My mom has green eyes.
I used to watch her put her makeup on in the mirror. The pale powder would brush against her freckles. I always envied the way her eyes looked like sunflowers and how the light would streak her golden hair. Sometimes I would catch my own reflection and remember how different I was from her. When I was a baby people used to ask her where she adopted me from, where she bought me. I think even then in my mother’s arms I felt like a foreigner in the place I was born.
My dad’s hair sticks straight up, like black straw growing from his head. He’s quiet and prefers reading Korean novels to engaging in abrasively loud American conversations. He used to drive this ridiculous turquoise van with a dent on the driver’s side. I dreaded the days he would pick me up from school because it was a reminder of my strangeness, that I was not only different from my mom but from the rest of my Elementary school. People would see me with him and smile with relief that I was now stuffed in their box, like a hard-to-catch moth, “oh, I get it, she’s Asian.”
I grew up in a predominantly Latino neighborhood. I can’t count the number of times strangers have started speaking Spanish to me. Even ordering food at Chipotle warranted an explanation of my features. Unlike my white schoolmates, I at least I looked “normal”; I just couldn’t speak the language. I longed to be of Spanish heritage, or really any heritage that had a box with enough people to make it like a home. My box was confusing and lonely. I wondered why there were no people like me, no one that looked like me, talked like me, and had parents like me.
My dad never spoke Korean to me because he wanted to work on his English. I learned how to sound out the letters and can still read the lines like a small child, but the meaning is like smoke in my grasp. I know which thank you to say to whom, when to bow, and that I should always finish my rice. When I recently visited my halmooni (grandmother) on her farm in South Korea, I cried in bed every night. I was trapped like a baby with no form of expression. People in Korea thought it was humorous I had been raised to believe I was Korean. It is funny: they see me as white, and white people see me as yellow.
And it’s really not a white or yellow thing for me. I take pride in my family’s history. The unique spices and styles of Korean dishes. My ancestors who fought in the civil war. My direct blood line to the King who invented Hangul (the Korean written word). The Native American blood that I share with Pocahontas. Pride lives through me and my pride can’t be taken by yuppies who (poorly) try to imitate the food my father’s mothers spent generations cultivating, or the remarks of crazy homeless people telling me to go back to my country. My pride is not in “my” country, but in my unique gifts I possess passed down from multiple cultures I bridge with my presence in this world.
…And I like being strange.
Sujee is a singer-songwriter/poet/mathematician in Boulder, Colorado. She is passionate about empowering young women, and seeks to be more authentic each day.