Through my “Oriental” eyes

By MJ Jeremiah |

IMG_2228 (3)I grew up among a sea of trees and Asians in a small neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Our mother engulfed us in Asian communities as she searched out the comforts of home. My childhood consisted of restaurants with chickens hanging by their necks, Tae Kwon Do lessons (it was our Korean duty), and doing my best to master the art of deciphering thick Asian accents. There was never a lack of camaraderie.

After announcing my move across the country to attend a school in Northern Florida my family members offered advice. They all agreed on one thing: be careful of racism. I was shocked. Racism was never a problem I had faced. It was something that came across the news, but I had never been concerned for myself. They were convinced it was something I was going to have to learn to deal with. One Uncle even half-jokingly suggested I carry around a picture of my white father and me.

Upon arriving in Saint Augustine it became clear that I was a minority. There aren’t exactly bushels of Asians running around. My roommate/current partner in crime and I went to our first party together. Girls flooded into the room leaving me knee deep in a pond of blue eyes and bleach blonde hair. I suddenly felt very aware of my black eyebrows and lack of height.

One day, an elderly women and I were conversing when she began to say “Oriental.” Within a few sentences she managed to use it over and over again. Every time hit me like a tall wave dragging me deeper under each time.

Did she realize what she had just called me or was she unaware? Was I allowed to say anything? I felt unsure of myself. Later a friend of mine was taking a selfie and her eyes were slightly slanted. She laughed and said they were, “chinky.” I’m not sure my eyes have ever opened so wide.

My initial reaction was to cry “RACISM!” To scream and point at these people who were using degrading terms so casually. Yet these people were not trying to harm or belittle me. They didn’t know how offensive their words were due to a lack of Asian influence in the area.IMG_2230 (2)

My mother and I were talking the other day about one of my favorite subjects: her life growing up in Korea. This particular conversation was a story I hadn’t heard before. My uncle grew up in Korea. However he was only half Korean. He took more after his father, looking less and less Korean as time passed. Because of this, many people in the village would do their very best to physically beat him. Due to his ethnicity my uncle spent most of his childhood literally fighting racism. She told me of other children in her village. These children weren’t lucky enough to be built to defend themselves against the siren call of their differing ethnicity. Those children only came out at night.

Racism is the belief that someone’s ethnicity and features can determine their worth. But don’t be fooled, racism exists all over the world. In today’s society racism is seldom seen in the same way that it once was. Mostly, it’s lingering ignorance or widely accepted stereotypes. After I explained to each person the connotation of the words that they were using, they felt horrible and embarrassed. While that’s not always the case, it’s nice to believe that the general population feels the same way. Being of Korean decent in a town so uninfluenced by my culture is a wonderful opportunity for me to share the best of my heritage with the people around me.






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