Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Should Korean Americans Embrace America?

Dear Korean,

Do you think Korean Americans should completely embrace this country and "become Americans"?

K. Soje

Dear K. Soje,

Yes. As Americans, there should be no question that Korean Americans must embrace America. Thanks for reading!

Alright, alright. That probably is not enough, because we need to figure out what it means to "completely embrace" America and "become Americans." K. Soje perhaps spotted this issue as well, since he put "become Americans" in quotes.

This is a difficult question, because the concept of "becoming American" is particularly elusive. The concept is elusive because for every criterion one can come up with, a plausible counter-argument can be made. Does holding the blue eagle passport make someone American, even though she longs for the destruction of America and will take steps toward her wishes? (For example like Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber?) Does being born and raised in America make someone American, even though he defects and joins the enemy military? (For example, like John Walker Lindh?) Does sincerely pledging allegiance to American flag make one an American? (That would exclude American-born and American-raised Jehovah's Witnesses.) Does paying taxes to the American government make one an American? (But many non-American millionnaires pay more taxes to the American government than any average American would, and many poor Americans pay no taxes at all.)

 John Walker Lindh. If the Korean had his way,
his American citizenship would have been revoked.

Let's try stretching this inquiry to the maximum. Does one have to be white to be an American? There was a point in time when the answer to this question was yes. During World War II, more than a hundred thousand ethnic Japanese – majority of them American citizens – were rounded up into concentration camps. When Japanese Americans took to the court to vindicate the rights that were apparently given to them as American citizens under the United States Constituion, but the Supreme Court found a way to interpret the Constitution such that Japanese Americans would remain in detention.

Frankly, the question is far too daunting for the Korean to give a clear answer. It is more likely that the answer will shift over time. During World War II, American citizenship, having been born in America and speaking accentless English was not enough for Japanese Americans to be treated like Americans. But the insane race traitor bitch Michell Malkin aside, race-based internment of American citizens will not likely happen again because the concept of "American-ness" has evolved since the 1940s to be more color-blind.

But the Korean can identify one aspect by which Korean/Asian Americans fare very well. To do that, the Korean will give a story he heard recently from a former federal prosecutor.

This prosecutor was trying to put a band of human traffickers behind bars. These traffickers would recruit people from a poor region of China with a promise to get them to America for $40,000 per person. People who sign up pay half of the required money first. Then they are taken into the hull of a fishing ship, and sail for more than a month inside the boat without seeing daylight. Upon arrival, they are secretly taken into what amounts to a cage in New York Chinatown -- often right on top of or underneath the restaurants and shops that numerous tourists frequent. There, they would be locked up until their family sends the rest of the funds.

There were plenty of other charges that would stick with the traffickers, but the traffickers seemed like they were able to beat one of the charges -- kidnapping. In order to prove kidnapping, the prosecutor had to prove that the smuggled people were detained and moved against their will. And the prosecutor was having a hell of a time trying to prove that they were held against their will because truth is, everyone knew exactly what they were getting into. With the smuggled Chinese people on the witness stand, the defense attorney for the traffickers would fire questions after questions showing that yes, they knew they would be locked up in a hull of a ship without seeing daylight for a month. Yes, they knew they would then be locked up in a den until their family paid. Yes, they paid money to these traffickers even though they knew that they were walking into a situation where they would be certainly locked up in various places for a long period of time. Without coercion, there was no kidnapping.

The prosecutor was able to prevail by convincing the judge that to prove kidnapping, he only had to show that even if the smuggled people consented to being locked up, they could not get out even if they changed their minds. The traffickers were convicted of all charges made, and justice was served. But that is not the point on which the Korean wishes to focus here, for now. Instead, consider this -- even in an intimidating courtroom setting, even after describing the ordeals of being locked up in a ship then in a tiny room for more than a month, even with the prospect of exacting revenge to the traffickers who put them through that ordeal, the Chinese witnesses were unwavering: Yes, they voluntarily paid a huge sum of money to be locked up for at least a month, and indefinitely if their family did not pay, as long as they can come to America.

