Korean Americans sometimes have a negative reputation. Even for me, when I think of the worst Asian people I’ve ever met, they are Korean Americans. Yet, this does not mean that all Korean Americans are this way. For me, some of the people that have meant the most to me and have helped me the most are Korean American. The Korean Americans that I have had the most issues with are people that I later found out were very insecure people, people who were afraid. But what did they fear so much that it altered their personalities and those around them? For many, it was a fear of being labeled a failure.
Why Such a Fear of Failure
When I first started learning about Korean culture, I would hear countless stories about Korean Americans insisting on their children becoming doctors, lawyers or some other high priced professional. They had to become rich and/or famous for a couple of reasons. One, especially in the case of a son, he was expected to take care of his parents when they get older. The more money they made, the better care they could take of their parents. But the bigger reason was a fear that relatives in Korea would look down on them if they didn’t make it big in America.
Some Korean Americans that I’ve talked to admit they don’t want to raise their kids in Korea. They are proud of their homeland and want their kids to understand that they are Korean, and marry a good looking Korean, but feel that their are less opportunities in Korea than in the United States. Many have been raised with the mindset that anyone who is not super wealthy in the United States is both lazy and stupid. It would be a disgrace to have to go back to Korea without being wealthy from your hard work in America. You’d be the ultimate loser. What has this done to the mindset of many Korean Americans in modern day Korean American society?
Fight or Flight
For some, they fight to keep up the appearance that they have made it. Expensive cars, lying about what one does for a living, seeking a trophy Korean wife or a trophy Korean husband has become a mission for some younger Korean Americans and their families. To make themselves look better, they over emphasis the faults and shortcomings of other Korean Americans. For one young man I talked to, he admitted he was told he could only marry a Korean from Korea because “the Koreans raised in the U.S. aren’t raised right.” The stress and pressures of this life cause some to become bullies, some to become depressed and others to eventually hit rock bottom.
But for some, they take flight from this way of life. I remember one friend I was talking to about the Korean American community that we lived in. He told me that he didn’t want to be accepted by it at all. He could see himself one day returning to it after he retired, but he refused to marry and raise his kids in this mindset. For many like him that I’ve seen and talked to, a big sticking point for them is that they do not want to marry another Korean. By marrying a non Korean, they break the cycle of what they are running away from. To them, a normal life without the pressure of trying to “keep up with the Kims” is a life worth living.
As the #waygookin, I see both sides of this equation. While I find the Korean Americans that fight to keep up this way of life to be among the most annoying people I’ve ever met, this is the life they have been told will lead them to the greatest level of happiness. They have been taught that if they work hard, they can go back to Korea with their head held high since they actually made it. For the Korean Americans that chose to take flight from this kind of attitude, they believe that just living a normal life and being a good person will lead to the greatest level of happiness for them.
At the end of the day, all humans want to be happy. And all humans should be able to feel a sense of pride in their hard work and all that they have accomplished. So no matter what side of the fence a person falls on, they will do what they feel will make them happy. But keeping in mind how some Korean Americans are raised can help one to cope with dealing with people who seem pushy and rude. When it’s all said in done, some Korean Americans truly living a life of fear. By knowing what some Korean Americans fear most, you can be the friend who helps them to break free of fear and live a happier life.