For Veronica Kim words bridge the divide
By Brittany Wiafe
Veronica Kim, 17, reminisced on a confrontation about her native Korean culture and her learned American culture with her mother.
“Mom, I want to eat sandwiches for lunch,” Kim said.
Kim said that to her mother when she was entering middle school who has packed lunches since Kim began school. In elementary school, Kim would open her lunchbox to unveil chopsticks, rice and kimchi, a traditional Korean dish. Immediately Kim realized her lunch did not match the sandwiches and juice boxes her classmates were eating.
As Kim advanced in school she began to feel alienated by her exotic food and by being confronted with questions during lunch each day. Her peers would ask what she was eating and why it smelled so different.
“It was embarrassing because every kid wants to fit in, you don’t want to be different,” Kim said.
Her mother understood her need to fit in as a preteen growing up in a place where it is important that you don’t stand out. She began packing her sandwiches instead of rice and forks instead of chopsticks. Kim appreciated that her mother humored her, but she soon grew tired of sandwiches.
“The way she handled my decision was reflected on how she teaches me to lead my life,” Kim said.
Kim identifies as a Korean-American. Korean was the first language, but she identifies English as her first language. Korean food is present in her life through cooking at home, Korean markets and bakeries. She also has worn traditional Korean clothes and hears the Korean language through her parents.
Her heritage has left Kim target to stereotypes, especially in academics. Kim first felt stereotyped academically because of her Asian heritage in fourth grade when she entered an advanced learning program.
“That’s when I noticed there were stereotypes with Asian people,” she said. “We are supposed to be smart and hard working.”
When comparing herself to traditional Asian stereotypes, Kim realized she does align with many of them. She does work hard in school and get good grades in math, but she also defies many generalizations about her race.
Kim said a stereotype against Asians is that they are socially awkward but she is outgoing. She is involved in many clubs, including an a cappella group.
“People that know me know not to stereotype me,” she said. “I don’t want to know the people that stereotype me and don’t know me.”
Kim’s academic premise follows her past school into her home life with her love of writing.
“I have always been obsessed with people making words sound absolutely beautiful,” Kim said.
Kim’s first piece of writing came early in her life. In first grade she wrote a 10-page book that she brought to school for show and tell. Her fear of reading her story to her class that day never dulled her writing pursuits.
Early in her writing career she won awards for her poetic works. Kim now pursues spoken word as a way to accept herself. Kim said her confidence comes from the process of writing, thinking about her writing and reading over her writing to accept things about herself.