In some sense, this is the story of all Asian Americans. Yes, the Korean is aware that a few important distinctions exist. Most of us probably came to America via a more comfortable route than through an empty tank in a fishing boat. More importantly, most of us are present in America legally. But these distinctions should not obscure what makes Asian Americans particularly American -- for the most part, we either made a conscious choice to become American, or are born into people who made a conscious choice to become American.

This is important because choice goes to the core of America's existence. America began with people who chose to cross the ocean to a new land, to make a new life for themselves and their children. Everything that America stands for -- freedom, equality, pursuit of happiness -- originates from the burning desire to make life better and better for oneself and one's children, as well as the fearless adventurism that drove the future Americans to cross not only the literal ocean, but also the figurative ocean of linguistic and cultural differences. (Yes, the Korean is fully aware that Native Americans and African Americans got a raw deal out of that. But eventually and on balance, what America stands for made the lives of Native Americans and African Americans better, however belatedly.)

Therein lies the genius of America. America constantly renews itself with immigrants, as each wave of new immigrants to America carries the same flame that the Founding Fathers and the first generation of Americans carried. As the newest generation of Americans, Asian Americans may be temporally farthest away from the first Americans. But because Asian Americans can vividly recall and describe their or their parents' desire to make a new life for themselves, they share the closest spiritual connection to the first Americans.

What could be more American than that?

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.


  1. But the settlers drove out the Native Americans. I don't think it's simple as tag words like 'freedom' and 'equality.'

  2. Interesting topic, kinda diverted from the original question at the end. And I'd like to point out that other Asian cultures run through the same difficulties, not just Korean-Americans

  3. I think the question is more about asking if Asian-Americans should try to emulate the culture of "mainstream America" in the same manner that other immigrant groups did.. (the other immigrants, Irish, Italians, Jews, Polish etc...)

    I think the fact that by assimilation, it was easy for these people to cast aside their association with their ancestral European countries, thus appearing to other Americans as American.

    This will become less and less of an issue if and when the 3rd generation of Asian-Americans outnumbers the 1st and 2nd, but, there's still the phenotypical difference that Asians have with White people, which denies universal assimilation to Asian-Americans.

    Certainly America is becoming more and more colorblind, but I still feel that Americans view "white" as "normal" and "standard".

    We need to change the psychological definition of American.. not just in socially minded progressive people, but also the most ignorant of the ignorant.

  4. Good points, all. :)

    I'm Canadian, but having been raised by an intensely idealistic American father, I identify pretty strongly with the American "ideal" when it comes to freedom and every man's right to pursue a better life.

    It sounds cliche, and as dokebi mentions, this whole issue is hardly simple (really, what is?), but I don't think it's really fair to hold Americans now accountable for racism unless they actually are personally racist. I don't know anyone who looks back on the Native American situation or slavery with pride (there probably are some, but you get those kind everywhere). The American settlers were people, and people make mistakes.

    So, my actual point here--despite the deep and far-reaching consequences of people's mistakes, it doesn't affect the underlying truth of what America stands for in the minds and hearts of so many people. There's a reason people still want to come here, crowds of racist idiots notwithstanding.

    sorry for the long comment... :) I always like reading your blog.

  5. I was born in Seoul, Korea, but I moved to Ireland when I was about 5-ish until I was about 15 and moved to the States by then. I am an American by birth. In Seoul, I was born in an American military hospital where I obtained instant citizenship (so to speak) and a social security.

    Being a bi-racial Asian-American doesn't really make me American. I feel like I'm still Irish 'cause I've lived there and experienced the culture in Ireland better than I do here. I'm still schooling in the States, and you're right, in our minds, we either choose to accept that we're American or not.

    Cheers to that point. I'm not sure what I am. I don't know whether I would still consider myself an Irish-Asian or Asian-American. I'm tolerant of American traditions and culture, but I certainly don't accept ALL of it.

