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  • 03/22/2020 2:11 PM | Sarah O'Neill (Administrator)

    In the interest of public health, BKA is currently suspending/postponing all in-person programs and events. We are monitoring the situation and are currently looking into ways we can continue to support our members and the local KAD community remotely/online.

    Please, everyone -- be safe, wash your hands, and stay tuned.


    In this period of social distancing, there are many ways we can still come together as a community. Consider:

    -Buying gift cards to local restaurants and businesses. Be especially considerate of businesses that may have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, such as Chinese/Asian businesses affected by increased anti-Asian sentiment, restaurants that have traditionally been operated on a dine-in-only model, etc.  

    -Making a donation to your local food pantry (Greater boston food bank: https://www.gbfb.org/covid-19-update/)

    -Supporting your local artists, creators and makers (who may be facing a sudden reduction or even lack of work):

    Boston Artists Relief Fund


    Cambridge Artists Relief Fund


    -Participating in mutual aid efforts (check out online communities, including city/town-specific groups, college and school alumnae organizations, affinity groups, etc.) to offer direct help to others in your community.

    Feel free to add your own suggestions below in the comments!


    Also, please take care of yourself and your loved ones! 

    -The BKA Board of Directors

  • 09/17/2019 2:41 PM | Sarah O'Neill (Administrator)

    BKA is happy to welcome Tonya Ferraro as BKA's new Research Coordinator. She will be coordinating all of BKA's research requests. She has previous experience in the research field, both on the research and research administration sides. She can be reached at research@bkadoptee.org.

    As always, any research requests that you'd like to make should be submitted via BKA's research request forms under Contact Us < Research Requests. 

    Thank you, and welcome Tonya!

  • 12/16/2018 9:39 PM | Sarah O'Neill (Administrator)

    Hi everyone! BKA is happy to announce it's Board of Directors for 2019.

    President: Sarah O'Neill
    Vice President: Kyra Davies
    Treasurer: Brendan W. Freeman

    Secretary: Jenny Lee 
    Clerk: Laura Knuttenen
    Board at Large: Timothy Rehberg, Lauren Nelson

    Also, a BIG thank you to Christina Kim for all of her work, ideas and other contributions to the board over the last year!

  • 12/03/2018 7:15 PM | Sarah O'Neill (Administrator)

    This is part II of II, written by BKA member Jenna G. To read last week's part I, click here.


    Being Other

    PART II.

    In today’s America, it seems like it’s becoming harder and harder to be an “other.”  How often do we hear about another horrifying mass shooting – like the one that happened at the Jewish Synagogue, or about someone of color being killed or attacked for what seems like no other reason than the color of their skin, or another group of immigrants being driven out of the country (or having their families ripped apart).

    “Driving while Black.” “Walking while Black.” We have black men killed while sitting on their own couch in their own home. Or little boys accused of groping women—who then call the police. Or a mental health professional shot while trying to help his patient. Or the police called on a student taking a nap in her dorm.

    And recent focus, or should I say, disdain from this current Administration has been on immigrants coming in from Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, and other countries in Central America. And over the past couple of years, there has been much controversy over the travel ban on visitors (even Green Card holders) coming from Muslim-majority countries.  In addition, there has been a noticeable increase in incidents – hate crimes – against people of color, including people of Asian descent. While a high percentage of Americans welcome people from different backgrounds, and have loudly proclaimed the slogan, “Love Trumps Hate,” the overall tone of the country seems to have shifted to the point where it feels as though this Administration is trying to close America’s doors on anyone deemed different in its eyes.

    I never thought I would grow up to see some of my fellow KADs deported or fear being deported myself, or see people who look like me told we do not belong here. I didn’t know that I would live in an America where people are publicly attacked for speaking another language or for the color of their skin. I didn’t know that I would be living in a country where people are killed for their race and beliefs. I didn’t know that in 2018, people would be killed on U.S. soil by Nazis. I never thought I would be fearful at times just for being who I am. As a woman, minority, and daughter of a Jewish person, I don’t feel safe or welcome here anymore.

    While I believe a lot of these incidents have been happening all along and much of the public was blind to it up until recently, I do believe that this administration has encouraged and allowed people to express their hatred and bigotry more freely. If the leader of this country is telling people it’s okay to physically hurt someone; if he makes fun of the disabled; treats women like objects; has allegations against him; fails to denounce Nazis, then what do we expect from the public?


