Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Becoming Myself

I was born 22 years ago. My mom named me Haruki (陽生) because she felt like the sun (陽) was born (生). She never thought of giving me a Korean name.

I got my last name from my mom. That's why no one thinks that I'm Korean unless I tell them. My dad's last name is Pak (朴・박) and my mom's is Eda (江田). This is due to the laws around immigration and the family registering system in Japan. So my dad and big brother have Pak, and my mom, little sister and I have Eda.

Not many things differentiated my mixed-ethnicity family from other Japanese only families. I mean, everyone in Japan eats kimchi. We would have family gatherings of my dad's side on New Year's, and those were basically the only time I would recognize my Korean-ness. Or Koreanity.

My Korean uncles and aunt go by Japanese names. Their last name is Arai (新井). My dad, meanwhile, goes by his Korean name Jang-Joon Park (朴將俊・박장준). He stopped using his Japanese name Masatoshi long time ago (I don't know when). My maternal grandma still calls him "Toshi-kun."

I didn't know my grandma's Korean name until I was 17, when she lived in a nursing home to pass away before long. For 17 years of my life, she was Mariko Arai (新井まり子). When I visited her with my family, I saw her name written on her door: Myung-Soon Ha (河明順・하명순). No one told me how to pronounce it in Korean. I figured out with my dictionary. She was called "Kawa-san" (Kawa is Japanese pronunciation of her last name 河) by the nurses. I guess she was put into the nursing home as Meijun Kawa (河明順): not as Mariko Arai nor Myung-Soon Ha, and she carried that name to her grave.

And I don't even know my grandpa's name.

My Korean-ness was never explored throughout my life in Japan. Having a Japanese last name, I was never questioned, and I didn't feel the need to declare that in front of my class. I didn't hide it, I told my friends whenever I felt like it, but I didn't tell every single person I knew. I didn't know Korean, and I didn't know many other Korean Japanese. All those I knew were just like me: culturally full Japanese.

My Queerness was a bigger issue for me than my Korean-ness as I grew up.
I came out to myself when I was 11. I was never worried or depressed about my sexuality. It was the moment when I realized I could never be like my friends. I realized I was special for being Korean and Queer. And I decided to do something special in my life, rather than reproducing and creating a family. It was too boring an idea for me to pursue.

I tried to learn about Gay and Lesbian culture in Japan. I tried to read books about LGBTQ studies, which are really scarce, I went online, and I tried working at a gay bar instead of showing up to organizing group because that was more accessible.

I knew it was never enough, so I came to the US. I started making friends, focusing on exploring my gay identity. I also started meeting Asian/Pacific Islander Americans, who had never been in my image of "America." I wanted to learn more about API Americans and "immigrants" in the US in general. I made friends with API folks with various backgrounds. I became interested in their languages. And food.

As I made friends with gays and lesbians, I sought for Queer folks that are API. As I made friends with API folks, I sought for APIs that are Queer. Why not? I always want to become friends with people who I can identify with, as well as people that are "different" from myself.
Plus, I wanted to date an English-speaker so that I would improve my English, but I didn't necessarily want to date a White guy; my search for Queer APIs was somewhat desperate for this reason. (My English had become hella good before I found someone)

When I made friends with Koreans, I emphasized that I was half Korean, so that they would see me as an insider. I felt bad for claiming my Korean-ness, which I never fully explored, just to be friends with them. I felt like I was deceiving them. I never forgot to mention that I couldn't speak Korean, or that I'm culturally full Japanese, to alleviate this guilt.

I have picked up so many labels since I came here. Some of the labels became bigger, some more noticeable, and other less significant. 18-years-old. Student. Japanese. Zainichi. Gay. Korean. Single. International. Male. Citizen. Non-citizen. A child of a non-citizen. Bilingual. Alien. Asian. Multilingual. FOB. Authentic. Fake. Unmarried. Concerned. Political. Activist. Radical. Queer. Taken. 22-years-old.

My Korean name is simply Korean pronunciation of the Chinese characters of my name,
陽生. Why did I start claiming it? Because I want to go to Tibet with my mom without concerning the Chinese government's inspection on facebook. And maybe, I also want to be more Korean. I want to compensate the miseducation I went through in Japanese schools. I want to learn more about my people. I want to know more about my own family. I want to become myself, without denying any tiny little part of my colliding identities.

I am made up with many different identities. Each identity is connected to his/herstory and our future. Being myself doesn't stop within myself; I need to know so much more about the past, and I need to think really really hard about how these identities should look like in the future.

This journey began when I became myself, but I am far from becoming myself.


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