  6. Recently at dinner, while discussing the subject about whether I can eat spicy food, I exclaimed, "Well, of course! I'm Korean!" And to this fact one of the people I was eating dinner with commented that she never thinks of me as Korean, she thinks of me as American...I am the perfect picture of a vibrant young American she said. Yes, I said, I am Korean-American, and agreed with her that this was a very cool thing. I definitely took this as a compliment because that is how she meant it to be. But I just thought this was very interesting. Was she not just saying that her German heritage gave her some of her personalities? It never crosses my mind to think that when I say I am Korean, I am discounting in any way the fact that I am AMERICAN. Korean-AMERICAN. I was born and raised in America. Just as she herself identified herself to be of German descent, another in our group identified himself to be of Polish descent, I am of Korean descent. (And I grew up eating relatively spicy food. My mother cooked Korean food.) If I go to Korea, I stick out like a sore thumb because I am American. I was not brought up in Korea and I do not share most of the Korean personalities. I totally think and act differently. But just because I am American doesn't mean I will forget my Korean ancestry. I am proud that I am of Korean descent just as others are proud to be of Japanese, Chinese, French, German, Polish, Mexican, Chilean, African, Native American, Russian.......descent. And I don't think we should EVER forget where we come from. It's what makes all of us special.

  7. We have almost the exact same issues here in Australia. Except there was arguably less slavery here, and it was the native population not slaves imported from Africa.

    what America stands for made the lives of Native Americans... better
    You'd have a hard time selling such a statement to a lot of Aboriginal Australians. The Japanese would be flogging it to the Koreans too, had Americans not dropped the nukes that ended the occupation. I don't think it's your (you = an American not of Native American descent) call to make.

    But that's all beside the point, the point is what does it mean to "become more American"? What does it mean to "become more Australian", to integrate? You've pointed out eloquently and concisely that for every criterion one can come up with, a plausible counter-argument can be made, but this isn't the end of the argument... sometimes ethereal qualities are best described by what they aren't.

    I'm not eloquent or concise enough to put those things into words, but maybe it's some food for thought.

    To quote S. Skinner (Principal):
    It's the differences...of which there are none, that make the sameness...exceptional!

  8. Samie, maybe your situation is different, but most white Americans I've been around who claim to have descent from European countries don't say they are Germans or Italians or French. They are Americans.

    When you say OF COURSE, I'M KOREAN, you might not think much of it, but I guess in the minds of certain people, an affirmation of membership to a non-white nationality is a stark contrast with their idea of what an American is. It's confusing to explain, but I think if you had said, OF COURSE, my family is Korean... then she wouldn't have reacted that way.

    Most people probably wouldn't have reacted that way in the first place thoug...

  9. It's a two way street, TCG gets told to go home with lots of racial slurs pointed at him daily. (I rise above it as it was better than the 1990s where racial violence was normal and the police encouraged it).

    Americanism can't really be defined, it is like the American dream! It cannot be defined it is what you make of it. Therefore to say embracing it is a misnomer as really it is what you make of it.

    OTOH I wouldn't abandon your roots entirely.


    The US economy is utterly and totally fucked. More fucked than the girls of 588 in Seoul. All Obama can think of is printing more money Zimbabwe style! It is all their economists know how to do.

    Which is where US Koreans have a nice little advantage as the SK government welcomes back gyopos with open arms.

  10. "Yes, the Korean is fully aware that Native Americans and African Americans got a raw deal out of that. But eventually and on balance, what America stands for made the lives of Native Americans and African Americans better, however belatedly."

    I like your post except for this comment. It's a parenthetical comment, but the stament being made is enormous. As the statement stands, it's a little inflammatory, but maybe you could clarify your point further.

  11. I find Koreans' view of nationality to be fascinating. As an American-born American (back at least 4 generations in all directions and qualifying for the Daughters of the American Revolution through my grandma who was, I'm not terribly proud to say, a member of that snotty organization), I have always thought of nationality as seperate from racial and cultural identity. Any color person of any culture could potentially be an American, but that's not true in Korea (just ask my Chinese friend who was born in Seoul, both his parents were born in Seoul, yet he and his family members carried passports from Taiwan until they immigrated to the U.S.; although I have met naturalized Koreans from Vietnam, Iran, and Pakistan... and a guy from Peru going through the process now--but Koreans still don't consider them Korean nationality--I digress).

    What's really interesting about American culture in the 21st century is how inclusive it is. You can (in most circles I travel) be born in Mexico, eat only Mexican food, speak only Spanish and be as American as a blonde girl from Ohio. This is because American culture permits other cultures (now at least--sometimes even encouraging those cultures) to live within its borders. You know longer need accentless English and white skin to be a successful American (I won't say that it doesn't help--I'm not stupid enough to believe that we are truly equal in practice). Assimilationism is no longer "in" (if it ever was, really) and diversity is now generally embraced as a virtue.