    Growing up, I never really thought of myself as an immigrant. In fact, when I wasn’t in front of a mirror, I often thought of myself as “white.” After all, everyone in my family is “white,” most of my friends were and are “white,” and I grew up immersed in “American” culture. And there are still moments where I feel “white.” But I’m not.

    Many of us who grew up in the United States were adopted by Caucasian parents, which meant we grew up speaking English, following American pop culture and styles, and were surrounded by family members who look different from us. We were given an entirely new culture to follow, while losing the one we were born into.

    In some ways, we are given a false sense of security by being told we are American but at the same time, are seen and treated differently by the public, and sometimes even by our own families. Some see us as more privileged – or “white,” and more empowered because of our backgrounds. Some see us as “lucky” because we were adopted into families who provided us with better opportunities than we could have been given in our birth country. Some pry, oblivious to the fact their inquiry is insensitive. But the world doesn’t know our stories. Many people don’t understand the trauma associated with being adopted or how lonely it can feel. We have to find a way to work with our Korean identities; our American identities; our Adoptee Identities; and the identity the public associates us with. We have to come to terms with what we have lost, what we continue to miss, and the fact that we don’t fully fit into our adopted “American” world, nor do we fit into the world we were born into. 

    And those of us who are female have the added bonus of sometimes being fetishized by some males—who want to be with us because we appear somewhat exotic and/or they may assume we are more docile, rather than because of who we are as people. I’ve had numerous men (usually older, Caucasian men), come up to me with a knowing nod, to tell me about their friend or family member who has dated or is dating an Asian woman. I’ve had an older man tell me how much he loves Asian women and how he’s virtually dating an Asian woman he’s never met before, but is working on bringing her over to the U.S. We are treated as a commodity; as a trophy; as an accomplishment.

    And as a group, Asian Americans have long been stereotyped as being obedient, or a “model minority,” which isn’t actually as positive as it sounds. In fact, I can’t help but feel there are times when we become invisible. Where are our voices? Where it our outrage? While we may call the United States home, we were not born here- we are immigrants, and like many other children of immigrants, had no say about coming here. So where do we, as Asian American adoptees, stand in this new America? Unlike many of the immigrants being targeted, most of us are not Muslim or dark-skinned, and we’re not fighting to get into this country- we’re already here. So, will we be thrust into the same group as the other immigrants Trump and his supporters want out? Will our “model minority” status clump us in with other Caucasians? Could there one day be a travel ban placed on South Korea (an idea that seems far-fetched given the recent Olympics, but one can never be too sure in this political climate)? What does our future hold? Will we ever find a place where we belong?

  • 11/26/2018 4:46 PM | Sarah O'Neill (Administrator)

     This blog post is Part I of II, written by BKA member Jenna G. 

    Part II will be posted in a week.



    PART I.


    I recently attended a couple of screenings during the Boston Asian Film Festival. One of the days I went, a series of Shorts was shown. The last one was about a Sikh-American man, living in New York, with his wife and son, and they’re about to celebrate July 4th together. During the day, Mandeep, the main character, hears about a hate-crime that has taken place, where a man has been shot. Although you can see he’s pretty shaken up, Mandeep goes about his day, practicing a pitch for a project he’s working on. He later wraps his hair in a traditional turban before heading out to meet his family at a BBQ. Along the way, as he rides the train, you see passengers around him staring apprehensively and subtly shifting themselves away from him.


    Once Mandeep reaches the party, he winds up talking to one of his colleagues, who informs him the client he was supposed to be pitching to, wants to work with someone who is more “traditional.” It’s painfully obvious that the client does not want to work with Mandeep because of his skin tone and background. After their conversation, Mandeep escapes the party to get an update on the news and learns the victim of the hate-crime has died.


    Once the family leaves the celebration, we see a group of “white” guys catcalling and provoking Mandeep’s wife. As he steps up to defend her, they start getting in Mandeep’s face. His wife pulls him back and tells Mandeep to walk away—it’s not worth it—they have their son with them.


    At the end of the movie, we see Mandeep locked away in the bathroom as his wife sleeps. His eyes are full of pain as he stares at himself in the mirror. He grabs a razor and begins haphazardly shaving his long hair off in chunks, before frantically and violently shaving his once beautiful beard off. He takes a step back to look at what he’s done, blood spots forming on his chin and upper lip, and chunks of hair left everywhere.


