Living Korean in LA

Before moving to LA, there was one thing that I was really excited about: Korean food. I knew that Korean food is far more superior in LA than in any other U.S. cities, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on dishes other than bulgogi, ddukbokki, and bibimbap (sorry not sorry, New York.)

It’s a weird feeling to “live away from home” (in quotations, because where is my home?) surrounded by the people who look exactly like you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many Koreans outside of Korea. I live in Koreatown, literally 3 minute away from H mart; my mom was excited to tell my grandma that there is a Korean buddhist temple 2 blocks away from my place, hoping to encourage her to come visit me when she can. Everywhere I go, I see Korean billboards. There are Korean people in leadership at my workplace, which, to be honest, is a pretty foreign concept for me.

But despite living amongst other Koreans, I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb anyway. Part of it might be the way I dress – I love dressing up a little bit more formal, whereas a lot of people in LA seems to enjoy dressing more casual. Because I’m close in age with the students on campus, some students mistake me as one of the “international students”. They’re technically right, since I am not an American, but after seemingly “fitting in” and being mistaken as an American for so long, I’m a bit taken aback.

I think that another reason why I might not fit in might be the way that Asian diaspora is in the United States. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: West Coast Asian Americans (specifically Californian Asian Americans) are different from Asians Americans in the rest of the United States. I don’t know if it’s the Gold Rush, or because CA is a lot closer to Asia, or because the term Asian American was coined by a UCLA professor named Yuji Ichioka (all of the above, duh), but from an outsider’s perspective, Californian Asian Americans seem to be prouder – in comparison to other Asian Americans, at least – to be American. What does it mean to be an American, I don’t know, and I probably will never know, but they just seem more comfortable with that term than other Asian Americans. It’s like…the idea that they might not “fit in” has never crossed their minds before. They feel so comfortable existing, just as is, and rarely feel the need to prove their legitimacy of belongingness. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing. But it is something I cannot relate to.

And this is probably just a whole load of stereotypes. Don’t come after me.

The point is, I used to feel like I fit in in New York, mainly because no one fit in in the first place. People dressed and talked and behaved so vastly different from one another that no one gave a shit what some Asian girl looked like on the train. Plus, everyone was too busy and a little too conceited to pay attention to others. I now live in a city where so many of people have the same ethnicity as me, but I feel self-conscious about how I dress, how I am perceived, if they think I’m American or not American… no one probably actually cares, but I still can’t get over it, that’s all. You’d think you’d feel at home surrounded by people who speak the same language as you, but sike, it’s all a lie.

Though, today after yoga (oh god, I know, I sound LA already), I saw a Korean homeless man walk towards me. I’ve come across many homeless people who stutters profanities to themselves before, but this was the first time I had heard a homeless person swear in Korean. I thought about how what he says might come across like a gibberish to non-Koreans, but oh man, for me, his stutters pierced me and stabbed me over and over. This was my first time seeing a Korean homeless person who clearly has mental illness walk around the streets of the United States (not that they don’t exist in Korea, but the invisibility and erasure of homelessness and mental disability in Korea is a story for a different time), and the encounter was so chilling. Is this what happens to Koreans who live abroad and has been let down by the America’s capitalistic society? What happened to him? What do other Koreans and Korean Americans in Koreatown think of him? Are they scared of him because they stereotype homeless people as those who are dangerous, or because there’s an inkling inside that they, too, might become like him if the United States were to fail him?

Am I reading too much into this? Probably.
Do people give a shit about who I am? Probably not.

I am probably overthinking and just having difficult time adjusting, because hey, moving to the other side of the country just to start a whole new job is not easy. I know that I’ll eventually get used to my life here, because they say that if you survived New York, you can live anywhere (yes, I am that aforementioned conceited New Yorker). But for now, I continue to remain a Korean who feels out of place amongst bunch of Californian Korean Americans.

So what’s new, you ask? Nothing. It’s just been two month here, that’s all.


Ps. I can’t seem to get back into the same writing style because I’ve been absent for so long, but I will try to write more and get my voice back 😦 😦



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