SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2011 Personal Memory Ethnographies
A Korean-American Fourth of July
We pulled up in front of Annie’s aunt’s house, and I could feel my excitement growing. As a seventh grader, this was the first Fourth of July I had spent with a friend instead of my own family. I couldn’t wait to meet Annie’s family and watch the Fourth of July parade the next day. We walked up the steps with her mom and rang the doorbell.
I had spent the day with June, shopping and cleaning. I love spending time with her girls, my grandchildren. I knew we had a fun night ahead, with all of my daughters coming to celebrate. We were about to start cooking when I heard the doorbell ring.
June opened the door and a wide smile spread across her entire face. She pulled Annie’s mom, Mary, into a hug, and then turned to hug both Annie and myself. Annie’s grandmother smiled from behind June and hugged both Annie and Mary. June ushered us inside, and I looked around, noticing the atmosphere of the house. All of the rooms were well coordinated, with quilts and candles, floral patterns, and trinkets. The walls were painted red in many of the rooms and the ceilings were low. June showed us where we could put our things and then disappeared as we settled in.
June went to the door to see who had arrived. I followed, and was so excited to see my daughter and my granddaughter. I pulled them into a hug and smiled at Annie’s friend. I didn’t hug her, I didn’t know her, but I was happy Annie had a friend along. After the greeting, June showed the girls where to put their things, and I went back to the kitchen with Mary, to catch up and begin cooking.
As more and more family members arrived, everyone was greeting with so much warmth and love. The whole evening continued with such a strong feeling of deep caring, that it was impossible not to feel warm, welcome, and a part of things. When we sat down to dinner, I looked around at all the smiling faces, realizing how diverse the gathering was. All of Annie’s family was full Korean, but the guests each family member brought were of a variety of races. Some of Annie’s cousins were half black, and Nancy, Annie’s aunt, was married to a man from Japanese heritage. I was the only white guest, although Annie’s mother had another white friend join us the next day.
Partway through dinner, one of Annie’s younger cousins asked me if I was Annie’s sister. I thought it was cute that she assumed we were sisters because we arrived together, despite our very different appearances. Most people would assume we were just friends because of our different ethnicities, but the young girls measured our relationship by our behavior of closeness instead of our appearance. I was flattered by her question.
I sat down at the dinner table as June brought in the last of the dishes. Our table was so full of good food, and the seats so full of smiling faces. I looked at each of my daughters, thinking how glad I was that they were so happy in their lives. I looked at each of the people they cared so much about- my granddaughters, half black and half Korean; Annie and Mary’s white friends; Nancy’s Japanese husband. This was a different table than I ever imagined I would see, but the mix of people smiled and laughed all through dinner. I noticed the white people did not use chopsticks to eat. They tried initially but then gave up and opted for forks.
After dinner we all sat around talking and getting to know each other. While I sat their soaking up my experience, I didn’t even realize all the events that lead up to this moment. About a hundred years ago, Korean immigrants came to the United States and did not have an easy transition. Fortunately, recent events showed the progress the United States had made. In the past ten years, the climate for Asian Americans had become much more welcome. A year prior the U.S. Senate even recognized the 100th anniversary for Korean immigration to the United States, commending the Korean Americans for their important role in the United States. Annie’s grandmother had moved to the U.S. from Korea long before the U.S began to welcome the Korean immigrants. She had witnessed both the resistance to Korean immigration and the transition the U.S. had undergone, finally reaching an attitude of welcome.
After we ate, we all sat in the living room, and I listened as everyone talked. I remembered the struggle I had in coming to American when I first immigrated, and as I saw this mix of people, I felt pleased. I smiled at Annie’s white friend, showing her that she was welcome. I would have liked to speak with her but I knew she wouldn’t understand my Korean language. I was glad my family had lives full of people they loved.
As I climbed into bed that night, I realized I had never experienced a family with a culture so different from my own. I found all the small differences fascinating and I was struck with a realization. I had grown up thinking that everyone in the United States was American and the same. In school, we were taught to ignore racial differences because everyone is equal. But I realized I miss an important distinction. I now realized this was how it should be. This family was equal, they were fully a part of things in the United States, and they did this while also maintaining so many aspects of their Korean culture. It made their lives and the lives of those around them that much more interesting. I realized that the United States did have far to go in achieving racial equality, but that in our efforts to do this, we should not lose the valuable cultures that each group contributes.
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