    Of course, then Obama got elected and this seems to have called out all the crazies... but aside from those now minority of backwards-thinking "Americans," I would say that most Korean-Americans, in choosing to come to America to live, have effectively "become" Americans. Whether they change (such as by learning English or adapting to "mainstream culture" which really only exists in isolated pockets of the midwest anymore) after that point or not.

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  13. The Seoul Searcher, my skin is white as white could be. I find it very intriguing to watch the reaction of Mexican-American students I teach when I comment on the fact that I am Mexican. Granted my skin is white because I am a mutt, but I claim all of my ancestry and don't believe I have ever actually said "I am an American" in my life. I have said I'm Irish or I'm German. Depending on the context one or more of my ancestries may be of significance. I have always felt the need to establish myself as more than a white American.

    Now I have said, very proudly I might add, that I am a Texan.

  14. "What's really interesting about American culture in the 21st century is how inclusive it is. You can (in most circles I travel) be born in Mexico, eat only Mexican food, speak only Spanish and be as American as a blonde girl from Ohio."

    That call, made by a white person, is about the most naïve and obtuse thing I've heard. Your idea of racism would be what, neo-nazi skin head white supremacists? Subtle racism is all around you - you don't see it because you're not on the receiving end of it.

    Do you honestly think the percentage of white people who agree with your statement would be the same as the percentage of people of ethnic minority who do?

    I'm sure you're a good person, and TK's comment section is not the place for flame wars, but subtle racism is as pervasive as it's ever been, and perpetrated at large by those who claim it they're not part of the problem.

    Hatred and ignorance are the visible, detestable faces of racism. The subtle discrimination is just as sinister.

    Here a good place to start thinking about it.

  15. "Yes, the Korean is fully aware that Native Americans and African Americans got a raw deal out of that. But eventually and on balance, what America stands for made the lives of Native Americans and African Americans better, however belatedly."

    While the reply to the question was generally persuasive, the above point is indefensible. While the national spirit of America may be rooted in the notion of "opportunity" the reality is that a disproportionate amount of the cost of solidifying that spirit was billed to these two populations. Colonial opportunity came at the expense of self-determination for non-Europeans in North America.

    The situation has not been balanced. US Census data and numerous other studies continually show that the mortality and socioeconomic status of Native Americans and African Americans is significantly lower than Whites, Hispanics, and Asians living in the US. Overcoming that disparity is not simply a matter of boot-strapping either. Many of the forces which continue to disadvantage these groups are systemic. The effects of colonial histories are much longer lasting than most people realize.

    The American Spirit may be about absolute equality of opportunity in principle, but in practice some populations continue to be more equal than others.

  16. I'm not certain what The Korean's response was, however, I do believe that being American is difficult to define and the best being someone born here or came here who wants to be here and agrees to uphold the laws. As we are all neither free nor equal, the point is the ideal to be is there.

    I also think, as an American, that I have pride being American.
    I don't think what I eat or how I dress should define me.
    What language I speak does, I suppose.

    I'm currently and American in Korea. And I don't think it's just my blonde hair and blue eyes that shows that I am not a native. It's my behavior and customs.My beliefs.
    However, as Americans, we blend. So while a 1st generation Korean- American looks Korean, chances are they will have children with someone who is not 100% Korean and eventually "stand out" less. But then there is the culture...

    If the question is more about asking Asian-Americans if they should try to assimilate into "mainstream America," as the Seoul Searcher asked, then the answer is yes. Otherwise, what's the point?

  17. Great article! Except for the fact that you refer to the US only as "America" all the time. I know that outside Latin America nobody cares about this, and everyone uses this name to refer to the US. But the truth is most of the people from countries in Latin America call themselves Americans too, but because of power the US swallowed the name to itself and it just caught in other continents. Maybe because it has no real name, just a description. I wonder how Koreans would feel if Japan decided to call their country Asia.

  18. Group inclusion/exclusion questions like these seem to hinge not on whether one claims to belong to a particular group, but whether any one group has serious competition for someone's identity.

