Friday, July 2, 2010

Mirror Mirror On The Wall...

I dreamed something tonight that I can't really remember anymore, but I loved it and I woke up with a sense of confidence. I managed to shower and do hair and make-up together with my usual morning routine in the same amount of time, and when I stood there, all gussied up in front of the mirror, I though "I should cut my hair myself, instead of going to a salon and paying money for a hairstyle I don't want. I'll do it right now." And I fetched the scissors, but then remembered how much time it takes just to cut the bangs, and left the scissors there as I went to work.

I came home, saw the scissors, and cut my hair. It took quite some time. Showered, dressed up, fixed my hair, although to my great disappointment there was no wax or gel in the house so it only went so-so, and put on party-style make-up - and more. And looked myself in the mirror and thought:

"I'm Korean."

I cut it according to one of the styles Jaejoong have had his hair, as I remembered it in my head (I've compared it now and it's pretty good to be from memory) and put on my Korean jewelry, and did the make-up as I saw a Chinese girl do on YouTube. I dunno what the difference is, really, but...

I look like all those people I've been watching on YouTube, the strange black-haired, almond-eyed ones. I look like him; like JaeJoong. I feel like I found my roots and was torn out of the ground at the same time. God what have I done? Why did I cut my hair like his, why did I put on make-up like this, what will people think? What will they see? Am I the Swede pretending to be Korean or the Korean pretending to be a Swede? Who am I?

But the mirror answered well enough. Korean.

18 comments:

ShadoWolf said...

Why not be both? A two-spirit in a way. One day Korean the other Swede and some days a blend of both. Who says you got to choose?

Riklurt said...

That's a very good point. There are no Sorting Hats in real life.

Yeonni said...

I am exactly one thing: A Korean adopted to Sweden. But that race/ethnicity comes without instructions.

I think why this is difficult for me is because I was nothing but a Swede, in my mind, not too long ago. And then all these things knocked on the door and slowly but surely that belief has been uprooted - for the truth, but I need to settle into the new space.

I just... looking in the mirror then was like a fist to the stomach. Like thinking you're on safe ground and finding the enemy in your bed. I don't know who to talk to about this. People I normally talk to about this kind of stuff, or any stuff, are Swedish, and thus per definition biased.

Riklurt said...

I think I see what you mean, though. Being suddenly surprised by that there is a choice at all would be jarring enough in itself, I suppose.

ShadoWolf said...

I know exactly what it means to look into a mirror and see a stranger ;) But I didn't start to see it until a realized that people around me always assumed things from my appearance that sometimes contradicted my own selfimage in startling and disturbing ways which made me question my self. Realizing that there were choices was jarring, and annoying. But it settles. Choices are made and opportunities won once we accept the facts and move on from there. I like middle ways and that's what I'm heading for. And you seem to be doing well on you're journey too ;)

ShadoWolf said...

*your

hrm, that grammar jungle...

Kristin said...

In what way are we biased for being Swedish? Do you expect us to try to talk you into considering yourself a Swede? That is slightly insulting and makes me very sad on so many levels.

Or do you mean that since we are not in the same situation as you we can't talk about it? This seems kinda narrow minded and once again assumes that we lack imagination. Obviously it helps to talk to people with different background, but that includes Swedes... Everyone is biased.

Yeonni said...

@Kristin: I don't think you'd try and convince me of being a Swede, but I think you have a Swedish outlook on things that would enhance my Swedish side and infect my own point of view. I don't mean to insult anyone, but some things are very complicated to share, and some things can only be shared by people of the same opinion or in the same position.

@ShadowWolf: I just thought that you'd probably be the one I know closest to my own situation, aside from the two other adopted Koreans I sort of know.

And yes. Seeing myself and realizing that I could be Korean, if I chose to. That nothing in me is definitively one or the other, that it isn't self-evident that I belong here. Realizing that with a little nudge in either direction, people could believe anything. It's huge.

ShadoWolf said...

It's great! It's actually an amazing gift that opens all kinds of doors you wouldn't have if things were different.

David said...

Sorry to be confrontational on something so sensitive, but this is too interesting to drop.

Is it really that simple? What are the components of cultural identity?

I look German, which doesn't make me German. I have Belgian blood, which doesn't make me Belgian. I have a Turkish name, which doesn't make me Turkish. People (including Americans) take me for American, which doesn't make me American.

I suggest there exists no ethnic identity (i.e. based on genetical heritage) separate from cultural identity. "Korean" is a cultural concept, or you might as well feel Japanese or Chinese, which evidently is not the case. If Korean is a cultural identity (as opposed to some genetical function to which you have innate access) it isn't as readily adopted, since you spent some two (very formative) decades in another culture. I wonder if one can ever feel whole rejecting that.

This matters to me, since I considered doing the latter. Thoughts?

Kristin said...

This is a rather silly comparison, but would you refuse to discuss immigration politics with a racist because talking to him might make you more racist?

Kristin said...

I'm not trying to fight with you. I'm just curious to find out if this is a general standpoint of yours or just case-specific.

Yeonni said...

I'f I was a racist trying to get a new outlook on things, I wouldn't talk to a racist.

Kristin said...

Ah, good point

Yeonni said...

@David: Confrontational is what creates progress of thought. Here's what I think. Two decades, and most importantly growing up and learning the basics of life, in one culture can never be washed away, much less abandoned. Just like you can live your whole life somewhere else but will always remember the taste of Falukorv.

Part of what makes this such a big, frightening deal for me, is the sense of that I have lost the opportunity to ever be one, whole, complete culture. Like I say, I will always, in a way, be the Korean trying to be Swedish or the Swede trying to be Korean. I cannot hide one or the other; both are equally obvious to those of either culture. This doesn't mean I can be what I am, but it's still a loss I need to mourn, I feel.

So can I feel whole? The future will tell. A guy I spoke to once said he firmly believed that separating a child from the mother those first weeks and months creates permanent marks, "scars" perhaps. Those around us were aghast (typically) at that he dared say that to an adopted person. I answered him that I didn't know, that maybe he was right, how would I know? I've never not been separated.

I've never not been Korean either, but I have once not been Swedish. I can never not be Swedish again just because I try on the Korean shoe, as little as I can become more Swedish by exchanging all my blood. But I *am* Korean, and why not allow that to be a part of my life as well? Or do you put no weight in blood? After all, I believe at least 50% is nature, not nurture, but not everyone does.

Yeonni said...

*"can't be what I am", of course.

David said...

My short answer is no, I put very little weight in "blood" (genetic input) as determinant of etnnic identity. The extent to which genes determine personality/identity on a personal level is of course a different story, but to extrapolate that to a racial level seems very 1930s to me.

The only convincing way in which genes would contribute to ethnic identity, I believe, is through physical appearance, simply because looks will affect how other people treat us, and so how we perceive ourselves. But of course, this is in affect a cultural determinant as well, as it functions through social interaction.

To summarize my argument in a metaphor: If there was no mirror on the wall, you wouldn't know you were Korean. Genetics alone does not create ethnic identity. As it were, there is a mirror, but that is a cultural phenomenon.

Of course this is belief only: I may be completely wrong, and there may be genetic sequences unique to the Korean ethnicity which somehow determine their sense of identity. But I personally find this a bit far-fetched.

Yeonni said...

If you don't mind ( I don't think you do ) , I'm going to post my answer as a full post. Partly because I feel we've been talking sort of off-track, because I haven't quite grasped what it is we're discussing, partly because I suck at talking "in short".