real quick, captured sensations of an old korea, the smell of an airport, and the feeling of driving and seeing the slow mesmerizing steady neon sign loops of department stores loop around, from the back of a taxi, angles always looking back and up. 백화점백화점백화점백화점. 롯데. meanings embedded in a kind of historical past. now I look back on those members and it's like I can imagine what the 90s felt like, a mid-90s sense of koreanness coming into the fore. me, young me, catapulted into korea, catapulted into the united states.
for so long that meant so much, actually, to remember what it was like to be korean and american and to go between both worlds.
around 6 or 7, korean kids asked me if americans also peed the same way koreans do. around that time, american (white) kids asked me if koreans had penises.
now. 1.5 gen. what was primarily a culture-based puzzle has become also a race-based one. there are more dimensions, it's like: there's culture and race, culture without race, race without culture, and neither culture nor race. here are the four domains of discourse spooling into place with these two aspects. in order:
culture and race: the real discourse
culture without race: a nationalistic understanding of ethnicity and race
race without culture: 'let's all get along'
neither race nor culture: being 'colorblind'. whiteness.
but is this really what i came to talk about? no.
what I came to talk about is how, all of a sudden lately, childhood memories seem to pool up, expand, explore, like drops of ink exploring their way through a glass of water.
here I am, listening to music that only makes sense to me.
perhaps new york was a deferring, a postponing of some of these things. laying to rest the 'am I american / am I korean' question for good, apparently, because — to be in a city where neither of those were particularly special or notable, and being in both was not such a rarity was so welcomed. have I forgotten? how lonely and also excitingly curious it was to be be neither? the sensation that I was neither here nor there, always constantly present in the back of my mind. not an unpleasant sensation. I don't ever remember rueing or disliking it. but I do always remember thinking about it.
perhaps new york was then a deferring. and somehow it slid into white adjacency. my early experiences with america was with midwestern whiteness, mostly. a korean being in america was pretty neatly cultural and racial, simultaneously. to balance between the two was also to balance between two very neat things. and then to experiment and explore both american-ness and korean-ness is to explore both korean-ness and whiteness. american art and photography and design and literature and experimentation seemed.. very white. and through the context I held from korea, it was difficult to critically examine this, because many of my (rightfully) critical tools operated along the axis of cultural racism.
(korean isn't free from this. what is it to be korea? decades from now, (or even starting now), korea will have to confront its nature - is it a homoracial society? is the culture and race and identity interlinked? koreans default to saying yes. I can't deny that it's a default idea for me, probably mainly because the idea of a culture and a group of people, fighting against colonization and war, fighting for independence and re-establishing state-hood, is linked to a sense of tight-knit cohesion to me. fighting together, speaking together, eating together. a shared racial history originating negatively out of the racial "purity" of japanese colonialism that would subjugate koreans for their korean-ness.)
(i want to read more about this.)