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My DEI Story: Angela Lee

Tuesday, September 15, 2020   (3 Comments)

By Angela Lee, Manager of Advocacy Outreach and Engagement, Goodwill Industries International

 

My DEI Story is that I am the daughter of Korean immigrants and was born in the U.S. While today, I embrace being Korean American, I didn’t always feel this way. Growing up in the U.S. with Korean parents, who were still culturally Korean, made me feel like I was straddling two worlds, never fully belonging to one or the other. I felt like an outsider both in my own country and in the country where my family is from. I felt like I didn’t have a “home” for a long time.


Because my parents had just moved to the U.S. when I was born, it was easier for them to speak Korean at home. While they tried to speak to me in English some of the time, the first language I spoke when I started speaking was still Korean. This made my first day of kindergarten quite the ordeal. I spent all day crying because I could not understand what anyone was saying.


The neighborhood I grew up in was predominantly White. As a child, all I wanted was to be like the other kids, but there always seemed to be something that reminded me I was different. I have memories of playing with the neighborhood kids and eating meals or snacks at their houses, and these were always things like spaghetti, mac and cheese, and fruit rollups. This was such a difference from the foods in my house, which consisted of rice, kimchi, and shrimp crackers. And there have been times I was made fun of at school for bringing sticky white rice in my lunchbox instead of a sandwich.


The times I tried to say I was Korean were challenging as well. Perhaps this has changed since, but in the late 80s/early 90s when I was growing up, kids had never heard of Korea, and everyone thought I was from China; it’s also noteworthy that people did not think I was born in the U.S.; they thought I was from another country, which further made me feel like I didn’t belong. Something that continues to bewilder me to this day is that when Disney’s Pocahontas came out, my classmates thought I was Native American. It seemed people couldn’t even guess my overall race and were so far off the mark when they tried.


While I felt I didn’t fit in among Americans, I didn’t feel like I fit in among Koreans either. I was “too loud,” “too rambunctious,” “spoke my mind too much,” and the list goes on. I’m thankful that these comments came from other Koreans, and not my parents, but these comments still stung because I am Korean. When I speak Korean, I also apparently speak with an American accent. I’ve also been told that the way I carry myself is a dead giveaway that I’m American; when I go to Korea, some people even speak to me in English first. There have also been times my family and I would go to Korean restaurants and my parents would be given chopsticks, and I would be given a fork.


Throughout the years, I have learned to embrace being a Korean raised in the U.S. I’m proud to be Korean American and am grateful for the experiences I had growing up, as they have shaped who I am today. (I’m also seeking to get more in touch with my Korean roots by brushing up on my Korean language, so if anyone can recommend an online course, please reach out to me!)

 

The WGR “My DEI Story” Blogs are featured monthly, highlighting the story of a DEI Committee Member or supporting ally. These blogs are designed to shine a light on the amazing diversity that exists within our community, and to recognize that EVERYONE has a DEI Story. Interested in having your story featured? Please send an email to dei.wgr@gmail.com.


Comments...

Channon Hanna says...
Posted Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Thank you for sharing your story Angela! I felt myself better understanding several of my classmates and friends growing up who had very similar experiences as first generation Americans and also struggled to straddle this line.
Monica R. Almond Ph.D. says...
Posted Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Angela, what an incredible story! Thank you for sharing all of the incredible nuances and baffling moments that you experienced being raised Korean American. A very important story and a fantastic read!
Annie Xiao says...
Posted Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Thank you for sharing, Angela! I can relate to a lot of anecdotes you share. As for Korean lessons, I started taking classes with the Korean Cultural Center to support my boss since he is Korean American and travels to Korea frequently. They are now offering online classes at a pretty competitive rate. Highly recommend that you check it out! http://washingtondc.korean-culture.org/en/1143/board/914/read/101435