I’m a 1.5 generation Korean-American who was born in Korea and came to the U.S. at the fresh young age of 5. Since 1st grade until high school, I grew up as one of only four Asian kids in my entire grade.
I struggled with issues of identity for most of my life until the end of college. I thought I was American, but people looked at me as Korean. But I couldn’t related to Koreans either, while at the same time I didn’t feel completely American when I compared myself to my white friends. I wanted to fit in so badly that I tried very hard to become “more American” by attempting to erase the Korean in and around me. Long story short, I grew up with a lot of confusion and shame about wanting to know who I was while ironically rejecting my very own identity.
It was at the end of college in 2012 when I finally said ENOUGH and joined a yoga/spiritual lifestyle practice called Body & Brain Yoga. My original intention was to just find some inner peace and rest from the maelstrom of inner turmoil and self-rejection that had brewed in me my entire life. I went to a spiritual retreat for 20 to 30-something-year-olds in 2012 in Sedona, AZ on a whim because one- I had never been to Sedona before and it sounded like a nice vacation, and two- I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Little did I know that this weekend retreat would later become the springboard that shifted how I view and interact with myself for the rest of my life.
What I learned there was the starting point of finding my true self- that my thoughts nor my emotions that have troubled me for so many years do not define who I am. For the first time, I was also told the richness of Korean culture and the philosophy of Hong-ik, which the country of Korea was founded on. Hong-ik is an ancient Korean word that means “doing good unto others and myself for the harmonious and mutual benefit of all living beings.” Korean people are direct descendants of the Enlightened people who lived peacefully in that harmonious world.
I continued on after that on my journey, and 5 years later, I’ve found that the deeper I go into discovering the question of “WHO AM I?” inside, the more I become intimately connected to my Korean roots and am reminded of the spirit of my ancestors. It is scientific fact through DNA that you carry information of your ancestors in your body wherever you go. This means that while you’re denying, rejecting, and stomping all over your roots, your blood is still your blood.
I’ve come to the bold conclusion that for anyone to truly understand who they are, they absolutely must understand their heritage. To reject your cultural heritage is to reject the very real, primal, and raw spirit that lives in you.
I often say that Korea feels like my birth mom and America feels like my adopted mom. I am forever grateful to all the teachers who have taught me how to harmonize the Korean traditions that I carry in my blood with the American customs that I carry in my mind.
I encourage everyone who can claim a cultural background to study and connect with the spirit of your own ancestors. It is the very key that will return your heart back home as it has mine.