    As a simple example, one can be a Yankees fan. One can also be a fan of both the Yankees and the Lakers. However, if someone claimed to be a fan of both the Yankees and the Red Sox, I can't imagine any serious fan of the Yankees taking this person seriously as a Yankees fan because the Red Sox and Yankees are both baseball clubs and are competition for each other.

    My impression of the stereotypical WASP is that they have no serious competition to their American identity (if the US goes down the tubes, where else are they gonna go?), so I tend to regard WASPs, as a group, absent other information, as unassailably American.

    Non-WASPs don't do as well quite so automatically, although the possibility is certainly there. While I'd consider an American of Irish descent as a proper American if he were Irish on, at most, St. Patrick's Day, I'd consider that person less than wholly American if I were to learn that he donates regularly to the IRA or otherwise gets deeply involved in foreign affairs related to his homeland-by-bloodline.

    So, if a hypothetical Jack Lee were to socialize almost exclusively with other Koreans, regard America as merely a place of residence, keep his Cyworld page current and his Facebook page bare, then I'd have no trouble whatsoever regarding him as a resident foreigner, even if he's two or three generations removed from the Old Country. On the other hand, if he doesn't have a Cyworld page, doesn't have any more or better friendships with Koreans than any other ethnic group, and mostly regards Korea as just another foreign country among many, then I'd think of him as an American, period, and only adding "of Korean descent" in conversations with third parties who want to know if he's related to the Civil War general.

  19. I agree with Chrissy.

    We still owe a lot to the indigenous people.

    We still owe a lot to the descendents of slaves.

    Also, on the assimilation thing - it's a 2 way street. Is the US going to change to understand Koreans and be more Korean? That's the real issue. Did the US drop its hostility to Japanese Americans? Yes to a great degree, and did get influenced by some J-A culture. Same for Chinese culture, I think. Not a lot, but some. I think the US and the Americas are more culturally Asian today than sixty years ago, when we were still considered aliens.

    It's far better than around 100 years ago, when my grandfather came over.

  20. Ryan,

    My point was not that racism is dead. I believe it still exists everywhere.

    But the concept of American for most people (at least on the East Coast which is where my experiences come from) is that American means people who live in America legally and either are or have the intention to become citizens. It is, interestingly enough, NOT based on race or cultural identity. This is a very recent understanding of American, I know, but one that is actually consistent with America's immigrant history... updated in the last 20 years or so to include non-white people.

    Now, you brought up how minorities might disagree. It's possible their alienation from mainstream culture would make them feel this way. But here's the truth: American is a label not exactly related to your feelings. I hate cars and buying useless crap. I am a vegetarian. I feel alienated from the mainstream of American culture. However, my feelings are irrelevant to whether or not I am American. Like the commenter who claimed she's not American, she's Texan--she may feel odd about it, but she is American.

    My point was that Americans these days tend to think of race and culture as seperate from nationality. Does racism exist? Sure--not relevant to my point about nationality. Are there insane people out there who don't think Barack Obama is "American"? Yes. But not most. Most people think of Obama and Schwarzenegger as Americans.

    I already think of Korean-American as American. How does one become something that one already is?

  21. @michelle

    "If the question is more about asking Asian-Americans if they should try to assimilate into "mainstream America," as the Seoul Searcher asked, then the answer is yes. Otherwise, what's the point?"

    I guess it depends on what the definition of "mainstream America" is. But in my view, I don't think anyone should actively attempt to assimilate into anything. What's the point? Well usually it's to make money, to escape something in the home country, or to give the children a better education than they could have gotten in the home country.

    Nobody ever comes to America simply because they want to drop all of their cultural values and emulate white people.

    @R Racliff

    "The Seoul Searcher, my skin is white as white could be. I find it very intriguing to watch the reaction of Mexican-American students I teach when I comment on the fact that I am Mexican."

    So is it more of a reaction getting thing or do you truly feel that to your core you are a child of Mexico? Identity is a tricky thing.

    I don't know, think of it this way I guess. I have a few friends in the U.S. who are Italian-Americans, well partially. They went around all the time saying "I'm Italian" "We're Italian". But if you were to drop them in Italy, they'd stick out like a sore thumb and people would call them Americans. In the meantime, in America they have no problem being treated as Americans by almost all Americans because consciously or not, they have assimilated.

