I resisted watching this for a while because I thought it would be rage-inducing, but it was funny haha.
I learned recently, to my surprise, that I had written a novel about the immigrant experience. The novel I thought I’d written was simply about a mother and daughter, but the inside flap of the book jacket made it clear I had “written anew the immigrant experience.”
Not that it hasn’t been said before, but well put. And in the interest of essentializing, HE wrote a novel about an Indian American mother and daughter?! What does he know about the female experience?! Hahahahaha.
Seriously, though, does the tag “immigrant experience” necessarily mean it’s “minority literature”? Are they 100% conflated?
I generally shy away from the idea of han, that ever-present all-encompassing feeling of suffering and repressed rage often used to describe the Korean psyche. The exclusive claim to a collective sentiment makes me uncomfortable, especially when it’s used to explain a self-defined history of victimhood. I have similar feelings about jŏng/jeong (basically ‘feeling’ or ‘kinship’), which was recently defined by one of the most patronizing medical professionals I’ve ever encountered (but that’s a different story) as “a particular sentimental attitutde that is without equivalence in other countries of the world. It is unique to Korea.” How often have we heard about the untranslatability or uniqueness of some feature of Korean culture? As someone who has translated Korean literature and taught Korean texts in translation, I have heard about the untranslatability of Korean ideas over and over and over again and it makes me want to ask: Is this belief in the impenetrability of Korean culture a uniquely Korean thing?
I’ve generally thought this default reliance on the vous ne savez quoi of Korean culture was a matter of expedience: you don’t get it, so leave us alone and let us do our thing. That’s may be a little crass, but were I to distill my long and tortured process of feeling like I understood it and feeling like it shouldn’t happen, that’s what it would sound like. Reading Jay Caspian Kang’s article, “That Other School Shooting” in last weekend’s NYT Magazine on the Korean American community’s response to the shooting at Oikos college in Oakland nearly a year ago made me rethink the appeal of han as a way of explaining that often ill-defined, but strong sense of communal identification not just for Korean Americans, but for the forgotten. That han has been so well-deployed to explain the Korean cultural psyche makes sense in the context of its 20th century history when the Korean War has long been called “the forgotten war”, and Korean immigrants the “other Asians”. Insisting on the uniqueness of han, however, limits the power of that long-suppressed feeling of injustice when it expresses a sentiment that can be understood by a much wider community of the forgotten and invisible.
What comes out most forcefully in the conclusion to the piece is the author’s and the Korean community’s unhappy internalization of the mass shooting that was so quickly forgotten, and even excluded from national discussions of school shootings. Kang refers to the ordinariness, the lack of anything remarkable about the immigrant community in which the shooting occurred and points out that it resists politicization because it is invisible: this rather ordinary and unexceptional immigrant community is not a part of the image of “ordinary life” that is disrupted by gun violence. It’s the reminder, once again, of that invisibility that sparks the rage—the han— in the Korean Americans Kang writes about. In the end, though, that uniquely Korean feeling arises from being unseen and undistinguished as immigrants, as Americans, and almost incidentally as Koreans. Goh, he says, “came from the same forgotten stock. And because the Oikos shooting occurred in a community that bore almost no resemblance to the rest of the country, the magnitude of the tragedy was contained almost entirely within the same small immigrant circles, many of whom fear that any talk about such terrible things will bring shame directly on them.”
The sad thing is that the Oikos shooting occurred in a community that bears a resemblance to many parts of the country and to many immigrant communities all over the world that are ethnically diverse, unexceptional, invisible, but that bear no resemblance to the agreed-upon idea of the rest of whatever country they’re in.
