Fighting for identity

February 6, 2020

“This is something that I've dealt with most of my life, and the fact that people trivialize it is - that's also what kind of annoys me too.”

Well, I guess in middle school when I first moved to Michigan, the first few weeks of school I guess people had not seen an Asian person much around. I was asked a lot of times ‘are you from Japan or China,’ when I'm from Korea. It's kind of offensive, it made me a little upset sometimes. And then in middle school, I did get some small amounts of racial bullying here and there.

One of my friends, he - I asked if I could - I saw him in the dining hall and I asked if I could sit with him, and he greeted me by saying something along the lines of, well, he made a joke about something with the coronavirus, and called me a name that might be a little too vulgar for that [pointing at recorder], but that was a little bit offensive. It also kind of implied that all Asians are basically the same, and that they're all Chinese and have coronavirus.

And that's the part that I don't really take too kindly to. I mean, like, a joke here there is okay, especially if, like, it actually relates to me, but if I'm given a race joke that is all-encompassing on all Asians based on one culture, I guess like, a lot of us get a lot of Chinese jokes whether or not we are Chinese. That's kind of where I draw the line with like, “Yo, I'm like, I'm proud of my own heritage, but I'm not Chinese.” I definitely reacted very angrily to him. But yeah, I think he knows now not to…

During Lunar - well, Lunar New Year time is especially... I'm on edge during that time with all this, mostly because in the United States, and basically all around the Western world, it's dubbed the ‘Chinese New Year.’ The real fact is that Koreans, Vietnamese people, and plenty of other Asian cultures celebrate the Lunar New Year, but the fact that Westerners call it Chinese New Year kind of annoys a lot of us.

So... I posted it on my story, because I'm pretty vocal about that stuff. I'm like, “Yo, like, please don't say Chinese New Year to me, it's kind of offensive, because I'm not Chinese but I still celebrate the Lunar New Year. It’s a pretty big celebration too in Korea.” And one of my friends, he responded to the story saying, “Happy Chinese New Year,” thinking he was being funny. And... I'm already on edge about this. Like this is something that I've dealt with most of my life, and the fact that people trivialize it is - that's also what kind of annoys me too.

I guess it bothers me when it happens, when something like yesterday happens, but it's something that I can deal with, so I don't really base my decisions on where I want to end up based on that. I guess, in a way, if I do feel like I want to be around more Asians, than in my head it’s giving more power to the people who do say insensitive things. It's like- I want to move away from them, instead of trying to stand tall, even if I stand out from everyone else.

About the interviewer

John (Jack) Lyons is a member of the Class of 2021 at the University of Notre Dame. He majors in theology and is a member of the John W. Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy.

Joonhee Jang

Joonhee Jang is a member of the Class of 2022 at the University of Notre Dame. He spent most his youth and teenage years in Ohio and Michigan after immigrating from South Korea. He is preparing for a career in medicine.