The first time

I remember the first time I was the target of a racial outburst.

I was walking to dinner in San Mateo, CA with a friend (who is also Asian-American.) A car was driving toward us, and as it turned the corner a white man leaned his head out and said “Go back where you came from!” My friend and I weren’t wearing anything that indicated we were from out of town, so it seemed like it was targeted at our ethnicity.

I immediately felt outraged. As much as I knew that I should just ignore this man and his foolishness, I felt angry, hurt, and scared. There was something deeply personal to his comment. It was even more shocking to hear it in San Mateo, which is almost 20% Asian (downtown San Mateo is full of Asian restaurants.)

This happened in 2012. What strikes me is how I lived for 25 years without encountering this sort of attitude. I grew up in a Korean-American community; the schools i attended had robust immigrant populations. I had never heard anyone say that sort of thing to me before. I felt real anger at that man’s comment. What would have been my response if I had to hear that message over and over since childhood? To be the target of mockery, hatred, violence? To feel like a foreigner in my own neighborhood?

I don’t know what that is like. I haven’t had that experience. But I want to understand, to know how it feels, for I know that this is part of my history.

Edit: It turns out, I have written about this before, but it’s good to get renewed perspective:
http://joelskim.blogspot.com/2013/11/encounter.html

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