A Small Texas Diner
In college, my closest friend and I were heading back to school from a church retreat. Driving through rural Texas, we got hungry and stopped in a small diner in a city of about 800 people. We were famished and looking forward to a great home-cooked meal. We walked in and found a table. As we were seating ourselves, we were so wrapped up in our conversation we almost didn’t realize that the nearly full diner had gone completely quiet and that everyone in the place had stopped what they were doing and were staring unabashedly in our direction. I looked around, thinking there was an accident outside that everyone was looking at, but quickly realized they were looking at us. I instinctively wondered, “Is it me everyone is looking at, or my black friend?” I smiled at everyone, looked to my friend and whispered, “I think we might be the only black and Asian people that have eaten here before.”
My family unit was this family that took me in and cared for me and my sis like we were their own.
I sometimes wonder what my parents were thinking about when they decided to immigrate to Texas of all places in the US. I grew up in south Dallas where the majority of the population was black. As a kid you really don’t think much about your ethnicity. For me this was especially true. As a kid, my parents had one of our neighbors keep watch over me and my baby sister after preschool while they were working 12-14 hour days. I spent so much of my time at their home, I thought I was one of their kids. And not just that I was one of their kids, but thinking that I was a black kid. You see, I spent most of my time in a home under the care of a black grandmother, and I was one of seven grandkids that she took care of. I fondly remember calling her grandma and thinking that I had five other siblings and I was just like them: a black kid. In all honesty, I barely remember being around my parents during this time. My family unit was this family that took me in and cared for me and my sis like we were their own. One of my favorite memories of that time is sitting at the dinner table together with my other brothers and sisters eating the best southern cooking ever.
As a youth, coming to terms with identity and more importantly ethnic identity, I began to struggle with images of racism. My father and mother immigrated from Korea and I can remember many times where people would criticize them for not speaking English well and saying they should go back to their own country. I had the luxury of being born in the US and not having the cultural and language issues they struggled with. I can remember looking down on them for being the cause of the racial hatred that was given to them and blaming them for not fitting in and not speaking the language. But even when I didn’t have the accent or the cultural problems they had, I realized that something was different about me. And soon enough that racism was directed towards me. Words like “chink”, “jap”, and “ching chong” were directed at me. I was shocked. I told them, “Hey, I’m just like you. I was born here in Texas. I don’t have an accent. I am American.” It didn’t matter. I realized that kids don’t care; they see you as different. They treat you as different and begin to exclude you from their friendships and groups. That moment when you realize that your race isn’t accepted by people around you, it’s hard. A crisis was forming internally and I began to journey in understanding my place in this world.
A crisis was forming internally and I began to journey in understanding my place in this world.
Who Am I
As I entered my 20s I felt like I had tried everything to find my own identity. I tried to find it in my own Korean culture, I had tried to find it in my white American culture, I had tried to find it in music, philosophy, and books, and I had tried to find it in the racial issues current and past. But nothing seemed to help provide an adequate answer to the question “Who am I?” That is, until I came to this verse in the scriptures from Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I realized that all the different lenses I put on never gave me an accurate image of my true self. And the truest image of myself is based solely on Christ. I found this a radical change in the way I understood my identity. I began to read the Gospels in a new light, using Christ’s life and his teachings as the lens through which I saw myself. This brought healing and reconciliation into the areas of brokenness I had carried since childhood. As I identified with Christ on the cross, I experienced a supernatural forgiveness and was able to forgive those who had hurt me in my past.
I began using his Christ’s life and his teachings as the lens through which I saw myself.
As I fast forward to the now, I know this is a lifelong journey of identifying my life with Christ. I don’t feel like I have a full grasp but every day I continue to take steps to understand my identity through the lens of Jesus. His beautiful life, death, and resurrection gives me hope that my identity, my diversity, is becoming more and more full each day.