My name is Danny Ryu. I am a Korean American from the suburbs of the Bronx, NY. I have a Korean name I can’t pronounce correctly, yet I eat Korean food so well I should get paid for it. I watch Big Bang Theory rather than listening to Big Bang, yet I root for South Korea in the World Cup. Those are few among many layers that together comprise my identity. All Asian Americans have their nuances that distinguish them from the next but unfortunately they become diluted and stripped of any substance once another Asian kid gets called Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee because we all seem to “look the same.”
After 2011, it’s been quite difficult to play pickup basketball in the Bronx and not get called Jeremy Lin. He and I have our differences – height, weight, where we grew up, and the fact that Jeremy can make a layup. It’s not as if Jeremy Lin hasn’t endured his share of subtle racism (let alone harsh racism) as well – once Linsanity took place sports networks flooded with loaded verbiage such as “he’s stronger than he looks” or “he’s deceptively quick”. These issues seem to be insignificant and somewhat petty on the surface but they are all tied to a deeper issue. What if we all “look the same” because society at large is always looking for the same thing – it could be (but not limited to): not too physically imposing, arithmetically adept, and occasionally but not surprisingly a master of some form of martial arts. What outside of those parameters do we actually witness selling well in Hollywood? Not that I’m placing the blame on Hollywood for producing such shows and movies; the supply is only there to meet the demand of its general audience.
My experience growing up in the northern suburbs of New York City was confusing to say the least. In a junior high school pretty much half Caucasian and half Latino, you could probably count the number of Asian Americans in school using your fingers. I’ve been asked if my dad owns the Chinese takeout down the street, if all of us Asians in school are cousins, why my eyes look the way they do – the list goes on and on. As a twelve year old I took racism as something I just had to deal with and perhaps it was my burden to carry for being different. Unfortunately, these issues only tend to escalate as we grow older. This could have spiraled into feeling shame for the skin I was born into, then into a damaged self-image leading me to believe that society’s stereotyped and generalized image of Asian Americans was all I could hope to achieve.
However, that surely won’t become the end of my story or for that of the Asian American community. Asian Americans (as all people do) contain more than just a mere outer image. Collectively, we have a voice that can sway the voices that attempt to sway us. As we endure the racism from within our own country that intends to make us feel less American, the manner in which we respond and carry ourselves can convince the ignorant that it’s something they can’t take away in the first place. The means we take will be unique to each individual – and that only adds layers and nuances to show we are all different. Though I’m flattered that someone would imply that I fight as well as Jackie Chan or ball like Jeremy Lin, I’m simply Danny from the Bronx. My stating that I’m an American is not a claim or an argument; it’s purely a fact beyond question.