    The next day, Mandeep sits silently on the train, clean shaven and with a shorter, sleeker haircut, but looks around to see he’s still getting uncomfortable stares, and nothing has really changed.


    While I have never experienced anything quite like Mandeep, growing up as a Korean-American adoptee, I often felt out of place. I felt like I didn’t belong, didn’t have many role models to turn to, and felt uncomfortable sometimes when I was out with my family, who are all Caucasian. I endured stares and questions, even at a young age. And when I was in seventh grade, a handful of the kids I went to school with, made it very clear they didn’t want to accept me. They put stickers on my back that said, “Made in Korea,” called me a “chink,” pushed me, pushed me up against a locker, threw books at me, and made other snide comments. It was a miserable time- and left me with emotional scars—some of which have not completely faded.


    Although my parents moved me to a new town for high school, one that was more affluent, with a better school system and more diversity, and my situation improved a great deal, that didn’t put an end to biased encounters.


    When I was a teenager, it didn’t occur to me that calling myself Twinkie or putting up with, or even laughing along with some of my friend’s Asian jokes might be a bad thing.  Or at least, something I didn’t have to put up with. While High School was a much better time for me, I still felt like I didn’t fit in with the Asian Americans there. I wound up dating a Chinese-American guy, and his family was warm and welcoming, but there were still a lot of differences from my own family (and certain cultural aspects I couldn’t relate to).

    Once I got to college, I joined the Asian American Society and became Vice President my Junior year but felt like I wasn’t completely welcome. I remember one of the members talking and laughing in Korean in front of me and later was “surprised” to learn that I am Korean as well.


    And throughout my life, I’ve dealt with comments ranging from odd or ignorant, to inappropriate and/or rude. I once went to fight a parking ticket at a local office and brought my mom with me. My mom added some comment while I explained the situation and the employee interrupted her to say that “I could talk for myself since it seemed like I spoke English pretty good.”


    I’ve also had a guy I was “dating” make fun of my Korean name and sing “Chinese-like” words at me. At the time, I rarely stood up for myself and was afraid to be assertive. The best I could do was try to ignore the biased and/or racist comments.

    As I’ve gotten older and moved past some of these incidents, I have come to value my background much more and often try to find ways to honor it—including by tattooing my Korean name on my left ankle. I’ve become proud of my roots and while I still don’t always know how to address certain questions or comments I encounter, I have learned that it’s totally okay for me to NOT be okay with someone else’s bias. And it’s okay to tell them so. I’ve also learned that not everyone is aware that their comment is biased or hurtful. Sometimes I have to take a step back and think of where someone is coming from, and why they might be asking or saying something that I feel is inappropriate. Although it’s not always an easy thing to do—the first feeling is often frustration or even anger. And most times, I think of something I could have said after the fact.


  • 08/16/2017 10:21 PM | Sarah O'Neill (Administrator)

    Here is a poem from Christina Kim she wrote to her father. 


    Dear Dad,

    Thank you for what I have learned in your company.

    And in my own quest for meaning and wholeness.

    Thank this body for all the work it has done.

    All that it has been through.

    All that it holds up.

    Noticing this pain but do not dwell in it.

    The disappointment of its limitations, changing shape, changing abilities

    Respect that: resting with what is

    Loving oneself anyways

    Like child self – no choice

    The weight of time, responsibilities, goals, schedules to keep, racing mind


    Keep up! Something more to do. Protect myself.

    Proving myself to myself.

    Good enough.

    Letting go:

    Another way

  • 05/24/2017 5:13 PM | Jenna Goodman

    “Colleen. Colleeenn. Colllllleeen!” Mr. Baker, a tall, older Caucasian man with an incredibly bushy mustache looks directly at me and yells once more, “Colleen!”

    He has, yet again, mistaken me with another Korean girl who is in one of his other classes. It is 2003, and I’m sitting in my World History class, one of many Asians in this high school. The fact is, yes, Colleen and I are both Korean, but we don’t look that much alike…

    This was not the first, nor the last time I have been mistaken for another girl who is Asian—often, who isn’t even Korean.  


    “You all look the same.” 
    "Where are you really from?"
    "Which Korea are you from-- North or South?"
    "You speak English really good."

    "Do you know Karate?"

