On the last leg of my journey from Korea to home, a flight from Dallas to Baltimore,I found myself seated next to an Asian woman––the only other Asian on the plane. As I sat down, I noticed she was reading a book in Korean. I was sitting next to a Korean!
I slept throughout most of the 3-hour flight (eye patches on and mouth hanging open), crashing after barely sleeping on my trans-pacific flight. But when I woke from my nap, I thought to myself, I should really talk to this woman in Korean.
It’s not readily obvious to many Asians that I am part Korean, so I was pretty confident this woman was unaware I had Korean blood running through my veins. As I worked up the courage to initiate conversation with her, it struck me that there was something that connected us, that set us apart from every other person on that plane.
Yet I was the only person who knew it. She had no idea.
At times in my life I’ve felt sensitive about the way I look, the way people perceive me. I love when people can tell that I am mixed Korean-Caucasian and they approach me to ask me if that’s what I am. I feel affirmed in my identity somehow having them correctly identify my racial make up. At times I have struggled to feel accepted as a Korean, or part-Korean, especially because my lack of fluency in the language.
When I first came to Korea something that hit me was that I was actually accepted so much more than I expected. Despite not being able to speak the language well, despite not looking the right way, despite being ignorant of good chunks of the culture. I still found myself embraced by many as a younger sister, as a “daughter” of sorts, as a fellow Korean.
I hadn’t thought about all that in awhile, but as I sat there wondering if I should really talk to this woman, if she was lonely or I was just imagining it, if she would find comfort in being spoken to in her native tongue, knowing that she would, that at the least she would be delighted, rehearsing what I would say, I was struck by that whole idea of blood.
It’s a concept that has struck me while taking communion.
Christ’s blood flowing through me. A deeper truth, a more essential reality that goes beyond what people can perceive. Whether others recognize I am Korean or not, I am. It’s in my blood. Whether my face looks it or not, whether I successfully form sentences in Korean or not, it’s inside me.
I started to tear up as a burden was lifted off me, a burden that I hadn’t even realized was there. I didn’t have to prove myself.
When I finally turned towards the woman and asked her in Korean, “Are you Korean?” she gasped and covered her mouth, saying something to effect of, “Oh my goodness, how do you know how to speak Korean?”
It was extremely satisfying.
We had a nice little conversation about where we were from and what we were doing on that flight. (She wasn’t coming from Korea like I had imagined, but from a visit with her daughter in Dallas.) And even when the limits of my Korean were reached and I threw in some English, she continued to speak to me in Korean, telling me to sit down while we waited to get off the plane, telling me to enjoy my time with my family.
Once again, I felt embraced as a daughter.
It made my insides tingle a bit with nervousness. I knew that as soon as I stepped off that plane, I would melt into the colorful sea of faces around me, but for the moment, I felt part of a special, warm, unexpected intimacy that made me blush with pleasure.