"This stops today," I wrote my friend yesterday. "I've been subtle before, but you never seemed to take the hint. So today I'm being blunt - from now don't ever disparage or mock Koreans in my presence."
Somewhere along the line, I grew accustomed to people mocking me. Not only did I allow it, I joined in the laughter, oftentimes encouraging it with another quip or insight into being Korean. I suspect this started back in Springfield when I was the only Asian for miles, growing up at a time when many children and adults had never been in the presence of an "Oriental" -- that was the term back then.
Well, it's time to grow up.
Lately, I've been pondering over the African-American culture and their method of presenting themselves to America. Why? Because the greater American public treats them better than they treat Asians. There's a pervasive sense of "what would blacks think?" NBC aired a commercial featuring a monkey doing gymnastics right after Gabby Douglas won the All-Around gold. Immediately, members of the public voiced disapproval. There were implications to the timing of the commercial which the public knew to be offensive. By and large, we know when we're being disrespectful to the African-American community. Why?
Because they have put in the sweat equity to educate the rest of us.
It's time for Asian, who have dominated book-based education, to start educating the nation. It seems, however, that we need to start educating ourselves.
So many of us have grown up as a silent minority that we don't know how to draw our own boundaries. My friend who I confronted yesterday -- for the sake of clarity, I'll call him Henry -- he and I have known each other and worked together for almost a decade. As Asian actors, we have been cast together many times before, and we know a whole group of Asian actors. Fortunately, the affection and intellectual acuity between us is strong enough that Henry and I were able to move to a place of higher understanding.
But he and I have often joked about the stereotypes of Koreans and Japanese and Chinese and Filipinos and Thai in both strictly Asian and mixed company. But today I reflect and wonder if this jocularity simply gives whites and blacks and everyone else the impression that we don't take ourselves seriously. That, in turn, can give them the idea that they don't have to take us seriously.
When Bill Crosby began bemoaning the state of black youth today, there was an African-American outcry. "Don't give the general public a negative foothold into our culture," is what I heard. That might be something more Asians want to consider.
Because the more poignant problem is this: underneath the silence lies much confusion. How much can I speak? How much trouble am I causing? How are people perceiving me? And all that confusion simply corrodes pride. It's time of Asians to be proud. It's time to present ourselves well. It's time for s to expect to be treated well.
It's time for us to dust ourselves off and find our own self-respect.