    The notion that all Asians look the same, along with the many stereotypes associated with Asians as a group, can be very frustrating to face. Something as simple as an introduction can turn into a drawn-out conversation about where I was born, or "what type of Asian" I am. People often like to guess, and jump to, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or any other Asian ethnicity before they guess Korean. Better yet, sometimes they insist they know how to tell "us" apart. Or they want to know if I know Karate, or are surprised I speak English "good." I once went to a Red Sox game and was greeted by one of the ushers with "Konnichiwa," and was asked if I was excited about the Japanese pitcher. 

    There are some days where I am more patient and willing to engage in a dialogue with someone, but there are other times where I don't feel like sharing details about my background. And there are instances when I introduce myself and tell people that I'm adopted, which can lead to a much longer conversation because someone finds the topic fascinating. I am usually pretty open about sharing my story, but I’ve reached a point where I realize I’m not always comfortable speaking about such a sensitive subject. For instance, when talking about meeting my birth mother, whenever someone asks me how it felt meeting her or what it was like spending time with her, I realize that I automatically try to spin everything into a simple and positive answer. In reality, there’s a lot more layers to the story and the day after meeting her I had a bit of an emotional breakdown in public when my emotions hit me suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s not so simple and tidy, and it can be really hard to explain the complexities of an experience like that, especially to a stranger. I realize now that I don’t HAVE to share everything about myself or explain my background to someone. I think that sometimes I feel as though I either have to explain or justify being “American” and speaking English well, and showing that I belong in the U.S. by telling people I’m adopted.

    “Where are you from. No, I mean, where are you really from?”

    “I’m Korean, but I was adopted.”

    “What Asian ethnicity are you? Are you Chinese? Japanese? Korean?”

    “I’m Korean, but I’m adopted, so I speak English as well as you; I don’t know Karate or Tae Kwon Do, I’ve lived here my entire life and probably know as much about Korean culture as you do; I’m not that different from you, so please don’t ask me anything else, especially anything pertaining to any Asian stereotypes. I’m actually not so good at math, and I don’t think I’m that terrible of a driver…”

    Some days, it can be exhausting to walk around looking Asian. It can get tiring answering the same type of generic questions over and over. And it’s, well, annoying to be called another name and confused with other people of Asian descent, just because someone thinks all of “us” Asians are easily interchangeable.

    And that’s just dealing with the people who seem to mean well, but don’t know any better. I would say they are guilty of either ignorance or microaggressions. Then there’s the people who are blatantly racist and purposely make insensitive comments because they think it’s funny.

    While I used to shrug off most of these experiences or conversations, as I grow older, I’m starting to realize that I don’t have to answer everyone’s questions, and I don’t have to paint a completely happy picture about adoption to everyone. I can take each situation as it comes and handle it how I feel like handling it at that time.

    I’m still searching for the right response to the questions I face as a Korean-American Adoptee. I think this is something I’ll be thinking about for the rest of my life. While some conversations and experiences can be challenging, each interaction teaches me something new and adds to my story. And I’m happy to take what I’ve learned so far and embrace whatever comes next. 

  • 02/03/2017 7:45 PM | Anonymous

    Courtney Kim Grant

    Three Times (work in progress)

    Translation to Korean by Ahrim Won

    Giclée print, acetate, ink

    11" x 14"



    Three times

    I crossed the ocean

    What I found is

    the words 

    that I cannot find


  • 11/20/2016 10:00 PM | Sarah O'Neill (Administrator)

    Blog post coordinated by Becky K. (thanks Becky!).  Post by Becky K., Oh Myo K., Kenny L. and Sarah O.  


    Where have we been this year? Everywhere, it seems! It's been a busy 2016 and BKA members are active in the community, attending many Korean and Adoptee related conferences and events. 

    International Korean Adoptee Associations (IKAA) Gathering 2016

    Dates/Location: August 2-7, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea

    Attended by over 25 people from Boston/Massachusetts, including 6 BKA Board members


    The IKAA Gathering, held every three years in Seoul, is the largest gathering of adult Korean-born adoptees in the world. This year’s Gathering did not disappoint, offering a vast array of activities from which to choose. It included workshops and tours of Seoul (including an extremely delicious food tour by fellow KAD Daniel Lee Gray and his company ifood Korea), a family program, a day-long film festival featuring films by and about adult adoptees, the Fourth International Symposium on Korean Adoption Studies, a leadership development program and a myriad of social and networking events (“Amazing Race” around Seoul! Poker Tournament! Baseball game! Restaurants, bars and karaoke!). 