    Any Asian-American might also stick out like a sore thumb in Asia, but as we are seen as perpetual foreigners in the U.S., no matter how well we assimilate (consciously or not), we will still be seen as foreigners by some, (if not most) Americans.

    "I wonder how Koreans would feel if Japan decided to call their country Asia."

    Actually they'd feel good. Japanese at the moment refer to Korea and China as Asia and don't consider Japan as a part of that. Maybe it's just semantics.

    Example: When I lived in Japan, at work I was applying to take off a week for vacation. They asked where I was going and I said I was gonna go to Busan. The boss asked me "Is this your first trip to Asia?"

    My reply was... "Aren't I in Asia?"

    Or another time I was watching a soccer match. The winner of the match would be able to join the Asia champions league tournament being held in China. Supporters were holding signs up saying "Let's go to Asia!!!!"

    There is a distinct mindset among Japanese that Japan isn't a part of Asia, or (hopefully not, but probably amongst some) that Japan is superior to Asia.

    But that's besides the point that you were making I guess.

    Why do U.S. citizens refer to their country as America, and call themselves Americans?

    United Statesians sounds dumb.

  22. Focusing more on the original question asked: I think the response is more or less "They already do". I think immigrants to America who plan to stay permanently are a self-selecting bunch and share many similar attitudes and values as the first immigrants that eventually formed the original colonies and the generations of immigrants since then.

    Furthermore, I think emigrating from a country and changing your citizenship to the US speaks volumes.

    As a Korean American, when I go to Korea, I stand in the line for foreigners. I'm eligible to be drafted by the US army. I pay an arm and a leg in taxes to the federal and state governments. I vote in US elections. I work hard every day in an American company and spend most of my money in the American economy. I give back to my American community by serving in community organizations.

    That, to me, sounds like embracing America. Do I still consume Korean cultural products? Yes. But, so do plenty of other Americans. Do I still speak Korean? Yes, but I think that my fellow Americans should all work on improving their foreign language skills (not to mention their English language skills). Do I follow Korean news? Yes. I also follow American news, local and national. And plenty of other international news.

    I think most Korean Americans embrace America plenty. Whether America embraces us back is another matter.

  23. "Furthermore, I think emigrating from a country and changing your citizenship to the US speaks volumes."

    Agreed. I always did wonder how it could be that a native as a native could question the dedication and enthusiasm for America of an immigrant as an immigrant. They think it is completely reasonable to pose that question, and yet to me it's sort of like an animal trying to question the intellect of human.

    Maybe they're just referring to people like me, seeing how I didn't have much of a choice being brought to the US at the helpless age of 8 years old. :-)

  24. @The Seoul Searcher

    What I meant to say was: What if Japan called itself Asia, and took the name to itself in a way that if any other Asians called themselves Asians they would require further explanation. Imagine asking to a Japanese: "Where are you from?" and the answer is "Asia", and the rest of the world understands he/she means Japan and not the continent.

    But this discussion doesn't have much to do with the topic. And I guess you're right. United Statesian sound dumb, maybe just in Spanish and Portuguese it's a possible alternative (estadunidense). But in English there are more options for the noun than for the adjective: United States, US, USA, States... calling it just America sounds a bit arrogant for me.

    But seriously, does any (US!)American care?

  25. My favorite Korean-American is so American that most of his admirers don't even know his origins which I guess explains the lack of love he gets from the homeland. Turning one's back on what the parents want (become a doctor) to doodle for a living and to take to sporting facial hair doesn't make for great copy in the Southern half of the peninsula, but for re-imagining a true American pop culture icon
    makes Jim Lee
    as American as apple pie and baseball.

  26. @ The Soul Searcher "So is it more of a reaction getting thing or do you truly feel that to your core you are a child of Mexico? Identity is a tricky thing."

    At my core I feel that I am a mutt. I do identify more with three of my six ancestral heritages than the others for a variety of reason. Mexican is the one that I mentioned because I do not look like a stereotypical Mexican so it does spark my students curiosity. It also helps build a bond with my Mexican American students. When I speak Spanish with them and demonstrate an understanding of the predominate culture in their households.

  27. @R Ratcliff
    "At my core I feel that I am a mutt."

    So.. why do you tell them you are Mexican then?

