I value human diversity and commonality. I used to perceive diversity as differences that often connote exclusion, oppression, and silence based on my lived experiences. I grew up as the youngest of seven children in a conservative Christian home, where poverty, confusion, and anger mostly dominated my early life in Korea. I was almost like a “forgotten child.” I use “almost” to highlight two aspects of my childhood: commonality and diversity. Commonality refers to what I shared, at least in my mind at the time of my early childhood, with many other girls. Diversity refers to a unique event that I experienced between me and my father.
No one seemed to notice who I was, what I was thinking, and how I felt. I was a very curious child. I was interested in many subject matters and activities, but I was not allowed to do most of them. Moreover, I was not allowed to speak up. I was too young. I was a girl. I was too smart for a girl. I spoke up too much for a girl. I was too active for a girl. I had too many questions for a girl. I was a girl from a poor family. In fact, I was just a girl. I was not allowed to have my voice. Yet, my father planted a glimpse of hope in me by telling me occasionally that I would be the first female president of South Korea. I was completely confused. My father told me his big dream, but no one seemed to provide me resources to become what I was told to become, including my father. He did not want me to go to a college. He did not approve of a girl pursuing education. In fact, I thought all girls were like me, with the exception of hearing such a seemingly impossible dream. My experiences were common to all girls, I thought. My experiences with being different was mostly related to my gender, socioeconomic status, poverty, age, and class. I thought everyone had the same experiences until I came to the U.S when I was in my mid-twenties.
Here in the US, I experienced what I never experienced before: my skin color, language, and marital status. This time in my life, when I was in my mid-twenties, I thought I was given a chance to speak up. People asked me about my thoughts, my preferences, and my opinions. It was an exhilarating feeling at first. However, it was a strange experience that made me feel “bad” about myself as if I was wrong, misplaced, and misaligned. I did not fit in this world. It was much later that I realized what I experienced had a name: racism, microaggression, and internalized racism. I felt powerless and silenced again in a land where I thought everything was possible. I was invisible again. I was told that it was the American dream.
Due to my experiences as a minority, I naturally sought comfort at the least and protection at the best from my ethnic group of people. However, I was also a minority among the minority within the Korean American community. Korean Americans are a religious group of people, at least based on my experiences in the US. What I refer to as “religious” in this context is rigidity. I was supposed to feel that I “fit in” with to my group of Koreans, especially Korean Christians. I married outside of my own ethnic group, specifically to a U.S. military personnel, and then became divorced. I remained as a single mother and obtained my doctoral degree from a Catholic school despite me being Protestant. Compounded by my educational, socioeconomic status, and gender, I was excluded within my own people. I felt that way, but no one seemed to either know what I meant or simply suggested that I was over- sensitive. Here, within my Korean American community, I learned that there is a name for this type of attitudes: prejudice.
Koreans are a homogeneous group of people, similar to many Asian American and Pacific Islanders. Yet, we are also a very diverse groups of people. Koreans and many other East Asian countries maintained by a homogeneous group of people do not have a concept of difference until they are exposed to different ethnic group of people and colors. Thus, the concept of racism is foreign. The concept of boundary is blurry and impermeable. The concept of borders between countries are clear. The difference within the group often results in unbearable punishment: one if cut off from the group. The individual differences in values and choices threaten the homogeneous nature of the group. Individual differences hinder cohesiveness, structure, maintenance and reproduction of the group culture. The harmony of the group takes precedent over the freedom of individuality. Thus, individual sacrifice becomes not only valuable but also promoted, especially for women. Most often, knowledge empowered me, but not at that time in my life. I was devastated. Knowledge did not help, but people did.
There came a turning point when I reached out to people outside of my ethnic groups. It was hard at first. I would say it felt unnatural. It was not organic. I felt misaligned again. It was during my doctoral program, where I met my colleagues. They were truly supportive, compassionate, and open-hearted people. A proverb says birds of a feather flock together. In retrospective, attending to a Jesuit school was a God-sending answer to my prayer. As a Jesuit university, Loyola strives for social justice. Many of my colleagues in my doctoral program have a passion for diversity and social justice. Many of us came from various forms of religious and spiritual traditions with multiple forms of racial and ethnic backgrounds. I loved the school, its spirit, and its environment. Mostly, I loved my colleagues. I met a couple of colleagues who eventually became my friends and then eventually became my family who truly helped me to believe in me and to see the value of my differences as strengths.
Then, my perspectives about my differences changed to my uniqueness. I noticed this change because I noticed myself using a vocabulary from “difference” to “uniqueness” when I explained about me in class. I have slowly gained my strength and restructured my identity as a Korean Christian American counselor, qualitative researcher, and scholar. I am a mother of three children without a husband. I have one brother in the U.S. and three sisters, one older brother, and a mother in Korea at the moment of writing this reflection paper. I used to dream of becoming a journalist and writer. I love talking to people and hearing about their life stories. I love the tranquility and destructive energy of water. Ultimately, I am a Christian who accepted Jesus as my savior when I was in early twenties by believing and living through my life as His chosen Kingdom worker. I am a Kingdom warrior who will fight and advocate for the weak and marginalized. This shift in my identity was possible because of my suffering. In my early twenties, God’s words simply came to me, but in my forties, His words came with the power of the Holy Spirit and deep conviction (1 Thessalonians 4:5). In retrospect, confusion, and anger were all necessary parts of my faith journey. I am no longer just a girl. Moreover, I am not simply an existing “being.” I am “a living being.” I am a living person. I pursue to become the voice of the voiceless through my research with collaboration with other like-hearted colleagues. I strive to become a Kingdom warrior to fight against inequity and injustice for bringing restorative justice to the weak and the marginalized. I aim to become a wounded healer for the wounded soul just like Jesus. My once so-called “American dream” has changed its essence as Martin Luther King Jr (1963) captured in his profound speech when he said “I still have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the American dream – one day this nation will rise up and live up to its creed, ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream.”
p.s. This writing was written around December 2019 and was a part of my response to one of Christian-faith based university in Ohio.