    A big shout out to Oh Myo K. and Jason R., BKA-ers who presented their own original research at the Symposium and to everyone from Boston (and friends) who made the trek to Seoul! A great chance to meet new friends and reconnect with existing ones from all over the KAD community.  




     Korean American Adoptee/Adoptive Family Network (KAAN) Conference

    Date/Location: June 23-27, 2016 in Pittsburgh, PA

    Attended by Oh Myo K., who also presented on "Legacies of Korean Adoption in Global Child Welfare"


    Description: The annual KAAN conference brings together Korean adopted adults and children, their families, and professionals working with the Korean adoption community. There are over 30 panels on such topics as: identity development, race and privilege, birth family search and reunion, etc. There are also social activities, readings, performances, and film screenings. The theme this year was: Widening the Circle.



    Adopted Filipinos in the Diaspora: From the Motherland to Otherland

    The Filipino American National Historical Society 16th Biennial Conference

    Date/Location: June 23, 2016 in New York City, NY

    Attended by Kenny L., who also presented


    The Filipino Adoptees Network (F.A.N) is a global organization dedicated to supporting, educating and promoting cultural awareness on adoption issues and preserving Filipino heritage. FAN accomplishes this by creating a resource center for Filipino adoptees, offering adoption and cultural connections to related websites, and organizations. The organization also encourage adoptees to explore their heritage as Filipinos by providing a sensitive and nurturing setting and aim strengthen the network of Filipino adoptees and adoptive families by partnering with other adoptees and utilizing community resources.


    Kenny has been involved with FAN, BKA Colorado Heritage Camps, and the adoptee community on and off again since 2007.



    Harvard Asian Pacific Coalition: Breaking The Bamboo Ceiling Symposium

    Date/Location: April 16, 2016 in Cambridge, MA

    Coordinated Randy T. (coordinator), and attended by over 10 BKA members and friends


    This day-long symposium featured panel discussions and interactive workshops delivered by over 20 Asian and Asian-American leaders. Although Asians are 6% of the American population and growing, they hold 2.5% of law partnerships, 2.4% of Congressional seats, 0.3% of corporate CEO positions, and next to none of the leading roles in sports and media.


    The Harvard Students Asian Pacific Coalition (HSAPC) symposium seeks to illuminate the paradox of the bamboo ceiling and work towards professional leadership and change through critical conversations with pioneers in the fields of business, education, activism, medicine, politics, entertainment, and the arts. It was great to attend and see all the work of our very own Randy Tarnowski.

    Also-Known-As (AKA) NY Anniversary Celebration

    Dates/Location: April 23-24, 2016 in New York City

    Attended by 7 people from BKA


    Description: This milestone celebration brings together a diverse group of international adoptees from around the globe. The weekend included a musical presentation and panel, social gatherings and many great chances to catch up with friends, culminating in the Saturday night gala celebration.  The gala was a lovely night to celebrate the wonderful accomplishments of a fellow Adoptee group as well as see many friends.





    The 10th Annual New York City Asian American Student Conference (NYCAASC): Checkpoints at NYU

    Date/Location: April 23, 2016 in New York, New York

    Attended by over five people from Boston, three of whom moderated and/or presented


    This year’s theme, CHECKPOINTS: Communicating Consciousness, to characterize the collaborative, educational space we are working to build. Workshops discussed issues like state and police violence, A/P/A diaspora, transnational adoption, and know-your-rights training, featuring speakers like the artist Lee Jacob Hilado, activists from 18 Million Rising, scholars from right here at NYU, and many, many more. It was great to hear our very own Nate K., and Lillian and Nora H. on a panel discussing 'how transnational adoptees are making their place in the Asian American narrative.’




    7th Annual Conference of the Research Center for Korean Community (RCKC) at Queens College

    Date/Location: November 7, 2015 in New York, NY

    Attended by three BKA members


    This conference focused on the experiences of Korean adoptees who grew up in the United States. Eleven presenters from around the U.S. read from personal essays and shared intimate details of their lives with the audience, and approximately 100 people attended the all-day affair. This conference was a great opportunity to connect Korean Adoptee experiences in the narrative of Korean American history.


    The RCKC is doing a lot of work to document Korean American history and their eagerness to include KAD stories is exciting.




