I clearly remember when I had to choose between “oo” and “u.” I was four years old. I liked drawing circles. So I went with “oo.” My official Korean name, when spelt out in English is Yongjoo Kim.
It was a typical day after work in Chicago. I’ve been interning at a magazine publication. We have three editors, the main publisher, and three interns, including myself. That day in particular, it crossed my mind briefly to notice that I am the only Asian in the office. Everyone else is White.
One of my non-Asian friends challenged me from stop desensitizing my feelings. She talked to me about righteous anger and how I seem not to be righteously angry at times when I should be. She said she but understands that it’s cultural. We weren’t talking about the guy who shouted “CHINK!” at me. I told her maybe it is.
I thought I heard it wrong. But he came right next to me as I was walking out Wilson station.
“Sorry, I didn’t meant to scare you!” he said, shoving his face right in front of mine.
“Oh, you are fine. You are okay.”
I was still very confused at what was going on. I’m not sure if he was teasing me or truly apologizing to me. I was caught off guard when he came so close next to me. You are fine? It was a natural and automatic reaction I had at the moment. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about because I thought I heard it wrong. By the time I walked past him towards the outside of the station, I heard him mumbling to himself and that’s when it came a little more clear to me what just happened.
“Mmm, it’s been a while since I came to Wilson… Chinese! Chinese… China, China…”
“So, Yoong Ju?”
Nine out of ten non-Korean friends who I get to know better wants to know what my Korean name is. But no, I haven’t heard any non-Koreans properly pronounce my name. The spelling “Yongjoo Kim” doesn’t really spell it out right to begin with. So I prefer Joanne. And that’s my name too.
After work, I got on the L and found an empty seat next to a Black man. He had his leg and arm stretched out towards the empty seat. So I didn’t bother to ask if I could sit. I didn’t mind standing up. There was another White woman standing next to me too. Few stations afterwards, another Black man came and took the empty seat. The man who was already sitting put his leg and arm away. Soon after, the man who just sat down took off. I only had a couple more stops left. Even though the seat was completely empty by this point, I chose not to sit down. I rather wanted someone else take the spot. In my head, I remembered “Racism in the Elevator” video from Youtube that I watched the other day. Would this man think I am not sitting down because I am being racist?
I knew I should write about all this at one point. But I didn’t want to, nor did I know how to. I still don’t exactly know.
I heard from a far someone shout out “CHINK!” Because of the noise of the train on the track, the bell, and the people’s shoes clacking on the floor, I thought I heard it wrong. Or I thought maybe someone was shouting out a name, like “Chang.” Maybe he was shouting at me thinking I’m Chang. Maybe he was shouting out to someone else. I didn’t know and I didn’t even see who was shouting out “CHINK!” That’s when this random Black man — he wasn’t the man sitting down inside the train with his leg and arm stretched — scared me by shoving his face at me.
October is an annual Chicago’s Artists Month — countless of arts and performances everywhere. 19-year-old Asian American theater company, Stir Friday Night, took part in it and presented the new sketch comedy revue. It was titled “TURN DOWN PHO WOK.” I laughed.
There is a very nice Starbucks on Rush street I found that I like a lot. It even has a special name for it: Oak & Rush III. I’ve never seen one quite like this. It has two floors and they serve pour over coffee, truffled mac & cheese, and wine. One thing it gets me is that there are many Asian tourists who come by. I told myself I should not wear my Longchamp bag the next time I come, because that can make me look like I am a tourist.
TIME Online published “Why I Changed My Korean Name — And Why I changed It Back” recently. Something about that article, just didn’t sit well with me. I remembered the number of times people asked me why I didn’t stick with my Korean name. The writer of the article, Jae, who used to be Daphne, had a powerful story. But if the people who couldn’t really understand why my name is Joanne read her story, they would have possibly become even more aloof from trying to understand me.
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” – Jack Kerouac
My favorite line from TIME article “The Real Problem When It Comes to Diversity and Asian-Americans” was “The belief in a blanket Asian-American culture is so thick that it has resulted in confusion when Asian-Americans deviate from the model minority myth.”
Bill O’Reilly came out on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show the other night. In response to Stewart’s question about the existence of White Privilege, O’Reilly talked about Asian Privilege. Here’s how the show went in verbatim:
Stewart: “You have said, you stated this: ‘There is, I don’t believe that there’s a thing called White Privilege.'”
O’Reilly: “There is not.”
S: “See now, now there is a conversation we can have.”
O: “Okay, look. If there’s White Privilege then there has to be Asian Privilege, because Asians make more money than Whites.”
O: “Oh, you didn’t know any of this, huh?”
S: “What kind of Asians?”
O: “Asian Americans.”
S: “Depends on where they are from.”
O: “They are from Asia. They are Asian Americans.”
S: “I understand that –“
O: “Okay, they make more money, high education, more affluent. So it’s Asian Privilege, not White Privilege.”
S: “You’re missing the point.”
O: “Well, sorry to confuse you with facts.”
S: “You’re not… It’s not that… Okay, here we go. The Asian experience in America, the Asian immigrant experience, is very different from the Black experience. So it’s really, they are not equivilant. And either way, the White people, males set the system. So that’s what privilege is. Is that the White people set the system that yes, maybe the Asian immigrants wants immigration policy to be liberalized have done better over the past 30 to 40 years. But there’s been a systemic, sytemic, systemize subjugation of the Black community. Would you not agree with that?”
And that was the last time Asian was mentioned in their conversation.
I went to the fancy Starbucks with a different bag the other day. I paid my Cappuccino with my debit card that says Yongjoo Kim. I sat down at the balcony and I read and read more. I tried to write a little, but I just couldn’t.