    No, I actually totally understand where you're coming from. But the way I understand things, minorities who feel they've been shoved into a box get very defensive of the box, especially when someone from the majority wants in.

    In one example, we had an immigrant white South African in high school, and he came to school one day in a shirt that said "African-American and proud" or and all the Black kids were telling him how racist it was and how patronizing it was to their experience.

    He then explained that he had emigrated from Africa and was technically more African-American than any of they were. This eventually lead to him getting his ass kicked in the hallway with the black security guards waiting until he had taken his licks before breaking the fight up.

    I guess I really don't have the right to tell anyone how they should identify themselves, as it is something that I myself am often denied the right to do, but you might want to be careful.

  28. "You can (in most circles I travel) be born in Mexico, eat only Mexican food, speak only Spanish and be as American as a blonde girl from Ohio. "

    Unless this hypothetical person had at least one US citizen parent or naturalized as a US citizen, then this person is not American. Period.

    "But the concept of American for most people (at least on the East Coast which is where my experiences come from) is that American means people who live in America legally and either are or have the intention to become citizens. It is, interestingly enough, NOT based on race or cultural identity. "

    Half-right. The US is a nation-state, not an ethno-state. National identity is defined solely by legal status. Immigrants who intend to become Americans are not Americans until they naturalize. Can't have it both ways and claim that a noncitizen who lives is American, yet simultaneously assert that someone who is completely Mexican in language and behavior is American, too.

    Back to the OT, my documented ethnic background is Irish, English, and German, but I consider myself an unhyphenated American who embraces all immigrant groups as my ancestors, for, as TK observes, all voluntary immigrants to this country have come to seek a better life for themselves and their children.

  29. correction: noncitizen who lives in America is American

  30. @ Seoul Searcher: Just start calling people from the United States "Yanks." Works for me, and it's shorter than any alternative. I can vouch for the previous poster; it's a real issue for many Latin Americans. Learned all about it in my Spanish classes.

  31. @Sean Hudson

    Yanks? That's fine from outside the US being called by non-Americans, but Americans ourselves can't call ourselves Yanks if we aren't from the New England region.

    Just let the Mexicans and Canadians add the qualifier North if they want to. Problem solved.

  32. Just wanted to add my two pence worth of thoughts.

    About the Japan Asia topic. The fact that Japan calls China, Korea and other countries Asia and says 'going to Asia' to mean going to the Asian mainland makes perfect sense to me.
    In Britain when we say Europe we mean France and Germany not the UK. We may be 'in' Europe but we certainly don't say we are European. And as the UK and Japan are both island nations I think this isn't really that strange.

    Also about saying 'I'm Korean' even if your American. I would say 'I'm Polish' even though I don't speak Polish and have only been to Poland once. Because the person you are speaking too (we assume) knows that you are British/American/whatever you actually are then it seems pointless to say 'I'm half Polish and half English'. Also my Mum (only slightly more Polish then me) always gets annoyed me when I say I hate Borsch as 'how can you be Polish and hate Borsch. You're a disgrace.' etc etc (yes, she does get a bit over the top) even though not every person who lives in Poland can like Borsch (probably). And to explain the Borsch thing. Imagine you were Korean American and said you hated Kimchi (hmm I really want to try Kimchi sometime. It's like that.

  33. "But eventually and on balance, what America stands for made the lives of Native Americans and African Americans better, however belatedly."

    No. No. No. No for many many reasons, the most obvious of which is that the vast majority of problems these groups faced were created and perpetuated by America. You do not get credit for making things "better" if you are the cause of the problems in the first place.

    Certainly in the case of First Nations people "what America stands for" has not made their lives better. Comparing the life expectancy, literacy rates, etc on a reservation to those of the general American population and it becomes shockingly apparent how America has made the lives of Native Americans worse in every possible way.

    The case of black Americans is somewhat more complex, but a casual glance at the rates of incarceration of black men relative to their overall percentage of the population certainly calls your assertion into question.

    I'm not trying to bash the USA here, but come on, let's be realistic here about both the checkered history of this country and the very real problems that continue to this day.

  34. A few thoughts, I think its best if one embraces both Korean-ness and American-ness. One doesn't need for fully assimilate. One should adapt enough to function well, and appreciate the both cultures.

