, ethnicity and legal status, a green card didn’t always feel legal enough. My entire life minus eight months wasn’t American enough. Flawless English and paying taxes wasn’t American enough. It was obvious enough that I was Korean or Asian, but the American part if often questioned even though no one can actually see my legal status. For some, my legal status still won’t be enough, but to be honest, I think I will feel more “secure” knowing that my vote will count, if for nothing else to cancel out someone else’s. Ah, democracy.

But I am looking forward to the ceremony and the finality of the process – far more than I anticipated. It has been fun, and quite unexpected, to be congratulated by friends and readers who have followed my journey through my blogging or private conversations. I have been encouraged by hyphenated and non-hyphenated Americans who embrace and exercise the privileges of citizenship while acknowledging that there is so much more that can be done to welcome the “other”. I am humbled by the welcome – genuine and heartfelt.

I’m also thinking a lot about my parents, who did not come to America with dreams and hopes for a life of excess and materialism. They hoped for better, and isn’t that what most parents want at some level for their children? Many helped them along the way – the building super who fixed up an old lamp no one but my parents would want (I still have the lamp); “Grandma” Marianne and her sister Jane who helped my parents practice their English; family and friends who were like family who were a few steps ahead of the process who helped make this foreign land more familiar.

So, now that I’ve rambled and released the extrovert…yes, I think I will feel different. I will not pause after the hyphen.


Saying Goodbye to the Green Card – Testing

I am making a color copy of my green card because next week I will be giving it up at my swearing-in ceremony. Legally, I will no longer be a resident alien.

The test and interview was strange. The immigration officer was very kind, and he even laughed at my own silly attempts to ease my own nervousness by pretending to be funny. I answered the first six questions correctly so there was no opportunity to throw in a snarky answer.

Here are my six questions and answers:

  1. What is the national anthem? The Star Spangled Banner. You aren’t going to make me sing it, right?
  2. What is the “rule of law”? No one is above the law.
  3. What is the ocean on the West Coast of the United States? Really? The Pacific Ocean.
  4. Why does the flag have 13 stripes? Because they represent the original 13 colonies.
  5. What major event happened on September 11, 2001, in the United States. Terrorists attack the U.S.
  6. How old do citizens have to be to vote for President? 18.

I was asked a series of questions related to my original application and then came the English proficiency test. I had to read the sentence “What is the largest state?” and the write the sentence “Alaska is the largest state.” I had to swallow a chuckle as I briefly thought of inserting an accent just for fun or critiquing my penmanship, but I caught myself. This really isn’t funny. It’s funny for me because I take for granted my language skills and understanding and retention of basic civics just like any American-born American who never has to worry about having their language skills or loyalty questioned. It wasn’t funny for the older gentleman who left knowing his process would have to wait for another chance to prove proficiency.

I passed the test, and walked out of the interview area one step closer to becoming an American,The waiting room had filled up since I had left it. The DHS employee kept yelling instructions as if speaking louder would make her English more understandable to OTHER HOPEFUL IMMIGRANTS. Even though I found her volume annoying she always added “Good luck!” to the end of her instructions. In the background you could hear CNN’s coverage of the situation in Haiti – a woman had been rescued from the rubble one week after the earthquake and orphans had arrived safely in Philadelphia (“F” is finally with her family!).

There was a lot of hope in that room.

I spent some more time waiting, and then my name along with a list of others were mercilessly butchered. I felt sorry for that man whose job set him up for failure. We had all passed and received an invitation to our final step – Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony.

Next Tuesday I will finally say goodbye to my green card and be sworn in as an American.

As my dad later commented, “It took only 40 years.” Almost.

And for those who might wonder if a person like me can ever have fun, I did notice at the bottom of the form it read:

“Proper attire should be worn.”

🙂