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Sweet Like a Rice Cake, Bitter Like My Tears: When Nobody Cared About the Mixed Kid

Race & Ethnicity

Sweet Like a Rice Cake, Bitter Like My Tears: When Nobody Cared About the Mixed Kid

Radix Admin

By Sasha Braverman '16

No matter what mixed kids experiences, deep down, nobody really cares about them.

Can you say you do with confidence to my face? That every view you hold doesn’t contradict a mixed person’s experience? I can’t either.

Let me tell you five stories:

One day, my grandmother was taking my sister and I to her monthly trip Korean supermarket in Tampa, Florida.  We picked the packet of red bean rice cake from the supermarket. I would take a bite, and in the crater of my bite, would be a small hole, a cave of red bean paste. I would squeeze out the paste like an old paint tube, until only a white shell remained. My grandmother hit me for the first time when she discovered the evidence of my crime in the trash. My mother later scolded me, saying we would never understand what it was like to be hungry like my grandparents were.

(Being half Korean, from my mother’s side, and half white from my father, my little sister and I grew up as the first mixed, first generation children in my family.)

One day, I brought my lunch box to middle school. I packed it with sticky rice, bulgolgi, and fresh kimchi my grandmother brought over. I regret doing that to this day. Children laughed, and my pride wallowed. They put their grubby fingers on my clean rice, they poked at the meat like it was dried shit, and scrunched their faces when they smelled the kimchi. I spent the rest of the lunch hour in the bathroom as I swallowed down my rice cake. This time I ate the sweet paste, although my tears were salty. (I am assimilated by my society to make others feel more comfortable around them. For my family, it’s survival. My grandfather always said “Westerners love to be right.” We have given westerners that, to survive, and succeeded. Yet we become whitewashed as a “model minority”, “honorary white”, being passive and submissive.)

One day I was talking to my grandmother, who would always nod and laugh at everything I say since I could remember. Then my grandmother began stopping me more and more, claiming “I don’t understand.” I started to realize how much I needed my mother’s translating.  All those conversations I had with her, my memories, never existed with her. I never had a genuine conversation with her alone. This small woman had no idea what her own grandchildren were saying to her. She was stuck in a country where her world expanded only through the ability of her daughter’s tongue, and would just laugh at the unfamiliar words I said to her for years. (I hear the voices of trans white community, telling me that I’m not “radical” enough. You tell me to be “radical” after you tell me how to explain “genderfluid” when there is no Korean translation. My identity becomes another product of “American Nonsense”, becomes lost in translation, and then so do I.)

One day, during my art class in 8th grade, my classmates began calling me “kink”. It was a fresh new twist on the slur “chink”, but they replaced the “ch” with “k” for Korean. My school refused to address this because it wasn’t technically a “slur.” I never thought I would ever have wished to be called chink,  At least if I was called “chink” then I could categorize the discrimination. (It’s pretty edgy and cool to make fun of mixed people, but jokes on you. We have been made fun of since we’ve existed.)

One day, I was working the lunch rush hour at my job. My body jolted to a stop before my brain processed the “Excuse Me, Miss?” from the corner. The two older men sitting in Table 13 gestured me over.

“What nationality are you?”

“What? Oh, American, sir.” He wasn’t satisfied with my answer.

“Oh, really? You don’t look American...” Unsurprised, I gave them what they wanted.

“I am half Korean, sir.”

“So that’s why you have...different eyes. Half Asian, that’s a rare mix. You don’t find yourself an exotic thing like that often. Very beautiful, like a china doll. Better watch out when you walk home tonight! Ha-ha! I’m joking, sweetheart!” That was the fifth time I asked my coworker to walk me to my car at night.

(How many times will I have to feel ashamed of myself until people will leave me alone. When will I be able to eat red bean cakes again?)

