The second I saw “Not that Korean” by Irene Park, my eyes were drawn to every word, as if it were something vital to my survival. The piece is a glimpse into a Korean-American’s life as she grew up. Irene depicts the struggles of fitting in as an Asian with an American lifestyle. When she started school, she was mocked by her white peers, and called a “Ching Chong Chinaman.” Later, she was deemed by her Asian peers as not a “true Asian.”
As I read this, it was almost like looking into a mirror. It wasn’t just the fact that I am also Asian-American. It is that I grew up in almost the same situation. Many of my relatives speak only Chinese. When I was younger, I could speak and understand the language. However, I have completely abandoned it and now only understand a few phrases, like “Brush your teeth” and “Get off your phone and go to bed.”
A line that stood out to me most was “I was embarrassed by everything Asian.” I was shocked to realize that I feel the same way. I hate traditional Chinese clothes, as they are too conspicuous. I am embarrassed by how the Chinese language sounds like you’re yelling. And most of all, I am embarrassed about how I look. I hate my hair, which is, for some reason, unaffected by a comb. I hate my skin color, which I try every summer to hide with a tan. My eyes are wider than most Asians’ but smaller than most Americans’.
Irene’s piece taught me about myself. The most important thing is to embrace everything. I am Asian, but I like the American culture and lifestyle more. I am ambitious in school and underestimated in sports. I have to find, as Irene states, the “best of both worlds,” like a true Asian-American.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.