Friday, March 27, 2015

Oh I Know, But WHERE Are You From?

I turned the ripe young-old age of twenty-seven the other day. The age you wake up to iPhone buzzes and dings, reminding you something different and special is happening that day besides it being garbage day. The age you ask yourself, "Did I turn twenty-six last year?" Subtract 1988 from 2015. Yes. Yes you did. Geez. I was just getting used to what 26 felt like: Not anything supremely exciting, but SO many possibilities with credit cards and car rentals! Air miles, y'all!

I'm pretty sure this was scanned in a buzzfeed or huffpost article, the news source mecca for us 20-something or others, and this THIS thing is ringing true already. "Twenty-seven is when you are finally comfortable with who you are." You can waltz into Forever21 in sweatpants and no makeup and be all, "Step aside teenagers, Mama's ready to drop $$$," and feel no shame. You aren't trying to impress anyone anymore, you just want that senior discount.

Now, I've been an outwardly confident individual for quite some time. Mostly, because I am quite stubborn and refuse to be embarrassed or do what everyone else is doing. Quite. Stubborn. Insert woman hair flip emoji.

Occasionally that has come across as being stuck-up but the other half-of me is so overly self-deprecating (almost to a fault), that any uppity-ness is quickly dismissed. I've been told my kindness is readily apparent in most situations, so on a scale of 0 to Kanye West, I think I'm doing ok.

I'm also, Korean. Kind of.


My home since the summer of 1988 has been Portland, Oregon. Green, picturesque, "Whitest City in America," Portland Oregon. Where I only had one Korean friend (also, adopted) in elementary school and one half-Indonesian friend in high school, Portland Oregon. Everything I ever learned about Asian culture derived from one random racist experience in San Francisco's Chinatown on a family vacation and various derogatory slang naively thrown about by my peers. If I had a nickel for every time someone said "Ching Chong" or squinted their eyes into "almonds" or wondered why I was so terrible at mathematics...* On the other hand, If I had a nickel for every time someone said, "You're not really Asian. You're so white!" At this point, I might as well be a unicorn, with a bunch of nickels. No one knows what to do with me.

The 90s were all about blonde hair and blue eyes, maybe it still is, I just don't care anymore, and I was always the Mulan, Jasmine, Pocahontas, or Posh Spice of the group. Which isn't a bad thing at all, cause they are queeeens, but when you're young and impressionable and not entirely Korean and not exactly Caucasian and the standardized test in third grade is asking you to fill in a "Race/Ethnicity" bubble and you're all, "American?" YOU JUST WANT TO FIT IN and be Britney Spears for once at the slumber party.

And that's what my family has always done. (Not let me be Britney Spears at the slumber party) Helped me fit in, encouraged me to stand out.
They didn't have a secret family recipe for kimchi and they sure didn't know what to do with my thick, coarse, wavy hair, but they loved (love) me, and that was (is) enough.**
I love when people are shocked that my all-American brother isn't my biological brother even though we "look so much alike." We grew up together. We have similar mannerisms, facial expressions, humor. We are family.

Around 2002, a funny thing started happening. "Positive" attention. All of us Eurasians were growing up in a world that suddenly was awake to the changing faces of a mixed generation. I remember one of my first meetings with Kelly Streit at Mode Models in preparation for a potential move to Asia, and he said, "They are going to LOVE your face over there!" He threw in a, "So hot right now," afterthought, I kid you not. Zoolander is real, people!

{On a totally unrelated note, here's a quote from one of his recent interviews:
Streit makes no apologies for picking certain models. “People say they want to see ‘normal women’ modelling. They don’t. A true fashion customer whether size 16 or six wants to see models on the runway that present the clothes in a certain way. The women we work with are naturally built pin thin. They are healthy. People want to see Prada as Prada is, and the models are the mould for that art. They are coat hangers.”}

I was still just a curious face to look at. On a coat hanger. Kellyyyyyyyyy!

Long story short. Here I am. 2015.
Depending on the season and my current shade of golden, I have been labeled all across the border. Without makeup, the dishwasher repairman will ask where my mom is. Genetics!
My husband and I produce 1/4 Korean, 1/4 German, 1/2 Ukrainian, All-American children.

These are just the facts, at an outward impression.

As human beings with all our complexities, experience, and nuances, we are so much more than our skin on the surface could ever show.

The skin I'm in though, is one I'm extremely proud of. It tells a deeper personal story at a glance, a reminder of a long story short.

One scan of my face is the ultimate enigma.

I don't fit in a box. I am complicated and unusual.

I'm 27 years old.

And I really really like me.


Bon Bon

*In 2008, I lived in Hawaii for six months and was exposed to the Korean culture for the first time. Good Korean things, like, bulgogi, karaoke, and my big sister (unni) Jaeyoung! Bad Korean things, like, saying hello (anyoung haseyo) to a couple passing by and without replying they muttered to each other in Korean, "She's only half." I wanted to yell, "Hey! At least I know how to wait in a line!"

I obviously still have a lot to learn. We all do.

**I'm a double whammy of potential life train wreck: Adopted & Biracial. It is truly by God's grace that I have never extremely struggled with identity or depression, which is very much the norm. Adopted teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide. Biracial teens, 2x.

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