Have you been counting? My cheekbones, downwards eyelashes,  double lids, green veins and dark eyes. These are the things I can count. I’m guilty to admit that I consider my evidence to assure my identity. When I boil and my body melts away, I feel like these 5 things only remain. I am offering you my story because I want you to read it and understand. Understand that I will never be completely comfortable with my features. I am rejected everywhere. I am rejected by the family that makes my cheekbones sharp and veins green. I am rejected by the land my family left, where they cannot even comprehend how white I look.

I am already expecting people to justify their disagreements towards my white heritage. I am used to people accusing my trauma as internalized racism, how I am just putting down my culture. They label it as being “too American”, or “over complicating my problems”, or  “isn’t as bad as other people”. This is whitewashing. But it hurts when I have to snap back in defense because all I feel is guilt towards my family who tells me, “We sacrifice so much, why are you making a big deal out of this. Do you even know what I went through?”

This is whitewashing, but it still stung. It would not sting if there was not some truth in it. Because I did not know what it was like to see my brother and sister drown in a flood. Because I did not have to witness my neighbors get shot into the grave by the Japanese army. Because I did not have to be the only Asian in my town. Because I am not considered to be Korean by the very root that makes me so. And yet, here I am, being told by everyone what I am.

To my family, they came for the promises that America offered. To them I am epitome of American. Which means I am white. All the things they sacrificed. All the stories and lives they built and ruined. And I was the result. I am a result. The fruit of their labor. The pressure of the first generation is almost unbearable. It is another thing I inherited that from my mother. It is a precious scar that hurts too good. But I am also a hybrid to them. They do not see my cheekbones or eyelids like I do. “I’m more white than Korean.” My life that was once whole has become divided. I count the memories that can be “Asian” enough when I have to defend that again in the future. I no longer reel back for the purpose of nostalgia but rather for transparency and bitterness. I have become a bitter person.

What makes me Korean? What makes me mixed? I am grouped under mixed race people, but which experiences can I share with them? I’m confident that the next mixed person can’t share the feelings about not being able to learn Korean to talk to their grandparent, or having being called a “kink”. We think that we need to check off the physical differences that we can count in the mirror, or the fact that we do not wear shoes in the house, or how well our tongues can fold around the broken words in our accents to what constitutes us as “Asian” enough.

My mental illness and health, all the pills I swallowed and visits to the psych ward, are shuffled under being too white. My depression, anxiety, autism, are all factors of the “American culture”.  My gender, sexuality, neurodivergence, how do I translate these into Korean? How do I tell my mother about pronouns? How do I tell my mother who has grown up as a Asian women in the U.S., who worked to be the best as a women and as a “submissive” Asian immigrant. Balancing her trauma with her perseverance that was beaten into her. My mother is a result. She does not have to count her features, her memories. My mother had lost count a long time ago.

I can no longer truly enjoy anything towards my culture anymore. Not through the filtered lenses of America. Nor through the lenses of my homeland. I long for the home that does not want me. My diaspora is inherited by the problems my family claims I will never understand. And they are right, I am too American. But then again, are they also wrong because I am American?. As long as these constructed “races” exist, so will my diaspora. As long as people of color will have to strive to barely get the rights they deserve, they will ignore the mixed kids who contradict the drawn placed lines in between races.

This does not mean that we should treat race as a social construct, which would just be erasing culture, history, and diaspora.  What even is white passing? Why do I hear the word white-passing more than whitewashing? I want to unionize these voices, not as a new identity, but as a truth. That mixed people suffer from the white supremacy in society, and from the stubbornness and trauma of their backgrounds. Yet despite all my hate, I still find myself sometimes staring at the mirror and counting the five stories again. That is my Asian American experience. That is my diaspora. No truth I have realized was through fleeting epiphanies. They were earned in slow burns.

Eventually, I began enjoying red bean paste. No. I didn’t just begin to enjoy it, I learned to. Even if every bite is too sweet, even if the rice cake to too glutinous to swallow, even if nobody cares if I eat the rice cake, I eat. Every bite is my statement, to others and to myself.