Growing up as a multiracial, first-generation American wasn’t always easy. In a small town, being one of the only Asian families had led to some ridicule throughout my younger years, but gradually I overcame the pain of isolation and difference as I inevitably became older. At times, I felt naked, I stood out and other children made sure I knew of that frequently. “So where are you from…no, where are you really from?” “Oh, you’re dad is from Korea…the good side or the bad side?” No one else got pestered about their ethnicity; no one else had to face suspicion from society for something they had not chosen. My heritage seemed to be the focal point of any insult or even praise. “Go back to China!” “Well of course YOU got an A.” When I was younger, it was hard to not feel a bit embarrassed by questions and comments like these, at times, even ashamed. As I matured though, I began to embrace my heritage, my identity. Questions and comments aimed towards it had little of an impression or impact on me. Yes, my father is from Korea…South Korea, and even if he was from North Korea, that doesn’t make him a nuclear chemist or an enemy of the United States. Such unthinking individuals, who had once left me shaken, only motivated me to aim higher, to grow more, and to become better. I became proud to have two self-made, motivated, and first-generation college alumni as parents, even though it put a lot of expectation on me. I was proud that my parents had achieved so much even while facing socioeconomic obstructions, and I wanted to achieve even more since I had so many more opportunities. As I soon became the eldest of four, there was more expectation, there was more pressure. Each of my siblings had their own niches, demanding ones. I felt guilty, I wanted to do more, provide more, give more to my family. I picked up a job to help cover my own expenses for my numerous activities and contribute to our economic situation. My father had worked a full-time job throughout high school at his grandmother’s Chinese restaurant on top of school, so why shouldn’t I be able to? So I picked up a job and I worked 7 hours after school on a daily basis, because in my mind, I was limitless and I didn’t want to fear limits, I wanted limits to fear me and to move out of my way. It was AP Chemistry though, that changed my attitude and revealed my altitude. It was the first time in my life that something didn’t “click” for me, and for the first few months I was in denial and insistent that I could juggle a job, extracurricular activities, and school. I didn’t need sleep, sleep was unproductive, it was unexciting, it was unprogressive, and it symbolized in my mind, all that I never wanted to be. If my father could do it, so could I. It only took a few months of sleep deprivation and struggling through AP Chemistry though, before I realized I needed to drop the job and pick up the Chem. I felt like a balloon that had lost all the air…the hot air. I had a limit, and the ridicule was nothing compared to the pain I felt by accepting I had a limit. Because accepting I had a limit, cracked my armor from the rest of the world. Scholastics were the one thing that had made alienation so bearable and it had always been my guiding light to a new environment, new opportunities, bigger than this small town, bigger than myself. Growing up, I was constantly told, “You’re an Asian Jocelyn, not a B-Sian!” but now I was worse, I was a C-Sian! Looking back, my thought process was so ridiculous, and more embarrassing than the ridicule towards my heritage. I decided though, I was not ready to give in on this goal of mine to thrive, to be limitless. I began staying after, staying till seven at night and then going home and practicing more chemistry problems. My goal may have been getting my grade up to at least a bearable B, but I soon became disenchanted with a number, or a letter, and fell in love with the learning. Somewhere in those long hours after school with a very patient and supporting Chemistry teacher, I fell in love with my progress, I fell in love with my surprise to new material, and I fell in love with my realization that I didn’t want my whole life to be represented by a number. By the end of the year, I had my A, on the final test, and the triumph I felt was indescribable, not because of the A…but because of my realization that I had not only gained a passion for learning, but a resiliency that would not only help me in a classroom, but outside a classroom, throughout life. This was not an ending, but a beginning. While I no longer would have to worry about AP Chemistry, I was ready to face new challenges throughout my community, throughout my life. Asian, “B-Sian”, it didn’t make a difference anymore, because I was ready to let more than a letter or number make up my identity, I was ready to become a universal student. My heritage no longer was going to damage me or solely motivate me, I was ready to motivate myself and I was finally ready to be inspired by the world that surrounded me. I wasn’t going to excel in future years to come to prove a point or to make an impression; I was going to because I loved to learn and because I wanted to make an impact. Growing up as a multicultural, first-generation American had introduced me to some daunting challenges, at some points it even was a real pressure cooker…but I believe I have been well seasoned and well cooked from my heritage and the circumstances I have been introduced to and instead of running from challenges or letting them hover over me, I am now ready to hover over them and to race them to the finish line.
Emerging as a Universal Student
August 1, 2012