My parents were one of many parents who immigrated to the Untied States of America pursuing the ideals of the “American Dream” and the land of opportunity. They immigrated to the United States of America when I was two years old, landing in a neighborhood called Koreatown in Los Angeles, where there was a high concentration of Korean immigrants. As such, I grew up as a Korean American in an area full of other Korean Americans. Despite this, Korean history and culture was not something that was of much importance to me.
Growing up in a private school that mainly consisted of White and Latino students and teachers, I tended to try and stay away from my Korean culture at school. My peers were not exactly knowledgeable about Korea, after all. The only relevant topic when it came to Korea was figure skater Kim Yuna, food like kimchi and gim, or laver, and the fact that there was a North and South Korea. Korea was rarely, if ever, mentioned at school and was not something that I would talk about even with my Korean American peers as a young child.
Though Korea was barely ever mentioned at school, my parents did their best to teach me about Korean culture. My Saturdays would be spent going to Korean school in the morning and the Korean cultural center in the afternoons. At Korean school, I was taught the Korean language and history. At the Korean cultural center, I would participate in classes that taught Korean traditional instruments like gayageum and haegum, along with other activities like calligraphy and go. Being an immature child, however, I was content with being able to speak Korean on a conversational level with my parents and did the bare minimum at Korean school. My interest and pride in Korean culture was shallow, and it felt as if it was mostly the same for some of my Korean American peers. Most of them were at Korean school and the Korean cultural center due to their parents’ wishes. Having pride in my background as a Korean was a difficult concept for me, who had grown up in America for most of my life. How could I have pride in a country that was 5700 miles away, seemed so small, and my American peers did not know much about?
As I grew up, however, my pride in Korea began to grow. In this fickle age of the Internet and social media, many elements of Korean culture continued to trend. K-pop rose in popularity worldwide with artists like PSY and BTS going viral. Korean skin care products became well known for their effectiveness. The concept of “mukbangs” and Korean food continued to trend in the world of social media. Even with the COVID-19 outbreak, Korea had handled the situation in an exemplary fashion, responding quickly by providing tests and sharing hospitals and doctors between regions when unavailable in others. Korea quickly became a country that most everybody knew about in one form or another.
For a while, I was content with just that. To me, Korea had gone from a small country whose relevance in America was relatively small, to a country that most everyone knew about. After attending a musical about a Korean independence activist named Ahn Changho, however, my thoughts changed once again. I felt that just as modern Korean culture had become known worldwide, so should traditional culture and history. The musical taught me about the brave actions of many independence activists, but what stuck out to me was that Ahn Changho was also a Korean American. He had come to America with his wife for better education, and quickly became one of the first leaders of the Korean American community. Even after having kids and a family to care for, he decided to go back to Asia and participate in anti-Japanese activism to fight for his country. His story inspired me to learn more about influential Korean figures and to strive to become someone who could spread Korean culture, history, and pride.
Being a Korean American was something that did not mean much to me. I considered myself to be mostly an American, not caring much for the land my parents had immigrated from. I thought that there was no real need to learn about Korea, a country I could not even remember living in. As I grew up, however, it became evident that my way of thinking was wrong. I should learn more about my background, strive to teach others about my culture, and set an example as a Korean American.