What frustrates you the most about racism and/or racists?
Irene: The belief that folks are “colorblind” and that that is the epitome of what we should all be. Overt racism doesn’t bother me as much as the microaggressions.

Growing up, to what extent did your family educate you about your race and/or other races?
Irene: My parents were just trying to survive as well, so I don’t remember them teaching us anything about race. However, I do remember their own sense of fear/negativity around black people (even though in Utah, I don’t remember really ever seeing black folks). It was usually when they were seen on TV, and it wasn’t always explicit. However, the one time I remember explicit conversation about race was in middle school when for some reason my parents were talking to us about who we could/should marry when we were older (I have no idea why we were talking about this). They had a hierarchy and order of preference: 1. Korean (even though there were no other Koreans in our town), 2. White 3. “Other” Asian and they explicitly said ‘don’t marry’ anyone who is black or Latino. (They later took this back when they thought I was dating a black man and hiding it from them, telling my siblings to tell me it was OK with them now.)

“They had a hierarchy and order of preference: 1. Korean (even though there were no other Koreans in our town), 2. White 3. “Other” Asian, and they explicitly said ‘don’t marry’ anyone who is black or Latino.”

How would you define racism?
Irene: Prejudice/discrimination + Power against a person of color

Name: Irene. I was named Irene after my mom’s first American friend.

Race: Asian American

Ethnicity: Korean

Birth Decade: late 70s/early 80s

Hometown: Ogden, Utah

Place of Residence: San Jose, California

Any other places you consider home: Chicago, Illinois

How would you describe yourself?
Irene: I am a progressive Asian American woman brought up in the reformed Christian tradition. I am also currently serving as a minister in a mainline denomination. I grew up to two Korean immigrant parents in Ogden, Utah-a place that had very few people of color. Utah is also predominantly Mormon (LDS) so growing up as a Presbyterian Christian there was also very difficult to navigate along with being one of the only non-white kids in my school (until my siblings joined me in school).

bible

Does race matter?
Irene: Race matters because it’s a social construct in the United States that has historically and currently negatively affected the lives of people of color. It was constructed to privilege some (white-or whatever was considered “white” at that point in history) and because of that, continues to systemically affect people of color in all facets of life in the U.S.

When (if ever) did you first realize that your race mattered?
Irene: I realized this early on when I first started attending preschool and kindergarten. Part of that was because I began with a language barrier. Korean was only spoken at home so I remember not understanding anything my teachers and classmates were saying at first. I also quickly learned that something about the way I looked was negative because kids would tease me and make slanty eyes while making “ching chong” noises at me. I didn’t understand what they were doing, but I did understand that something about me was different and not part of the norm.

“I also quickly learned that something about the way I looked was negative because kids would tease me and make slanty eyes while making “ching chong” noises at me. I didn’t understand what they were doing, but I did understand that something about me was different and not part of the norm.”

In your educational experiences, did you learn anything about race?
Irene: I’m sure I learned some things, but in my early childhood education until middle school, I honestly don’t remember learning anything about race.

To what extent do you discuss issues of race with your children, the same way they were discussed when you were growing up?
Irene: I hope to definitely do so, but my son is only 7 months old right now. I do intentionally expose him to a diversity of books and people– which is easier living in the Bay Area of California.

If you’ve ever been treated differently because of your race, can you describe any/all relevant experiences?

math
Irene: SO MANY TIMES. Things that happen ALL the time (no exaggeration):

  • “Where are you REALLY from?”
  • Strangers coming up to me and greeting/ speaking to me in an Asian language they THINK I speak (and then shocked when I speak perfect English)
  • Still folks making slanty eyes and making ching chong sounds
  • People yelling at me to “tell me to go back to where I came from”
  • When they find out I’m Korean, telling me how much they love kimchi (or some other Korean food) or how they adopted a Korean baby, or saying the one word they know in Korean (and usually butchering it)
  • Men telling me how much they “LOVE” Asian women
  • Mistaking me for another Asian American woman they know
  • Assumption that I am good at math

dumplings

“When they find out I’m Korean, telling me how much they love kimchi (or some other Korean food) or how they adopted a Korean baby, or saying the one word they know in Korean (and usually butchering it).”

How regularly/often do you engage in conversations about race/culture with friends, family, or peers?
Irene: This is a topic that I have regular conversations about with my friends– most of whom are people of color, so it comes up a lot. But even my white friends are the type who are willing to engage with it or want to engage with the topic.

Would you prefer to engage in these conversations more often or less often?
Irene: I don’t mind engaging in the conversation, as long as I don’t have to constantly be the one educating.

Thanks so much for sharing, Irene! I appreciate you.

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2 thoughts on “Perspectives on Race #10: Irene in San Jose, “Just Don’t Marry One”

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