Day 331, February 9, 2021
In an odd confluence of projects and obligations, I have gone a full week without touching a guitar. It may seem like a short amount of time, but it is just long enough to feel out of practice, tired, like I might not be able to do a thing with an instrument in my hands. For some reason, it felt that way tonight with writing as well... as if I were suddenly out of practice. Was there a memory I could start with? Something I read? Someone I talked with?
I do have an assignment for the thought piece on social justice education, but I don't feel like I have the energy to tackle that one yet.
The idea was to start with one moment, and explain how it made an impact in that moment, and how it still resonates in me today in how I see my work as an educator. I was thinking about the childhood story about being pulled/drawn aside by a Korean War vet at the mall. He was sitting on one of those wooden benches beside a large indoor planting area (there must be a name for those big mall frond stations).
I was young enough to find it hard to disobey an adult and complied standing in front of him, and then sat beside him, when he insisted. Thinking back now, I suppose he probably didn't have any malicious intent, he was just in a talkative mood and, left alone in the mall, discovers a little Korean kid wandering by all by himself.
First, it was surprising to be recognized as Korean, that was a rare thing back then, for a white person to identify me as other than Chinese or Japanese. I was uncertain about my own identity as a Korean, where with Koreans I was always a little bit on the outside, not fluent in the language, and born in Wisconsin, I was a step removed from the first generation parents and kids. With Americans, they were scared by the food I ate, and I was always recognized as the popular movie stereotypes, the pulled slanted eyes and accent, or karate chops and pretend overdub taunts. So it was a confusing time to be suddenly recognized in the mall by a stranger, and I treated it with suspicion and fear.
He started to tell me about an experience I knew nothing about, about being in Korea in the war. I had visited my grandfather's house in Seoul when I was 5 years old, so my childhood imagination blended images of that house with the vet's descriptions of his girlfriend's house. I imagined him in his olive green fatigues like he was a plastic soldier molded into one posture with a bendy plastic rifle in his hands. He told me about how he refused to take off his boots because he was too embarrassed about the holes in his socks. I imagined the entranceway by the front door at my house when we had people over, how it was just a mass of shoes. I could imagine the shock that would have rippled through the house if someone disregarded all those shoes and continued to walk in with out complying. I could feel this vet's girlfriend's father's anger and shame that this solider would come into his house for his daughter and that he would not take off his shoes... that he wore his boots into the dining room and wore them all through dinner... this man who carried a gun and was taller, bigger, than anyone else.
I wonder what this vet did during the war. If he was like Sarge, one of the cooks at my college cafeteria, who was part of an engineer troop that built bridges over rivers. Or did he do something else. Did he kill people that looked like me? Did he kill and love people that looked like me? That is a hard thing to reconcile.
I often think about how I could have responded differently at various moments in my past. I relive them and analyze what I could have said or done. But this moment, sitting in the Framingham Mall, I can't really imagine what I should have said. I mainly just listened. I wanted to get away, but there was something pleading about this man. I wondered if he missed his Korean girlfriend.
Of course, at some point I managed to get away. I probably tucked myself away in the vacant space in the center of a circular clothes rack until I felt safe enough to wander around again. I might have stayed in there until it was time to go... my name being called out over the Filene's Basement intercom.
I think about other kids, as uncertain as I was about my identity at that time, and think about what a difference it would have made to not be defined by other people, but to be allowed to define one's self... to assemble a sense of identity that was not drawn from negative tropes, but built off of assets and achievements. I imagine that would have made so much difference.
Take care and be well,
|Bibimbap one of my favorite comfort foods.|
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From Inside Higher Ed:
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Webcast Title: Bridging the Digital Divide: Lessons From COVID-19
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