APA Heritage Month: Heather Chang

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“Yeah, I was going to say that you speak English really well for…”

My Caucasian classmate’s voice trailed off as he struggled to find the right words.

I speak English very well for…who? I mean, for someone who was born and raised in America, I expect my English to be near perfect, but I’m grateful that you notice my lack of an accent and ability to speak fluently.

What you don’t know is that I speak English really well because my father thought that it made more sense for his four children to be immersed in American culture as much as possible, sacrificing part of our native identity in the process. What you don’t know is that I can barely speak a broken sentence in my native language. That I can’t even communicate with my grandparents beyond physical gestures or saying “I love you” in Korean.

I’m 100% Korean by blood, and 100% Korean-American by culture. Yet apart from blood or cultural identity, above all, I am an individual who is surprised by how 2014 still contains a world packed full of segregation, stereotypes, racism, and blatant ignorance.

I don’t know when we’ll all let it truly register in our minds that we’re so much more than our physical appearances. Of course our outward appearances silently speak about where we may come from, and there should undoubtedly be a sense of pride about our history. But it never fails to strike me how ignorant we all must be to continue to make assumptions about each other based on what we look like. Shouldn’t we know by now that our initial judgments about each other are almost always wrong?

I’m just as guilty as the next person, though. My middle school and high school were both notoriously segregated into the Whites, Asians, and Mexicans. Never too anxious to leave my comfort zone, I ended up spending most of my time with those who looked like me, with those who were easiest to relate with. But who knows what friendships I may have missed out on due to my own ignorance or fear of leaving my comfort zone?

I so wish for a world where we all mutually agree to be bold in letting ourselves become vulnerable to new experiences. A world of broadened horizons, of eyes opened to the various different and beautiful cultures that our world nurtures. A world where we let love transcend fear, a world where we instead choose to see and embrace the beauty of our differences.

My message is a declaration of love, a plea for the mutual understanding that we all have something to teach and we all have something to learn. Not one of us is greater or less than the next, we’re all worth getting to know, and we’re all worthy of each other’s respect, no matter where we may come from.

I understand that the first thing that you’ll notice when you meet me is that I’m Asian. You may note that I have no accent and that I speak English “pretty well”. I ask is that you keep an open mind with me, keeping any assumptions or stereotypes at bay, and I’ll do my best to do the same for you. Because beyond who we are by blood or by culture, at the end of the day we are all fragile humans trying to live as best as we can.

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