The Secret Korean

There’s a sweet young girl in one of my Wednesday classes called Rifa, and her parents are Korean. Her name is a mystery to me, since neither Japanese nor Korean traditionally have an F sound. That aside, though, I’m delighted to have a Korean girl in my class since I’ve had so many significant personal encounters with Korean people in my life. But much to my upset, which I’m using as a noun here, Rifa herself apparently feels the need to keep her non-Japanese background a secret, calling herself Rika at school (but not at juku). I suspect she does this under the advisement of her parents, and with good reason, since Japanese people immediately gawk at anything that isn’t Japanese. But think about how different that is back home. With all due respect, have you ever met a Korean person in America who wasn’t essentially a walking flag? The very notion of a Korean person who is secretive about his or her nationality seems like an oxymoron to me.

She’s such a sweet girl that sometimes I want to hoist her up onto the desk and say “This chick is Korean, and that’s cool, so everybody gaze up at her for a moment.” Not that being Japanese or American or a self-important bitch (see post about my assistant which I haven’t actually posted yet) isn’t cool. I just think she ought to have a sense of pride about her roots, rather than shame. Then again, the whole idea is not to make a spectacle of a thing that shouldn’t be remarkable enough to be made a spectacle of. I don’t blame her, really. Even looking back at America, I doubt most kids would have made much of a fuss over a classmate being Korean, but they might have over a German. I can picture their jeering, leering faces in my head. “Is your name HANS, you GERMAN?! Your name is probably HANS, you stupid GERMAN. What’s the matter HANS, too much chocolate to keep pace with the rest of us? Why don’t you go eat a strudel, you sauerkraut-eating Commie.”

But American kids can be pretty stupid.

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