girl sitting in grass with face covered

Growing Up as the ONLY Asian

Being the only Asian in school is a lot more difficult than people think. I grew up in the North Bay, Marin and Sonoma County to be specific. Something I will say, these are white cities/towns. Generations upon generations were born and raised there, ranch/farm land, lots of money here. And I was the lone Korean that did not relate to any of it. I went to elementary school and half of middle school in Marin county (which is known as the generations of money live there). Then the second half of middle school, all of high school, and the first two years of college were in Sonoma county (known as ranch/farm towns). I did not relate with these people when it came to the history of family.

There was a period of time between middle school and high school where I did not want to be Asian. During this time I transferred districts, so I did not know anyone. I was the new kid in 7th grade. I did not look the same as other people, I stood out (in a bad way). I had the classic bowl cut, my lunch was different from the other kids, and the way I dressed was different, too. People would look at me and laugh, this went on for weeks and months. Eventually, I was ashamed of my heritage, I hated it. So, eventually I did what I thought had to be done: become white. Not actually, but change the way I talked, acted, dressed, all the above. In a matter of weeks I became "white-washed". I thought to myself, yes people will finally treat me better. However, that was not the case. They started to call me a banana and twinkie (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). I thought it was better because I actually had friends now.

Through high school, I was still pretty white-washed, but going to a larger school with older people, there was more diversity. I was still only one of five Asians and the ONLY Korean in my high school, but something was different. People stopped looking at my physical appearance and started seeing me as a person.

As time went on, I started to learn more about Asian culture and specifically my Korean heritage. The more I learned, the more I realized I should not be ashamed. No matter what I do to my hair or how I dress, I will never be able to change this part of myself. This is what makes me different, this is what makes me stand out. And I was finally in a state where I can be proud of that. I was able to look at myself in the mirror and be happy with my slanted eyes and thin dark brown hair. I was proud to be able to speak another language other than English, and because I took three years of Spanish, I could actually speak three languages so HA.

I cannot change where I come from. I cannot change what I look like. I can put on a façade and fake my way to being someone I'm not, but what would that get me? Nothing. The friends I make wouldn't be my real friends, the memories I make would all be terrible because I was not being my true self. So, I let it go, the feeling that I had to fit in, the thoughts that I had to look a certain way, dress a certain way, and talk a certain way. Once I let it all go, I was able to truly appreciate the person that was underneath. The daughter of two AMAZING Korean parents, the girl with Korean blood running through her veins. I was able to stand up and be proud of who I am and where I came from.

People in this world will always try to make you feel small. Discrimination will always exist. But, what we can do is be happy. Be happy and proud of where you come from, what language you speak, what food you eat. Just because it isn’t the same as others doesn’t mean anything. Don’t let those people get to you, don’t let them tear you down. On the contrary, listen to what they have to say, but show that nothing will break you. Stand tall and represent who you are and where you come from. Speak loud and proud about being different. Don’t let those who are insecure about themselves break you, rather encourage them and show them that they do not have to tear someone down to feel better. Be proud of who you are, raise your voice, speak up, and let the world hear you.