From the article:
One week after the Virginia Tech massacre, I sat in a bar in Upper Manhattan with the same Korean friend who would later send me that four-word e-mail about Oikos and One Goh. He confessed that he felt violently angry nearly every day but couldn’t understand why. He wondered if Cho had felt the same way. His honesty upset me. I said some platitudes about how one maniac doesn’t represent an entire people, but even back then, I felt I was lying. I agreed in theory, but I did not believe it was actually true. I don’t mean to say that there’s something faulty and irreparable in the Korean psyche, but these shootings have become part of our identity, and they come, at least in part — and possibly in large part — from a place that many of us know instinctively. One Goh, sitting on the other side of the glass from me in jail, and Winston Chung, walking past the desiccated flowers set out in front of Oikos, both described their fathers as “typically Korean,” knowing that I would understand instantly what they meant. Kinsa Durst and I, even though we’re separated by 17 years, both had the same reaction to the news that the gunman at Oikos was Korean. And all the people I tried to talk to in and around Oakland who wouldn’t speak with me, who ushered me out of churches and cultural centers or grimly waved me off — their silence, protected so forcefully, spoke to the intensity of their shame.
On July 20 last year, James Holmes opened fire on a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Two weeks later, Wade Michael Page killed six people in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. For the first time since Virginia Tech, the conversation about gun violence picked up, despite a tacit refusal by the two men running for president to address the issue in their campaigns. Then came the Newtown shootings, after which President Obama gave several speeches on the need for substantive gun control. In those speeches, he mentioned Aurora and Oak Creek and a shooting in a shopping mall in Clackamas Town Center, Ore. Oikos was never mentioned.
It rakes at your guts, to watch your tragedies turn invisible. You know why it’s happening, but admitting it to yourself — that it has to do in some indivisible way with the value of immigrants’ lives — is something you’d rather not confront. The victims of the Oikos massacre came from Korean, Indian, Tibetan, Nigerian, Filipino and Guyanese backgrounds. They attended a low-cost, for-profit, poorly rated Korean-community nursing school in a completely featureless building set along the edge of a completely unremarkable part of Oakland. They were not held up as beacons for the possibilities of immigration, nor were they the faces of urban decay and the need for government assistance and intervention. They did not exist within any politicized realm. One Goh came from the same forgotten stock. And because the Oikos shooting occurred in a community that bore almost no resemblance to the rest of the country, the magnitude of the tragedy was contained almost entirely within the same small immigrant circles, many of whom fear that any talk about such terrible things will bring shame directly on them.
I am familiar with this emotion because I felt the same way when my friend told me about his own troubling, long suppressed feelings. I don’t know if I’ll ever quite understand the delicate contingency of my citizenship as clearly as I did that night. Here, a Korean friend was confessing his own visceral anger to me and searching for an explanation for it. And even though I’ve felt the same slow burn inside myself for much of my own life, I could not bring myself to talk to him about it.
I’m verrry interested in this film about a Korean-American/Korean wedding both from a thematic and production perspective. It’s about a wedding between a Korean-American man and a Korean woman, and was shot by director Christine Yoo with separate U.S. and Korean production teams (starring Brian Tee, Kang Hye-jung (of Old Boy and Welcome to Dongmakgol fame), Bobby Lee, Stephen Park, to name a few, and ooh! Margaret Cho as “The Shaman”?!).
Having experienced a similar situation with my brother’s wedding, and being curious about/studying Korean/Korean-American relations, I can’t wait to see how she deals with the cultural assumptions that happen on both sides of a “Korean family.” I’d always had a sneaking suspicion that my parents’ insistence on what Korean culture is and what it meant for our family was contingent on the particular historical moment they left (the early 1970s), where they found themselves in the U.S. (California, but not L.A., so not a huge diaspora community), and the course of history in South Korea since their departure (tumultuous, to put it mildly).
My generation of 2nd-generation Korean-Americans’ (dating myself here a bit) interest in contemporary Korean culture was mediated through new immigrants, crappy video tape copies of Korean dramas, relatively limited access to films and music, and a seemingly bigger conceptual distance, but that has changed dramatically with the internets (duh) and greater movement of populations for education and leisure. This is not a profound statement by any means, but easier access to Korean media has really drastically changed the way the diaspora community views and relates to Korea proper, down to the concrete level of language acquisition and preservation/continued evolution.