    I find that how one decides how to define oneself tells more about how the person views themselves, than the actual description. I know some do not like hyphenated names, like Korean-American, but it does tell something of the person.

    When it comes to people in the US calling themselves Americans, originally I believe they tied more of their identity to the State. But as time went on possibly due to things like the civil war, expansion, the World Wars among other causes, the identity came more tied to the nation as a whole. United States isn't much of a name to give to a people.

    Also it was not like people in the US started calling themselves like 50 years ago. It was not like the US was all that powerful when it came up with the name for the nation. It was very much in the backwater. The US was the first nation with European roots in the Americas, with people just starting to think of themselves as Americans.

    If someone from the Americas want to think of themselves as Americans then go ahead. It can be sorted out by context. Plus one can make a reasonable case to call themselves Americans. Its ok that Americans can be ambigious.

    About Native Americans, I think TK might have written something in too much haste, which can happen. It is really difficult when the types of civilzations, industrial European v tribal NA. With time the more developed will tend to take over. The indigious have difficult times everywhere in the world, especially if they want to retain old ways. Again what is better is hard to say. They in no way could have the land they need to go back to the way it was. The way it was is not so important as the result that it changes who they are.

  35. On September 12, 2001, the USA was reeling from the attack of the mostly Saudi Terrorist Band. I went to work and was questioned by the boss. He asked if I was an American Citizen because I had an Asian Face(Biracial).I said yes, but never asked my Irish Colleague, if she was a citizen. He said assumed she was an American Citizen. He later found out she was not. I got very upset and went to confront this French-Canadian Immigrant. He would never apologize.

    Still, for all the things that have happened. America has given me chances that I would never have in South Korea. America ,with all its worts, is still the city on the hill. Yes, I am proud veteran of 2 of America's Wars(Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom 2004-2005) and PROUD AMERICAN!

  36. As an american indian, I do not agree at all with your summary of events:

    "what America stands for made the lives of Native Americans and African Americans better"

    Genocide, love of war, religious fundamentalism, and corporatocracy have not made our lives better.

  37. Interesting post...

    I would have to say being an "American" is a concept. Like others have said, no one ethnicity has the market cornered on being an American, so there's no specific way to look, dress or talk that will guarantee your "American-ness". However, to be honest, growing up in the Midwest, people really didn't pull towards their ethnic background so much...you were just white, black, asian, hispanic. It wasn't until I moved to New York where I started to notice that people really take pride in their ethnicity and although they may be American, they still manage to stay very well rooted in their ethnic culture. I think the benefit of this country is that you can be both...no one is honestly forcing you to choose.

    Regarding TK's comment on Native Americans and African Americans:

    Being African American, Cherokee, Black Crow, West Indian & Creole...I'd have to disagree TK. As a US History minor, I can definitely tell you that any benefits a minority has received in this country was hard fought to achieve. The success & leaps in growth and economic development that this nation experienced over the course of our history was "earned" off of the subjugation and disenfranchisement of MANY a minority. Your one liner statement really manages to gloss over a very large and interwoven segment of history.

  38. It's pretty easy for those that are white to "assimilate" into American culture. If they don't open their mouth, they don't stand out as "foreign." It is different for Asians, because their looks make them stand out as "foreigners" that do not belong. I'm Asian, and you have no idea how many times I have been told that my English is good, that I'm not "really" from my home (Chicago), that my "homeland" is not the United States and that I can/should leave at any time. How often can you question someone's nationality and patriotism before you destroy it? I am an American (and nothing else), but every moment of every day, I am told that I am a foreigner, part of the problem, not part of the solution. Forget having "foreigners" assimilate... the way that Americans who are not white are treated, even those who have no need to "assimilate"... because they are American by birth or naturalization... is creating a tear in the unity of the United States and leading us to a very uncertain future.

  39. America is a country made of different ethnic groups and we identify our selves by those groups first and foremost inside the country, but place an American in any other country regardless of their ethnicity they will tell you they are American. People are what they know and of course any new emigrant to a new country will still function and see themselves the same way they were in their native country. By the third generation a they have thrown off a lot of the customs brought to America by their grandparents, and when they go back to their country of origin they see themselves differently and know that yes I'm American.


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