Rooting for Gold, and Waving Taegukki and Old Glory

The Olympics are fun. We see great sportsmanship and whiny losers. We see patriotism is not unique to America, and apparently neither is the practice of covering your face/balding head/body in your country’s/team’s colors with face paint. We test the kids on their limited knowledge of national flags. We dream, even for a moment, that our kids will be inspired to try something new but not something as crazy as the skeleton. And we pick our favorites and cheer for, root for, celebrate with or shake our heads in defeat for our team.

But in some families like my extended family, it’s complicated and fun because of who we are – Americans, Korean-Americans, Koreans. My parents and I had an interesting and momentarily tense conversation over Apolo Ohno, and we probably sounded a bit like a version of the Korean and American press. And then we settled down to a barbecue feast for dinner. My dad said grace in Korean (which my husband and children cannot understand, but I told the kids their grandfather asked God to remind the kids to obey their parents) and then we passed around the baked beans, brisket and ribs, and then turned on the television to watch more speed skating.

What has been so interesting to me has been my older son’s reaction to the Olympics. During one of the speed skating events, he was quick to notice that there was a Korean skater competing against an American skater. His reaction? “Hey, look! There’s a Korean and an American! Cool! Who do we root for?”

I swear I  have never whispered in his ears, “You are Korean first.” (I remember hearing those well-intentioned words and walking away deeply confused and conflicted because wasn’t I both Korean and American equally, at the same time?)

We’ve explained to him and our other two children they are Americans whose cultural and ethnic roots are originally from Korea. We’ve explained in different ways as each of them mature and experience life what the term Asian-American or Korean-American can mean and why I identify myself that way. We’ve explained to them why we bow to our elders on New Year’s Day and the significance of the rice cake soup, and they simply lord over their non-culturally Korean friends that they get gifts for Christmas and cash for New Year’s.

It bothered me a bit that he would feel like he had to choose, but then I had to stop. It’s a wonderful and amazing thing that he proudly and delightfully identifies with both even though none of our children have stepped foot in South Korea and could one day become the President of the United States.

His pride in his Korean ethnic and cultural roots are not a result of being rejected by Americans (which was the case for me), and his pride in his birthright as an American isn’t born out of a jingoistic arrogance about America’s superiority (which I have often been on the receiving end). My journey, thankfully, is not his, and I am learning so much from his.

He asked this morning how the Americans and Koreans finished after last night’s events.

Corban, we all did well.

The Little Voice Inside My Head

Right now my head is a bit stuffed up thanks to a cold, but the little voice inside my head usually takes no prisoners. This past weekend, however, it was not expecting such a direct confrontation.

“Why don’t you think you’re an ‘A-level’ speaker?” asked a respected colleague of mine.

The little voice inside my head was very quick on its feet and replied, “I actually don’t do a lot of teaching and preaching so I don’t get as much practice as an A-level speaker would have. I tend to ramble a bit. And, I let life hijack me and my emotions too much to bring my A-game every time.”

I’m fairly comfortable in front of a crowd, can make eye contact, etc. Larry Studt, my high school speech team coach, taught me well. I’m a good public speaker, not great. Good. At the same time, I’ve never considered putting my name in the hat to be the Bible expositor at our summer training weeks, nor have I considered myself to be of that caliber. Self-promotion is not my MO. I was raised to believe that if you are that good, someone surely will notice and advocate on your behalf. There is no need to toot your own horn if you’re that good, right?

Um. Sort of. Sometimes? Maybe? Not always?

I’ve often wondered if there is unique flavor to female self-doubt, or perhaps a unique spin to a woman’s self-confidence. I know so many strong, successful women who are often surprised when asked to consider putting their names in the hat for a promotion, a speaking gig, a leadership role. Add to that any cultural layers that explicitly or implicitly limit a women’s role and there you have a interesting combination – confident self-doubters.

My colleague later asked me what I could only presume was a rhetorical question: “Why aren’t you out there more speaking?”

There are a lot of good reasons. I’ve spent the past 14+ years having and raising three amazing children. Speaking gigs don’t always fit in between childbirth, nursing, weaning, teething, potty training, preschool, kindergarten and suddenly high school registration.

And perhaps there were a few opportunities to put myself out there and to get a little more training and experience when I let the little voice have too much space. Perhaps.

I’ve found ways to quiet and calm the little voice – mentors and trusted colleagues and friends who will give honest feedback, trying new topics and speaking in front of new audiences, and listening to my own voice.

What does the little voice inside your head stop you from doing or trying or experiencing? How, if at all, does gender or ethnicity, play into your experience of self-doubt? How have you silenced that voice of self-doubt or have you found it helpful?

This past weekend was good for my soul on so many levels, and I’m still thinking about the questions my colleague threw at me. And I’m rethinking, reconsidering how I might answer them the next time those questions come my way.

Virginia Tech

This morning, the phone woke me. “Did you hear the Virginia Tech shooter was Asian?”

The first phone call I received in my office this morning, “Let’s pray for Virginia Tech, but
also that there will be no backlash against Asians.”

As I read the newsposts, its striking to me. I was searching more facts about what happened,
explanations, analysis. But I also felt a bit nervous about how race would be brought up, and what it would be used to support.

I’m not sure what to make of the fact that most of the journalists mentioned that the man from South Korea was a resident alien. It might just be accuracy from a journalistic perspective. But as a man who immigrated to the US in the mid-90s, I wonder what they were trying to say.

I was a bit upset that several of the articles went to the Department of Homeland Security and cited their data as “His point of entry in the US was…” It felt like they were tracking the port of entry for a terrorist–as if “people from this country don’t do these types of things.” Somehow, I felt like a stranger in my own country. Perhaps I’m being a bit sensitive–but I feel a strange identification with the young man. It’s the whole, “What will they think of us (Asians)?” mentality.

The JACL and the Asian American Association of Journalists have highlighted this. Here’s a statement from the journalists.

“As coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting continues to unfold, AAJA urges all media to avoid using racial identifiers unless there is a compelling or germane reason. There is no evidence at this early point that the race or ethnicity of the suspected gunman has anything to do with the incident, and to include such mention serves only to unfairly portray an entire people.

“The effect of mentioning race can be powerfully harmful. It can subject people to unfair treatment based simply on skin color and heritage. “

This morning, I’m filled with sadness for this young troubled man. I’m also grieving for the students on the campus who went to bed not knowing that was their last night. I’m grieving for the parents who cannot get the information and answers that they need. And for a campus that is stirred up, cloudy, and soaked in this violence.

But I’m also very sad for Asian American men on the campus. And I wonder what it is that they go through. If I were to walk, for one day, in their shoes, would I be strong enough to absorb what they go through on a daily basis?

Lord, have mercy on us all.