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Where Do I Belong?

Metastate is about honoring each other’s stories, no matter how different, and creating a more complete picture of our hopes, our fears, our dreams. We’ll share our conversations here and invite you to add your voices to the discussion. Pull up a chair and join us as we recount the stories and lessons of our lives…

Maryn:  I’m curious, have you ever felt like you were part of a community? Surrounded by people who were really your kind of people?

Darree:  I’ve been thinking about this question since last night and I want to say yes, but to be honest, I’ve never really felt like I was understood. Being understood is a huge part of whether I feel connected to something or not. Even when people have nodded to my opinions, interests, choices and questions, I always had a feeling that they were secretly thinking, “She’s weird.” 

Maryn:  I know what you mean. I have been a part of some groups where I felt like I could “play along.” I had fun and shared certain things about myself, but as you say, I didn’t feel like I could share everything. Is there a certain group that you find yourself gravitating towards?

Darree:  In one of my classes during sophomore year, my professor asked us to write about a specific community that was important to our development. For that entire quarter, I wrote about my Korean immigrant family and my perception of them as a Korean American. What I uncovered was the fact that I didn’t belong. So, to put this in perspective, my professor asked us to write about a community that was important to us and I wrote about a community that had oppressed me. I think that says a lot about what I think of community. What about you?

Maryn:  It’s funny that you mentioned the Korean American community because I had a very similar experience with the Japanese American community. I was a part of the Japanese community through church youth groups and sports, but always at a distance. I wrote papers and did projects about being Japanese American, but there was a detachment there. Do you think it speaks to social expectations and how we are taught that our ethnicity should matter? 

Darree: My mother once said that Koreans are very similar to Italians. At the time, when I was like 12, I disagreed with her. I was like, “No mom. They eat pasta. We eat rice. Duh.” Ten years later, I went to visit my best friend in Siena. She couldn’t pick me up from the airport so she gave me these really confusing directions. I finally managed to get on a bus after an hour of relying on a bunch of strangers. I sat in the front in case I needed to try and further communicate with the bus driver. Three minutes later, an elderly woman boards the bus. It doesn’t occur to me that I should give up my seat. Unfortunately, it occurs to everyone else. I start getting all of these glares and still, I didn’t get it. Two years later, I moved to South Korea and found myself on the bus again. An elderly woman boards and without even thinking, I moved to the back.

I don’t feel that same need to give up my seat to elders in many parts of the States. And even if I do, the elders that do take my seat are appreciative and humble whereas the elders in Korea or Italy expect it because they have this sense of entitlement. It isn’t until you shed those layers of cultural values, skin colors and language barriers, that there exists the same core expectations: to be happy, to be needed, to be helpful. So, going back to your question –

I think ethnicity is definitely a barrier that we attempt to hide behind, or sometimes use for convenience – because it’s already been defined and sometimes it’s just more comfortable to play familiar roles than to actively and continuously defy conventions.

Maryn:  This reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s thoughts on tolerance. He says the way we think about tolerance these days is when people who are unlike us want to be like us. That isn’t tolerance. Tolerance is when you accept people who are unlike you and don’t want to be like you. There’s always this pressure to conform, but I wonder if it is possible to get past that.

Darree:  I was having a conversation at like three in the morning with my husband and we were talking about the world he lives in and the world I live in. His is real and physically impactful whereas mine is ideal and physically impossible. I want to revert back to a place where I didn’t know I was Korean, or that you were Japanese, or that some of my friends were gay or Christian. I don’t mean to revert back to a state of ignorance, but rather spring forward to a state of tolerance and coexistence. That isn’t to say that I want people to forget history, but rather, keep them as reminders so that we don’t go down the same route as our ancestors…and while I divide all of my gems and beads into containers categorized by type, size and color, I really hate living in a world that treats people the same way.

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