An Open Letter To the Korean-American Community

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had posted a mirror selfie. I was in a crop top, shorts and heels and one of my knees were bent while my head was just titled to the side (you know the typical white girl mirror selfie). A few weeks later, my mom stood over my shoulder and watched me delete the photo, scolding me for embarrassing her in front of the Korean-American community with my scandalous photo.

I grew up in a society where everybody knew everything of everyone. People lived off of gossip, from people’s jobs to people’s 401K plans. But the most interesting, and juiciest pieces of gossip were always about their children.

In elementary and middle school, it was about ERBs or “evil reading booklets” as the students called them. This was a standardized test the students from 1st-7th grade had to take and this will reflect on how the school was doing. In high school, it was about PSAT scores, AP scores, then SAT/ACT scores, then college acceptances. And in between the years, every relationship, outfit, and photo never went unnoticed.

Everybody gossips. It’s often used as a source of entertainment, and a means to justify our own actions or a way to feel better of our lives. Most of the time, gossip is harmless; but when it is used to pit people against each other, it becomes destructive.

That was how I, and I daresay, many others, felt like growing up. We didn’t simply represent ourselves, rather we represented our whole family. Perform well on a test, and that meant that the ordeal our parents had to go through coming to the United States was all worth it. Wearing modest clothes and looking presentable meant that our parents had taught us well. Everything we did directly reflected on our family.

Everything we did directly translated to how we should be treated. Growing up I was taught that those who did well in school were the ones who were to be looked up to. These were the people I had to surround myself with, and these were the people who I should be seen with. On the other hand, those who made poor decisions, who were kicked out of schools for misbehavior, those were the kids whose names were spoken in a whisper. Who I was never to even think about.

I write about what I know. I know that I am a Korean American, and I know that this is what my life was like growing up. Which is why I am singling out the Korean American community. Growing up, I felt like I was held under a microscope, and even a flick of a finger in the wrong direction could lead me to be shunned. Growing up, I thought it was normal to think not only of how my decisions would affect me, but even more importantly, how it would affect my family’s reputation under your eyes. But I have now decided that’s not normal, and more importantly, that is not OK. No child should have to feel such a heavy burden on their shoulders. Stop using your children as a means of social judgment. In fact, stop judging yourselves so heavily at all. Underneath every action is 100 feet of decisions and dedications, that a person had to make. So unless you have as much patience and tenacity to analyze such decisions as you do every result, you have no right to judge us at all.

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