Growing Up As An Asian Kiwi | Part 3

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Jenny Cho

I was born in South Korea and when I was four, my mom, younger brother and I came to stay in New Zealand (Originally planned to stay for a year until I was due to start primary school in Korea), but mom and dad ended up loving here so much, we stayed! I did all my study here and went to Korean School on Saturdays and a Korean youth orchestra because it was important to my parents that my brother and I could speak and understand Korean and that we made some Korean friends.

What has someone said to you that has culturally offended you or an experience of racism you’ve had in New Zealand?

I think the most offensive moments are when people don’t even realise they’re being offensive – the everyday things. When I get into an uber and they tell me my English is so good, or when people immediately assume I know everything about South Korea and North Korea relations (Spoiler alert – I don’t know anything!). I think those are the moments I feel the most ‘outed’ as different.

What are some Asian stereotypes you have experienced?

When I got my learners license, the first thing a friend said to me was “Damn, the roads aren’t safe, there’s another Asian on them!”. My entire family have only been in 2-3 accidents, and that wasn’t out fault – it was other cars running lights or rear ending us. Being told I’m ‘not Asian enough’ because I don’t know any martial arts or don’t get straight Es in math (I’ve always hated maths as well).

Did you have any Asian role model to look up to when you were younger? Who were they? 

Not really. Living in New Zealand, you only really see American shows, and there usually isn’t a good representation of Asians. Even if there is, they’re over-sexualised or rebellious and hate their parents, or they’re martial arts experts, and I really didn’t relate to any of that.

A situation where you struggled with your cultural identity, or where you had to choose one identity 

For a while, I really didn’t enjoy being around Korean kids my age. This must be when I was 11 or 12 – I ended stumbling into a conversation about music, and I didn’t listen to the same things they did or watch the same movies so I couldn’t really fit in.

I always saw myself as kiwi, since I came so young, I thought like kiwis do and adopted the kiwi way of being. But other people didn’t see me as a kiwi and that was so frustrating. The biggest stand out was that my school’s cultural exchange classes would always send me slips telling me that there’s a field to the sky tower and its open to all cultural exchange students. I had never been an exchange student EVER, but seeing that’s how some people saw me hurt.

A situation where people made you feel embarrassed about your culture 

I used to get red bean buns in my lunch – I absolutely loved them but people would try a bite and tell me that its disgusting – I remember feeling so salty about it!

Something you wish people knew about your background/culture

I wish people realized, there is so much culture in Korea. There’s so much cool stuff, other than BTS, and I wish people took the time to look into that rather than thinking Korea is cool purely due to their favourite boy bands.

What do you love about being an Asian Kiwi?

I love having the best of both worlds – It’s awesome taking the best of both the cultures. Growing up and finding my own identity living in 2 really different cultures has been really challenging but has also given me insight to people and different cultures that I might not have had otherwise.

What’s something that you would love to learn/know more about your Asian culture 

I’d love to learn more about Korean cooking! My parents run a Korean restaurant and I really want to learn their recipes and be able to cook the same food for my kids (When I have them), especially cause it’s so yummy and healthy! I also really want to know more about Korean history. I’ve always loved learning about history and what better than knowing more about how my country came to be.

Photography by Bungo Tsuchiya

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