    Koreans and Camptowns: Mixed-Race Adoptees and Camptown Connections at University of California, Berkeley

    Conference co-hosted by Center for Korean Studies and Me & Korea

    Date/Location: September 26, 2015 in Berkeley, California

    Attended by Becky K.


    This conference was about the camptowns that developed alongside American military bases in Korea before and after the Korean War. It focused on the lives of people who lived in the camptowns and the historical context surrounding the overseas adoption of thousands of mixed-race children. I really enjoyed learning more about the history of the origins of Korea Adoption at this conference as well as seeing friends from my first homeland tour.




    Where will we go next year?  Want to join us? Please feel free to reach out if you have interest in attending.  Also... we're also always looking for suggestions for other events for the group to check out in the future.


  • 08/24/2016 11:49 AM | Tony Cova

    [note: originally written in the spring of 2016 so some references may seem a bit old ><]

    A Chromatic Progression (or: an essay on how Tony discovered KPOP and became comfortable with being Asian)

    It’s happened a few times this past year: it begins as a murmur, slowly drawing my attention away from the pouncing red pandas on my phone. A familiar melody, a foreign voice. Still skeptical, I reach for the remote and increase the volume. On TV, disembodied hands dance across a Microsoft Surface, circling and spinning through apps and word processors, while a narrator touts the tablet’s capabilities. Despite their acrobatics, my focus is on the subdued synthesizer licks and foreign lyrics in the background. The commercial’s narrator eventually pauses long enough for me to hear a female vocalist boldly proclaim  “내가 제일 잘 나가” ('naega jeil jal naga')(Korean for “I am the best”). Although it’s only a few seconds, I am still surprised and amazed to hear 2NE1, a Korean girl group, rapping in Korean, on a commercial created by a large American corporation for an English-speaking audience.

    Thanks to the internet and sites like YouTube, more and more Americans (especially young Americans) have started listening to Korean pop music or KPOP. The Surface commercial is just one of many examples of KPOP “popping up” in American mainstream media. KPOP performers have been featured on shows like Late Night with David Letterman, Today, and Conan. As a Korean adoptee (KAD) who grew up in a predominantly white Missouri suburb, KPOP’s recent American popularity is somewhat bittersweet. I found KPOP not through a viral video or an eight minute newsbyte but in my search for identity--a search that began where most major life affirming (or destroying) events do, high school.


    For some, high school was a time of adoration and praise; where good looks and athletic prowess netted you a seat on homecoming court, the cheers and envy of a student-packed gym and the leniency of school administrators. For others like myself, high school was just four more years of struggling to go unnoticed; where differences in appearance, mannerisms or achievements could lead to rumors and taunts from small-minded bullies. Social survival was less about building one’s own identity and more about acquiring or hiding behind fragments of others’.

    Like any other high schooler, I wanted nothing more than to “fit in.” My carefully crafted public image was a reflection of the various trends throughout the halls of my high school--a veritable kaleidoscope of Airwalks, Doc Martens, Eddie Bauer bookbags, shell chokers and Old Navy tech vests. I hung out with class clowns, honor rollers, band geeks and athletes. Yet, no matter how vigilant I was in my vestments or purposeful I was in my politicking, I felt like I was always holding my breath, waiting for one of those moments. Those moments that shake your personal foundation (or delusion) and remind you that no matter how well you think you are fitting in, you will never succeed in truly blending in.

    While I was certainly no stranger to being mocked by pulled eyelids and exaggerated accents, not every delusion-shattering moment was so malicious. Many were seemingly innocent and might, in most white circles, likely be written off as a harmless faux pas--like my friend’s grandfather who wished me “おはよう” ('ohayō') (Japanese for “Good Morning”) at their evening neighborhood BBQ, or like the woman who interrupted my dinner because she assumed I worked at the Chinese restaurant, despite my very casual attire. Even some of my friends have made the occasional ethnic joke assumedly in jest. To cope with it all, I did what hundreds of other teenage KADs have done (and continue to do) when entrenched in a predominantly white community: I downplayed (and purposely avoided) my “Asianness”, laughed off the stereotypes, and ignored the racial taunts. Still, whatever their nature or intent, deep down, these moments were blunt reminders that no matter how well I spoke English, what food I ate or what hobbies I enjoyed, I was still the Asian outsider in a white community.


    My love for KPOP was anything but sudden. Indeed, I wasn’t even a big fan of American pop music or hip hop at the time. The CD sleeve in my car was filled with the likes of Rush, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Guns N’ Roses, The Clash, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Incubus, Pearl Jam, etc. Although this may seem insignificant given today’s blurring of music genres and other social changes, “back in my day” (or at least at my high school) peer groups were practically built upon what you listened to. Marilyn Manson, White Zombie, Dave Matthews, Kiss, and Eminem each seemed to have their collective followings. Given how intertwined identity and musical tastes were then, it would take a series of steps for me to even discover KPOP.

    It began sometime during my sophomore year in high school. Japanese anime was slowly finding its niche in the midwest, and as a someone who grew up with Voltron in the mid 80s, it was familiar enough that many of the shows didn’t seem all that foreign. Unfortunately, as a high schooler, the terrible voice acting was much more apparent. After tracking down subtitled works to replace some terrible dubs, I quickly noticed the stark contrast between the US and Japanese theme songs. Unlike the U.S. versions which were performed by studio musicians with English lyrics forcefully wedged into the music, the Japanese versions were often written and performed by established musical groups, like L’Arc~en~ciel and X-Japan. Despite my inability to understand a single lyric, Japanese rock, or JRock, felt strangely familiar. The chosen vocalists and electric guitar riffs were reminiscent of many big 70s and 80s rock groups and hinted at JRock’s early classic American and British rock influences. Although JRock was my first foray into modern Asian music, it was at least reassuringly relatable.

    Not too long afterward, broadband internet and certain music sharing software were made available to the masses. Almost anything could be found and downloaded in minutes. One day, after having searched for new L’Arc songs in vain, I tried searching for “Korean rock” hoping I would find something similar. As some readers may have guessed, this yielded few, if any, results. However, instead of ending my search there, I began researching modern Korean music. I quickly learned that I had been hunting in the wrong genre entirely. Popular modern Korean music was more hip hop and pop than rock. After adjusting my search, I found that groups like H.O.T., FinKl, G.O.D., 1TYM and S.E.S. were dominating the Korean airwaves.

    Perhaps it was just the result of frustration from failed searches or maybe it was simply curiosity, but up to that point, I would never have considered looking for Korean groups, let alone hip hop groups. I was very comfortable in the color blind identity my peer groups provided. We were all about classic rock (some going on to form a KISS cover band in later years) and alternative rock. I doubt any of my friends, at the time, would have had any interest in listening to some Korean boyband rap in a language they couldn’t understand. I wasn’t even sure why I was listening to it. For the longest time, I had wished for others to see that I was “just like them” in their interests and tastes and to ignore what I happened to look like. Still, there was something about the music that resonated with me. While I had always enjoyed JRock for its musical familiarity, KPOP offered something else entirely. I had taken Taekwondo as a kid but, if anything, that was just another Asian activity I wanted to avoid. KPOP was the first time I thought of Korea in a modern sense, and it filled me with a small sense of pride. Groups like 1TYM and G.O.D. helped me appreciate that despite what stereotypes I had been fed by the American media, Asians (and Asian males in particular) could be considered “cool” and could draw the adulation of thousands of fans. Whatsmore one of the members of H.O.T., the first Korean pop group to ever sell one million albums, happened to be named Tony. It wasn’t long before my growing collection of KPOP CDS became my go-to driving solo music, and while I wasn’t quite ready to wave the Asian or Korean banner just yet, I was becoming more comfortable with the fact that I was Asian/Korean.

    In the years that followed, I gradually discarded those fragments I once held so tightly for social survival. Instead of trying to blend in amongst the white student majority in college, I joined my school’s Asian-American group (albeit in my sophomore year). Instead of avoiding any and all Asian activities, I volunteered at the Asian Affairs center as a mentor for Korean national students and learned more about Korean culture.  And instead of trying to ignore or forget who I was or where I came from, I took a break from my pre-med summer curriculum to study abroad in Seoul. With each step, I became more comfortable with the fact that I was, and am, Korean. Steps that may not have been possible but for my introduction to KPOP. I didn’t have to hide behind assumed personalities and interests trying to be someone I wasn’t. It never worked and would never work anyway. Those moments--those reminders--that I’m a minority in a white majority are never far off. The difference today is that no worlds are shattered. No fragments need to be reexamined or pieced back together. I may not be who or what I longed to be when I was a young kid, but I am confident in who I am and what I have become. It’s as CL says, “내가 제일 잘 나가.”
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