During the spring semester of my junior year in college (not too long ago), I took a modern Korean literature class.
As expected, it was taught by a Korean professor. The class demographic was a mix of everything: international Korean students looking for a GPA booster, Korean Americans and half Koreans who were looking for ways to connect to their heritage, and other students with various ethnic backgrounds who were studying Asian language and culture.
And although I’ve taken a few literature classes during my career as a student, this one was the most influential.
Being in a classroom where people respected my culture was empowering. I signed up for this class thinking that I would have a better understanding of my heritage. But I walked out of the class feeling like a new person with a stronger identity.
From elementary school to university, I’ve read countless books with a wide variety of characters. Usually, they never looked like me. Any books I read with Asian American characters emphasized the fact that they were Asian American (think: Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club).
During this class, the characters’ struggles revolved around modernity, colonialism and poverty. Their struggles were different from an Asian American’s. Although, I can’t say that ethnic identity wasn’t also a topic of interest because we also read a lot of literature about the Japanese Colonial rule era.
This isn’t to say that I don’t like reading books about Asian immigrants or that the struggles of first generations Americans are invalid. It was just nice to see a different narrative.
For many Asian American authors or media creators, including myself, their struggle with identity lies within the isolating feeling of being first-generation. There’s a cultural struggle between parents and child, language barriers, misunderstanding with peers, lack of representation in the media, etc. But during this class, that wasn’t the case.
It was refreshing to see Korean characters living in a world where they were surrounded by other Koreans. Maybe that is why I enjoyed reading Kevin Kwan’s “Crazy Rich Asians” so much. There were a multitude of Asian characters in the novel with refreshing and unique narratives. Not all of them were struggling first-gen.
This one class inspired me to create a media platform where we can all feel united, not just because we are Asian Americans, but also because we share common interests, careers, and hobbies.
Not all Asian Americans feel as disconnected from their heritage as me. Not all Asian Americans are studying math or science in college. Not all Asian Americans speak their parents’ language.
As I’ve discovered in my 21 years of life, the more I connect with and see people like me, the stronger I feel as an individual.
I’ve seen a lot of talk about representation for African Americans in media, especially in the last few days. Disney cast a black actress for Ariel in their new live action movie and there has been a lot of support AND backlash. And as much as I support diversity in the media, I am just waiting for my turn to see others like me in the spotlight.