I am reading books about Korean history and culture that I got from the public library. The books are written by white Westerners. White Westerners who have spent more time in Asia and know much more of the language, customs, history, and daily life of Korea that I ever have. The books are meant to reveal parts of the South and North Korean psyches, interpret the faraway culture into English so that Westerners can sympathize with it.
It feels very weird to be drawn into the history of your own DNA by someone who does not share that DNA, but understands much more than you do. The reality is that the history taught in United States public schools is very US- and European-focused. The only time I learned about Korea in class was when I studied the Korean War. I don’t even know what verbiage Koreans use for that war (I mean, for them, every war is a Korean War, of course.). My parents learned just as little as I did, and so were also not a resource for those experiences, not that I could or do blame them.
While growing up I never took much personal interest in reading about Korean and general Asian histories/cultures, so it is also partially my fault that I don’t know any of these things. I don’t want to blame someone or something, even though, like, institutional racism and white supremacy obviously are major factors here. I’m not angry that I don’t know anything about my birth culture, or that I never had (or took) a real chance to learn it. Instead I just feel weird. It’s sad and strange, like a memory that you can’t fully recall but know is there. If I reached through my body and my cells, somehow, I could find the cultural consciousness that I have never had.
One of my (many) bosses is a South Korean woman who, from my understanding and her accent, spent much of her early life in South Korea. She likes to poke gentle fun at the fact that I don’t know much at all about life in Korea. The first time I ever had bulgogi was when I was twenty and having a meal at her house. I once asked an Internet friend (because of course I had Internet friends as a teenager) who lived in Korea what they ate for breakfast. I didn’t even know what to ask her when she offered to answer any questions I might have. I figured breakfast was as good a question as any. Sadly, I just realized that I do not remember her answer. Those times feel very embarassing to me now. Partially it makes me feel like the Worst Korean Ever (even though culturally I am US/American, and probably the Worst Korean Ever commits murder at least).
Parts of my history, or my biological parents’ histories, or my blood’s history, are completely blank for me. I don’t even know what they are. I can’t decide if this is a terrible thing or if it is simply a fact of my current existence.