– 제인 일레이나 서
When I was asked to speak here today, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to say – or even what language I should say it in. So, I began by looking where we started one of the essay prompts given to us – and will be reading an excerpt of what I wrote.
The prompt asked, what does Korean heritage mean to you?
To me, my Korean heritage means more than just a bloodline. I was born here, but before I began first grade, I moved to Korea for three years. I went to Seoul International School, and I created many cherished memories; buying ice cream at GS 24, skiing at Oak Valley, celebrating Chuseok. Hakwon became an extracurricular activity, along with going to Alpha to buy stationery. I came back to America with a wealth of information, not just from my school, but from the culture that I had been immersed in. I was a “hybrid; not necessarily bad, but definitely different from the prototypical American student. Does it really matter, though? What does my Korean heritage mean, to me and to others?
To me, my Korean heritage means more than just a bloodline. It symbolizes tradition, education, family, and a certain sense of Confucian structure. The modern and traditional culture had come together in my life to form a unique experience that in turn created my unique perspective of the world’s workings. It’s much more than being able to just speak the language, and it’s so much more than just the sensationalization of the KPop industry. It’s praying to ancestors whose names are written in Hanja, and it’s the ability to understand both the strengths and weaknesses of societies; nuances that only “hybrids” can see. It’s the bilingual’s perspective that truly crosses the boundaries between two different countries and societies but it is due to the support of others that the bilingual can come into being Korean heritage correlates to respect within the family boundaries, to continue the Confucian tradition. Hyodo, actions of filial piety, embody this.
Respecting my family’s background is another dimension to understanding my parents’ choice to raise me in America as well as connecting with my extended family far past just the context of our shared blood. I’m lucky in the sense that I was given the opportunity to learn and grow directly in Korea, and to bring the knowledge that I have gained back to America.
The word “heritage” has the implication that the past should be the primary focus, but to me it also means a legacy to be extrapolated for the benefit of the future. So much is lost in translation; you must create your own meaning.
With that, I’d like to thank all the parents here with us today. Without you, all the students in this room would not be here today. Without you, all the students in this room would not be headed to the school that they will be attending this fall. We will never be able to show the extent of our gratitude for what you have done for us. Our identity – our strength, values, optimism – would not exist.
I’d also like to thank the KPAI executives for giving all of us students a boost to help further our opportunities in our higher education. Scholarships are gifts- ones that are earned, yes – but are gifts nonetheless – and we are lucky, privileged, and honored to receive them.
As we, the young Korean American hybrid generation, continue to grow, to find out more about our identities, and to strive towards our goals in higher education, we’d first like to thank you for your support and promise you that we will never forget our roots. Thank you.