Angell is a Practical English for Success (PES) volunteer serving in veredas in Magdalena, Colombia.
-(And if we are really good at guessing…) “Coreana?”
*Umm, you forgot the Americana part, señor.
Then, we proceed to the next level of some of my favorite questions…
-“De dónde eres?”
-“Soy de Texas, EEUU.”
-(Cue a very flabbergasted expression from my inquirer) “Pero, o sea… de dónde eres? Tienes una cara de Asia.” (literal translation: “But, where are you really from? You have a face of Asia.”)
The robotic, automated, memorized message to respond goes a little like this…
“Nací en Texas, EEUU. Mis padres nacieron en Corea, pero ellos se inmigraron a los EEUU.” (translation: “I was born in Texas, USA. My parents were born in Korea, but they immigrated to the USA.”)
And then we end with a bang…
“Norte o Sur?”
The ball of fury unleashes and we are done with the conversation.
I’ve been in Colombia for 15 months now but I still have to answer these questions when I go to the city or am anywhere outside the area of my village. Thankfully, my village and workplace see me as a human being and my “face of Asia” isn’t anything out of the ordinary.
These are everyday questions for me because there is this perception that Americans all are blue-eyed, blond haired, and tall. I blame selective media.
I have black eyes, black hair, and I am short. But, I am American – a proud Korean-American, born and raised in Texas, serving in Colombia.
I may not be moving mountains, but I am fulfilling one of President John F. Kennedy’s goals just with my presence: “To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.”
I sure am doing that with my carita (i.e., ‘little face’). Furthermore, I teach and demonstrate by example that the United States America is not a country with only one identity or color.
There are so many labels to identify or categorize, but at the end of the day, we are all humans.
And as if my list of identities couldn’t get any longer, a moto taxista (a motorcycle taxi driver) was pestering me with the same old questions at the grocery store:
-“Tu eres japonesa?”
-“Tu eres china!”
(Then, the security guy checking my bags replies for me…)
-“En este momento, ella es Colombiana.”
What you gonna say to that, huh?
*To note: North Korea and South Korea are separated by the Korean Demilitarized Zone. North Korea is governed by a dictatorship and has been referred to as the Hermit Kingdom. It is a country that is closed off from the world, making foreign relations difficult as well as physically leaving and entering the country.