I have reached the tipping point. It’s been a whole decade since I migrated to the great United States of America and two decades since my inception into this world. There are a million ways of describing what has occurred, but I find the descriptive term “tipping’ as the most fitting for my situation. For a long time I have felt as if I stood on no man’s land, whether it was due to my displacement in this world or my inability to pick my race over my ethnicity in those pesky employment and university applications.
“What is your ethnicity/race?” (Pick One)
I would stare at the list and wonder what picking at all even implied. I heard about the “satirical” bake sale on campus. You get a different price for a baked good depending on your ethnicity, or you get a different result on your entrance application depending on your ethnicity… I wanted to go and tell them. Tell them that I’m not what I look like and that sometimes I don’t know what I am. It’s crazy, because it’s so common. Races travel and assimilate to other nations, but it’s funny how in the country where we all wind up, this glorious melting pot, it’s the one place we feel the most different and displaced.
When I was a child in Argentina, I fit in so well. I was popular, a teacher’s pet, and most of all an Argentinean girl. I swear that I did not know that I was anything else: not Korean, not lost to my blood’s culture, not meant for “opportunity.” Not for one second as a young girl did I ever look in the mirror and think… “¿Por que me veo diferente?” In fact, I never looked in the mirror then as much as I started to post-migration.
Was it my age? Perhaps. I was too young to care about appearances or too young to understand nations, boundaries, and racism. But along with the shock of the first snow I ever saw or touched came along with the shock that I was more than just a human being. That there were traits that made me different, that in fact don’t matter as much as everyone else thinks they do.
The Russian immigrants, the other Asian children, the African Americans in my 5th grade class, Ms. Engle’s class, were surprised by me. Confused even. That was the loneliest time of my life and the most disturbing. I didn’t wear the right clothes, did not speak the right language, did not understand the culture and did not understand my own family even. I was stuck between the American world and the Korean lifestyle that was thrust upon me. I picked one over the other as my friends can attest. It took me many years to release an element of hostility towards “Korean-ness.”
Funny. I became spunky and a bookworm and a solitary person from that moment on. Most of all I became needy and independent, which as a combination it sounds like oil and water, and that’s how it was. Independence floated to the surface as loneliness filled the rest. I’m not going to deny that the United States sucked me in and like a participant in a witness protection program I was given a new identity. I tried so hard to hold on to who and what I had been. I was stuck.
I survived this strange mix of cultures, the loneliness, the feeling of not quite “getting” how others think and now I’ve reached the tipping point. I am a college Junior just turned 20 looking back at the events that followed after I turned 10. My memories are jumbled and I can catch glimpses of events from before but my reality and my presence start when I arrived here, the land of promises.
The tipping point is a special moment because I have come to terms with my losses, and although the United States is a melting pot of culture it is also a fertile ground for personal growth.
[Image: “Unstable Bench” protected by a Creative Commons license belonging to Evil Erin]
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I did not really put any emphasis on race/ethnicity until late Jr. High, but I was always around people who would accept me regardless. I guess you were lucky to meet some awesome people to make you feel welcome 🙂 (or just one person in particular 😉 )
Maybe because you grew up in such a diverse culture you didn’t even realize that it was already a part of your daily life?
I sure did meet some amazing people in high school 🙂
Looking back I was super white until late Jr. High XD By the time you met me I was “asian” XD
HAHAHAHA. That is definitely true.
Great post, Melisa! Very insightful. Love your writing!
Thank you! 😀