By: Bri Benson, Intern
Though we can all appreciate individualism, it’s safe to say that everyone dreams to be included in some shape or form. Identities are bestowed upon us or selected by choice, all to create a label for ourselves and a sense of belonging. But what if you have more than one dominating identity? What happens when both groups find you too similar to the other to belong in theirs? Biracial culture knows this situation all too well. When I was a kid, I was blissfully unaware of why my identities mattered; my mother is Korean, my father is white – plain and simple. But when I eventually got told to, “Go back to where I came from” on the school playground; was ridiculed for the food that I brought to school; or was faced with people drawing their eyes back in mockery of my own, I began to notice how different I was. The veil was pulled from my rose-colored glasses as I began to notice the lack of representation at school – Hardly anyone looked like me, and the only mixed-raced Asian kid that I knew was my sister.
While on the screen, U.S. media rarely showed Asian people beyond the comical prop: a foreigner to be saved or a samurai fighter with a red streak in their hair. Nothing that I saw on TV was relatable, reflective of my life, or even aspirational. Regretfully, I repressed my Korean identity and assimilated to one that wasn’t fully my own, and it inevitably put half of the real me on the back burner. I was comfortably me at home, but at school I was a whole different person. How’s that for a coming-of-age story?
As I grew older, I realized these actions only slowed down discovering myself. It took a lot of self-reflection to unlearn how to avoid the parts of my identity that society had stigmatized and learn self-acceptance. I became more open with coming from two cultures, and I grew a whole new level of appreciation for my mother’s Korean background. I asked her more questions, tried to learn the language from her and engaged in Korean culture. Most importantly, I developed thicker skin and learned how to navigate difficult conversations with people who refused to accept all parts of my identity.
And now, I’m at a place in life where I can stand up for myself and be confident. Being half-Korean has allowed me to understand two vastly different cultures and learn to embrace both of them, at the same time. These experiences are what ultimately led me to PR, so that I can address the lack of diversity and the broad mis-representation of diverse culture in media, the industry and, ultimately, our education system. I believe that some people don’t support others who aren’t like them simply because they don’t know their story. Coming from two different groups, I was able to learn and embrace that every one of us, every part of who we are, is equally deserving of success, joy and representation.
As it is Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage month, I want to take the time to reflect on my own Asian-American experience. I can finally say that I love all parts of my identity and that I now have a deep appreciation for the large, profoundly diverse Asian community I am a part of. As I go about life throughout my twenties, I’m fulfilled knowing that we’re living in a time when assimilation isn’t a prerequisite to belonging anymore. I want to dedicate this post to all people of Asian heritage. I want you to all know that your identity is valid; that though we don’t dominate the room in western society, our ideas, views and cultures shouldn’t have to be wiped to the side for the sake of conformity. For those not in the industry yet, know that I once thought that I wouldn’t belong. I thought that since I didn’t have a large network due to being a first-generation student, there wasn’t a place for me anywhere in PR. It’s a scary feeling, but if we make our voices heard and continue to participate in difficult conversations about diversity, we can one day see a more inclusive industry for both our community and other communities that are just as important. For those who are in the industry already, use this as a reason to reach out to young Asian PR professionals and give them guidance. And for those who aren’t from Asian or Pacific Islander descent, I ask that you take the time to reflect on your own encounters with Asian culture. Think about things you could do to make the people around you feel included, respectfully. The drivers behind diversity and inclusion don’t have to come from one community alone, it’s a reciprocal effort that requires everyone to offer their support. Perhaps it starts with genuine curiosity and a respectful inquiry of wonder: “Tell me about growing up you.”