Resident Alien

I am a resident alien. My port of entry was Seattle, and my family was headed to Philadelphia. Our visit with extended family and friends in Chicago lasted a lifetime. But, I am still not an American.

Initially it was because of a misunderstanding. My parents had mistakenly been told that their application for citizenship would automatically include their child. Instead of citizenship I was issued a green card (which actually isn’t green, FYI) and retained Korean citizenship.

But no one knew. Resident aliens aren’t green. Resident aliens don’t look a certain way, sound a certain way, act a certain way. However, I learned that Americans must look a certain way, sound a certain way because telling people over the years that I was from Chicago rarely sufficed.

Asian American sisters and brothers, you know what I’m talking about, right? It’s the “Where are you from” conversation that must include an explanation of where you, your parents, grandparents, etc. are from since “Name your all-American city, town, village” couldn’t possibly be the simple answer. Even though I had no recollection of being in Korea (I was 8 months old when I immigrated to the states), America couldn’t possibly be my home.

The lesson was reviewed after the VTech massacre. Seung-Hui Cho was identified as a resident alien, an immigrant. He was not American. In very few instances was he even Asian or Korean American. Korean government officials apologized and sent their condolences. Even though Cho had left Korea more than a decade before, he was still Korean. Even though Cho had lived longer in America than he had in Korea, it seemed that America wanted nothing to do with him, his isolation, his darkness.

Well, apparently Pat Buchanan wants others to believe that Cho and my Korean American brothers and sisters are part of an invasion. His op ed piece scares me, angers me, exhausts me:

“Almost no attention has been paid to the fact that Cho Seung-Hui was not an American at all, but an immigrant, an alien. Had this deranged young man who secretly hated us never come here, 32 people would heading home from Blacksburg for summer vacation.
What was Cho doing here? How did he get in?
Cho was among the 864,000 Koreans here as a result of the Immigration Act of 1965, which threw the nation’s doors open to the greatest invasion in history, an invasion opposed by a majority of our people. Thirty-six million, almost all from countries whose peoples have never fully assimilated in any Western country, now live in our midst.
Cho was one of them.” Pat Buchanan, May 1, 2007

I am one of THEM. I am one of those 864,000 Koreans who have invaded this country.

Days after the shootings, I downloaded the INS application for naturalization. I began to fill it out, and I cried. I’ve waited years, hoping that South Korea and the US would offer dual citizenship because I am a daughter of both countries. My father strongly recommended I complete the application as soon as possible, but I couldn’t. Maybe in the days or weeks to come I will…

I’ve had lengthy conversations over the years about how our identity as Christ-followers should or should not be qualified by our ethnic or racial identities, how loving Jesus means it does or doesn’t matter that we are gendered beings. I am first a Christian, a Christ-follower, a sinner. I am a resident alien to this country and to this world.

But does it matter that I am a Korean American woman?

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.

Crying like a 7-year-old girl with a skinned knee

So, what does it mean when a man starts out by saying, “I cried like a 7-year-old girl with a skinned knee?” I’m really asking this. I’ve actually been asking this of many people ever since I saw a blog post start out with that line. I’ve been asking men and women, Asian American and not and my very unscientific poll shows women rolling their eyes and saying, “What?!” and men rolling their eyes and saying, “So what.” Again, very unscientific. There were a number of men who did respond by saying, “What?!” and they all either work with me or, at least in one case, is married to me.

Having had to parent both a 7-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy I can attest to the fact that both cry like mad when they skin their knees. The only difference is when the child (girl or boy) is told by the parent/authority figure to “stop crying”. Have you ever skinned your knee? I’ll never forget watching an acquaintance tell his son to “stop crying like a little girl”. I made a mental note that afternoon to pray for that young boy’s future wife.

It’s a little comment, which on my “good girl” days I can let it slide. But I’m growing weary of being a “good girl”. I love crying, connecting my soul and body to actually act out what it is feeling, experiencing. I want less to be “good” and want more to be “true” to the woman God intends me to be.

Now pass me a bandaid and some tissue, please.

Failure, shame and the color green

For those of you who’ve read the book, there are a few references to the death of my mother-in-law. After she died, my husband and I opened up our home and invited my father-in-law to move in with us. Let’s just say I learned quite a bit about myself, about my father-in-law, about my husband, and about how you can take the man/woman out of Asia but you can’t take the Asian out of the man/woman.

To help all of us make the transition, we emptied out what had become our family’s favorite room – a room off to the side of the main floor that served as the previous owner’s home office. We moved in my FIL’s king size bed, a dresser, desk, bookcases, etc. to bring a touch of home and privacy.

Short of building a new master suite downstairs, it was the best we could do. And then we did the best we could do. I did the best I could do.

But at some point, the expectations (preparing separate Korean meals when the kids wanted spaghetti) and the realities (that I could barely get the spaghetti on the table, never mind the brown rice and kalbi-tang) collided. Peter and I realized that this was not a long-term solution.

Even my FIL felt the tension as he was used to being more the center of the family. Here in Libertyville the center of the family is always moving. One day it’s Bethany getting ready for her ballet classes. The next day it’s Corban and his lost lego piece.

My FIL has moved in with my sister-in-law. He tells people he would rather live in Chicago but he didn’t want to be a burden to me. Yes, I physically cringed when I first heard that.

But, Peter and I are trying to move beyond unhealthy guilt, balance it with love for my FIL, and live.

So the room that was once the “tv room” and then became “halabujee’s room” is becoming “my office”. Peter and I tore out the ugly blue carpet to find a hardwood floor that needed some love. Peter lovingly sanded, poly-stinky-stained it, painted the trim and then last night helped me with the first coat of Pepper Grass green, eggshell finish. It was the first time I spent more than a few seconds in that room since the end of last year when we moved the last of my FIL’s things out…

My office is now very green – vibrant, rich, full of hope and a little weird.