Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How American Am I?

Growing up in this country in the 70s, I saw few Asian faces in the media that might have informed how I, an Asian-American, might fit into a predominantly white society. The answer my parents provided was simply to study hard and get a good job. But would that make me a proud American? I always had my doubts. Living in Korea in 1996 forever changed the way I felt about my heritage. The Olympics were in Atlanta that year and it was the first time I was going to get a really good view of what Korean athletes could do. In sports like archery. Badminton. Ping pong. Wrestling. Judo. Hardly what one would call the glamor events of the games. Yet I immediately sensed something afoot when the Korean stations broadcast archery live and all my friends decided that they were going to spend the night at my apartment and watch it with me. Yeah, OK. But there I was cheering the archers as they unleashed arrow after arrow at the bullseye. There I was getting excited by a sport I was seeing for the very first time in my life. There I was hollering when Korea won the gold medal. In archery. Then I knew I was a Korean. A little bit of research later I discovered that the bow and arrow were the traditional weapons of the famed warriors of Goguryeo, the ancient Korean kingdom whose boundaries stretched all the way into present day Manchuria and Russia. For the first time in my life, I felt proud of the blood that coursed through my veins.

After 1996, there was 1998 when Seri Pak won the US Women's Open at Blackwolf Run in Wisconsin. That was another stay-up-all-through-the-night ordeal as Korean television broadcast live her 20-hole playoff against Jenny Chuasiriporn. Watching Seri make her final birdie in the early hours of the morning, my friends and I erupted in elation. (That apartment saw a lot of wear and tear.) Fast forward through the Sydney Games to the World Cup in 2002. All I have to say is that I was there when Korea went to the seminfinals. I was there when Korea beat Poland. And then Portugal. And then Italy. And then Spain. It's just impossible to describe each event. The cheering that took place in the streets. The parties that took over the night. I was alive. And I was Korean. Not much more to ask for.

So here we are. 2008. I thought I was going to be watching the games live in Beijing. This was before HIV changed the course of my life. I'll be watching the games here in NYC. Begging for a glimpse of the Korean athletes. I might get to see Park Tae Hwan in the 400 meter freestyle in swimming. And not much else. Will I cheer on the Americans? When they're fighting against the Russians and the Chinese, I will. And I guess that answers my question.

No comments: