My name is David Jin Young Seok. I was born in New York City as the son of Korean immigrants.
Having been born here in the U.S., I pretty much feel like an American that speaks Korean at a third-grade level and eats kimchee. Growing up, American culture didn’t feel foreign to me. I didn’t have too much trouble fitting in, even if my culture didn’t always fit into the “American Way.” However, the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes has sharply reminded me that there are those that feel like I don’t belong here, even if I feel like I fit in. The past few months have been filled with fear for the safety of my loved ones and anger towards those that would deny that Asians were any less American. We are not any less American, we are more than American.
Little things remind me that I’m different. Like how, despite a lot of effort, I still haven’t figured out how to help people pronounce my last name, Seok. Through elementary school, I hated that classmates and teachers could not pronounce my name. I ultimately told my teachers that it was pronounced “see-oak,” a much better alternative to “suck”. Nowadays I settle for “sock,” telling friends and colleagues that’s close enough. It’s not a big deal for me if you can’t say it right, but I appreciate the effort. On the other hand, it feels like a very big deal when people say my name correctly. That’s why, when I meet another Korean person, I make sure to pronounce their name properly, even if they introduce themselves with an Americanized version of their name. It’s a part of their identity, and mine.
While I typically have not had to think too much about being Asian American, other than checking a box in surveys, I’m beginning to realize that it means that I have something more to offer. I’m grateful to be working alongside colleagues that don’t treat me or my culture as foreign. Again, it’s the little things, like not getting grossed out by what I eat or drink, that feels like an effort is being made. It makes me happy to have boba in the office or go out to eat Korean BBQ after work. I enjoy the conversations that we have about Parasite and Kim’s Convenience that make me feel like Asian Americans are being seen. Diversity makes us stronger, and I am thankful for the people around me that encourage me to speak up and make me feel safe enough to share my heritage with those around me. #aapiheritagemonth