When I first started really paying attention to Korean dramas while studying Korean language in the early 2000s, I asked my mother (who left Korea in 1972, had been back a handful of times, and was an occasional crappy video-tape watcher of Korean dramas) about the difference between two words for happy: “행복하다” and “기쁘다.” She’s no linguist, but she told me at the time that “행복하다” wasn’t used all that often because it meant a really effusive, over-the-top, ecstatic kind of happiness. This confused me, as the dramas I saw dropped “행복” like after-dinner mints, or like a completely normal part of everyday speech. Fast forward a few years, and “행복” is a normal part of everyday speech for my “at least two hours of dramas a day” mom, and a case-in-point that:
a. language evolves,
b. language in isolation in diaspora communities can stagnate or evolve differently,
c. access to contemporary media can change that,
d. korean dramas are insidious, and
e. my mom watches a lot of drama (she now claims that I have mis-remembered this conversation, or that it never happened).
This is a minor point in the greater conversation of how diaspora ties have changed in the last decade or so, but it came up again for my family when there were miscommunications and misplaced/misconstrued expectations between my (now) Korean-American parents and my sister-in-law’s “Korean-Korean” parents. Hijinks ensued, but probably in a less entertaining way than would happen in a film.
So, long story short, I want to see this movie, I wonder how she deals with the cross-cultural issues in the story, I’m fascinated by the aesthetic differences she sees between Korean film and Hollywood film (her milieu), glad to see Stephen Park of In Living Color fame again, Korean cultural essentialism academic jargon wankery, etc. etc. (Deep curtsy).
Funny haha, although the most common thing I heard on the mean streets of NYC was “Hey, ni hao ni hao!” Didn’t they know they could’ve had me at hello? No really, there are lots of d-bags out there.
Via @hyphenmagazine from Jezebel
Blah blah blah, hallyu (Korean Wave) this and that, yes, we’ve all heard about how K-pop, K-drama, K-film is taking over Asia and everywhere (soon!) for the last decade, but I was a little surprised when this turned up in my inbox:
I know, I know, it’s such a weighty literary issue… B.B. Cream hits the mainstream American market! (Full disclosure: you wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m randomly a skincare junkie, so yes, I get updates from cosmetics clearinghouse Sephora. Also, if you’re confused because you don’t know what B.B. Cream is, go here for a very informative account of the product)
I knew that B.B. Cream, that now ubiquitous mask-face providing skin cream popularized in Korea, was huge all over Asia — in fact, I first heard about how great Korean skincare products are from Japanese and Chinese friends — but I had to take note on my last visit to a department store in Seoul that non-Asian cosmetics brands like Bobbi Brown and Clinique had followed suit and developed their own versions of it. I took note but wasn’t all that surprised, given the love of high-end cosmetics in Asia. Why wouldn’t they want to get in on the act?
If anything is remarkable about the entrance into the American market (and there must be something because I’ve shaken myself out of my non-writing coma to blab this) it is the uncharacteristically geographically unspecific (read: not loudly proclaiming national affiliation) way some of the brands have been marketed. Sephora sells three brands: an American one (Clinique), a Japanese one (Boscia), and a Korean one (Dr. Jart). Clinique, I think, needs no introduction for an American consumer (it comes from Estee Lauder), Boscia is a “revolutionary Japanese brand,” and “Dr. Jart combined his medical background with a team of 21 skilled dermatologists to develop his eponymous skincare brand.” Okay, sure. Eponymous as in, as the company’s website explains: “The brand name Dr. Jart comes from the founder’s first initial “J” and the word “art.” Hokey, but okay.
This was the strang(er) part: the company’s locations include China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, Canada, and U.S.A., but no Korea. That is odd because it is where their physical address is located, as printed at the bottom of the map. Hm… I’m not particularly interested in a makeup conspiracy theories, but why the non-flawless cover up (yuk yuk)? As one of my cohort would say, just sayin’.
Even more interesting, perhaps, are the cosmetics fans (apparently I’m quite late on this boat as the product debuted in April) and Sephora “beauty experts” discussing how this “Asian” product will work in the more… skin-tonally diverse American market. Cosmetics have a long and complicated history as objects of consumption that are imbued with very specific and targeted racial, ethnic, and class assumptions and values. See… any number of books related to the subject: Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe, Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, and so on, and so forth. Products like these that are sold as object of desire, that people use to create an aspirational personal image, and that are an intimate part of daily life and habits, have deeper social contexts that are tied to their lines of production and marketing. Again, just sayin’.
Now where’s my free sample?!