Embracing my Culture

Feb 20, 2008

Sharon Kim - Springfield High School
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

Whenever I would complain about how un-American my family traditions are, my mom would always say, "even though you were born in America, you are Korean." And I would roll my eyes, completely disregarding what she said. However, it was not until recently that I opened my eyes and truly understood what my mom was trying to say - no matter which country I was born in and no matter how hard I tried to be American, I would still be Korean raised by Korean parents. I believe in embracing my culture and traditions. I believe that my culture is what makes me who I am and is what separates me from the rest.

As a child, I was often ignorant of my culture. Born and raised in America, I wasn't accustomed to the Korean traditions my parents tried to introduce to me. My mom would attempt to make me watch the popular Korean TV shows for children, but, instead, I would change the channel to Cartoon Network and watch the "Powerpuff Girls." I was taught to read and write Korean, but I never enjoyed sitting down to learn a language that I thought was a waste of my time.

There were times when our family traditions did not make any sense. On New Year's Day, my mother would prepare delicious duk-gook, singing New Year's songs, while my sister and I would play a fun game of yoot-noh-ree. Afterwards, my sister and I would dress in our traditional han-boks and bow down to our parents saying, "Please receive many New Year's blessings," in broken Korean. We would then receive words of wisdom about the future from our parents and some monetary "blessings." By then, all I would think about is stuffing my money into my piggy bank, without even thinking about why I even got it in the first place.

I have learned to embrace my culture and traditions, no matter how strange or different they are from my friend's.

There were times when I was embarrassed by my culture. Once, when I was in elementary school, my mother dressed me up into a han-bok, a traditional Korean dress, for Halloween and made kim-bap, a popular Korean food, for me to take to my classmates. When I arrived at school, I immediately felt my face become hot. I could feel my cheeks slowly turning into a bright pink. Everyone else was wearing what I thought were "normal" costumes- boys dressed up as Batman and girls dressed up as angels. I pleaded to my mom, "Why did you make me wear this? I look stupid in this dress!" Consumed by my selfishness, I didn't realize that by rejecting this dress, I was rejecting my culture as well as my parents' culture.

Then, I had an epiphany. I thought about my parents and how they had to move from a place they had known all their lives into this foreign country, where they were complete aliens, searching for a better life. Alone and isolated from American society and thousands of miles away from the comfort of their homes, all they had left was their culture. I felt proud and appreciative that my parents were able to bring their culture into the United States and maintain it long enough to pass it on to me.

Afterwards, I was able to use my knowledge of my culture and traditions in my favor. Whenever I was assigned to do a project or write a paper, I would always find a way to relate it to my culture. I wasn't afraid to teach my classmates how to say certain Korean words or to explain why I always bowed to my parents. In a way, I felt free.

The impact of my parents' attempts to introduce to me their culture is what helps define me and is what affects me to this very day. It has taken me most of my life to appreciate the way I was raised, but I have learned to embrace my culture and traditions, no matter how strange or different they are from my friend's. I believe that having a culture is something to be proud of, not ashamed of, for it unites those who share it, yet makes every single one of us unique.