Hey, I’m Vicky. I’m 28 years old and currently residing in a Chicagoland suburb.
I was born to a Black American father and Korean mother, into the Army brat life in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
I happily identify as BlacKorean and Blasian — never just black or Korean. I believe that to deny one side is to deny one of my parents, which I could never do. I love them and my heritages equally.
I am appreciative to have been an Army brat most of my childhood because I was around diverse communities. When we lived in Germany and Korea in the late 80s/early 90s, I had several half Korean friends as well as kids of other mixes and ethnicities. In Korea, I was submerged in the culture, though I never learned the language (which I highly regret).
Melissa and I participated in Children’s Day traditions, wore hanboks, enjoyed the food, and so on. After our parents separated, we lived with our dad in Texas for a while. He did what he could to try to keep the Korean culture in our lives, mostly through food, and we love him for doing that.
I still easily found friends who I could culturally identify with during that time, hanging out at their houses to get the “Korea feel,” but this was when I started making friends who identified as one ethnicity and was introduced to a few cultures I had not yet known. I’m just glad this was mostly a gradual thing for me; going from being surrounded by a lot of mixies to having more monoracial peers (instead of the opposite way), so I always knew I wasn’t the only one out there.
The earliest memory I have about my racial identity occurred when I was about 4 or 5. Going through my big box of crayons, I picked out a few colors and went to my parents. I held up the crayons to their arm or hand and tested them on paper until I found the ones that matched their skin tones the best, and I did the same thing for my skin tone. I remember telling them, “This color plus this color equals me!”
I didn’t question why the colors went together, despite being completely different. It just automatically made sense, and I always thought the same for our family. I feel that, at that age, I was aware that racism existed because of media exposure, but I didn’t quite know what it was or what it was like to truly experience and understand it. That didn’t occur until I returned to the states.
Melissa and I moved from Korea to Chicago in 1992 to stay with our paternal grandmother before going to Texas. It was a big culture shock for us. We were fish out of water in this predominantly black neighborhood, and some kids took to bullying us for looking “different” –- light skin, long hair, our eye shape, etc. I became sensitive to my identity.
One day, I came in from playing outside and found Melissa talking with my grandmother. As I entered, she said, “Watch. Vicky will say it.” She turns to me and asks, “Vicky, what are you: Black or Korean?” Confused, but without hesitation, I say, “Both.” It wasn’t the answer she wanted, and my grandmother proceeded to tell us, “No. You’re black because your dad is black. That’s it!” It was my introduction to the One Drop Rule. My sister told me that the conversation came up because she had to choose her ethnicity for a school form. We both agreed that we felt my grandmother was wrong, and we backed each other up on this subject from then on.
Unfortunately, there would be a few instances where my grandmother brought up my Korean half as a negative when I was a teenager, living with her after my dad retired from the Army. Because these things happened during some of the more sensitive stages of my life, I had quite a bit of resentment towards my “black half.”
It tore me up thinking that I despised being black but had so much love for my dad and other black relatives and black friends, including my best friend. It wasn’t pretty, and it damaged my (and my sister’s) relationship with my paternal relatives for years after I moved out of my grandmother’s house.
I’m GRATEFUL that we were able to repair it, slowly but surely, years before my grandmother passed away. I stopped resenting her, outweighing the bad memories with a lot of good ones, and I have a better appreciation for my black heritage because of all the love (and food) she gave us when we patched things up.
In more recent years, we’ve been getting more in touch with our Korean side. We began cooking and buying Korean dishes, started listening to Korean Pop, singing at noraebangs (karaoke rooms), and going to the Chicago Korean Festival. In these environments, I enjoy the surprise and acceptance we receive when we reveal our mixed heritage. After seeing/reading about other mixies having trouble fitting in with the Korean culture, I can’t help but feel, for lack of a better word, lucky.
My sister and I went to Korea in 2011, our first time back since 1992, as well as our first time seeing our mother since around 2001. We went sightseeing and reconnected with some family we hadn’t seen since we were little. Leaving was difficult because of the overwhelming feelings I had, mostly over leaving my mother after such a short time.
This past June, we went back with two of my best friends. We did more cultural sightseeing this time around; mostly on our own since our first trips were more about seeing our families. It certainly didn’t mean that our families’ Korean hospitality went away since we were often treated to meals and had other things purchased by them, much to our protests.
This time, while the first trip riled up some nostalgic feelings, I truly felt at home. We’re planning on going back in three years. My sister bought Rosetta Stone so she can relearn Korean before we return and be able to hold longer conversations. I’m not as tenacious, though, so I will continue to depend on others to translate things for me. Ha…
Goodness this turned out longer than I thought… Well, to finish things up, age and experience really did a lot for me in regards to my cultural pride, and I’m glad there are various outlets for all of us mixies to connect and share stories with each other and the world!