The Least Korean

A pastor once made a curious observation about my ethnic status. In a casual conversation:
Friend: “I wonder what kind of woman Joel would marry.”
Sunhee Robinson, without a moment’s hesitation: “A white woman. Joel is the least Korean Korean man that I know.”
Let’s put aside the anticipation of interracial union for another time. I was intrigued by her comment (and not at all offended, for if I were, I would have cleared it with her privately, instead of airing it publicly like this. It’s all good.) I am certainly far removed in outlook and personality from my cousins in Seoul. Yet even I notice differences between myself and my Korean American male peers (bearing in mind that my experience is limited to Californian Korean Americans, and regional differences undoubtedly abound.) Some common interests for my peers are cars, sports (especially basketball), popular music (Asian pop/hip hop/R&B) and video games (DoTA, LoL, SC.) Certain phrases and idioms are common, e.g. “Dang,” “Legit,” and “Sick,” terms that I seldom employ. However, none of these strikes me as distinctly Korean American. I may well just be different from most American men my age, not just Korean Americans.
But what does it mean to be Korean American? I won’t dig into that longstanding question, but it is interesting to look at the entry for “Korean American” in Wikipedia. In the sidebar are pictures of notable Korean Americans. Amongst the men, there are entertainers Dennis Oh, Jay Park, and Justin Chon, but also Judge Herbert Choy (the first Asian American to serve as a US federal judge and first person of Korean descent admitted to the US bar), Jim Yong Kim (President of the World Bank), Peter Kim (Professor of Biochemistry at Stanford), and activist Mike Kim. Clearly, we encompass dimensions. Oddly enough, of the females pictured, four are entertainers and one (Michelle Wie) is an athlete. Other figures, like Judge Lucy Koh (the first female US federal judge) and Jane Kim (the first elected official in San Francisco), are listed in a separate article.
I don’t believe there are immutable characteristics that are universal to Korean Americans (we are not genetically predisposed to be better at StarCraft.) Although there are dominant social norms and cultural forces, there is space for improvisation and individuation. Maybe I’m the least Korean, or maybe I am simply part of another way to be.

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