My eyes catch an envelope with my grandfather’s name crafted in Korean hangul. The jumble of Japanese kanji in the letter’s contents puzzles me. During Japanese occupation, Korean language was suppressed to destroy Korean national identity. As the letter was my recently-deceased grandmother’s pledge of faithfulness to my grandfather, I treasured it as a sacred artifact. I wondered, however, why my grandmother bypassed her option to finally exercise cultural liberation in her native language.
I met the constraints of discrimination upon my first and only “F.” A stunned freshman, I approached my Mythology teacher to inquire how I could improve my weaknesses. Her response left me speechless. It was apparently clear I plagiarized because, as an Asian, my English skills inevitably fell short of her high standards. Despite my protests of earnest work, the English department could not challenge a teacher’s discretion. While she offered a chance to redeem myself, I felt shackled by the injustice of stereotyping.
Although I always kept my grandmother’s letter on my desk, it held a different meaning when I sat down to rewrite my essay. After years of questioning my grandmother’s choice to write her letter in Japanese, I realized she had used an intended tool of oppression to overcome that same oppression. She proved her Korean identity was stronger than the impediment of language.
I began my own climb to overcome my supposed inadequacy in English with the English language itself. Essay after essay, I transformed each word to break assumed barriers and establish my capabilities. Instead of choosing between two distinct cultures, I used each culture to strengthen the other. Just as my grandmother’s letter gave me the wisdom to overcome oppression and form a unique Korean-American identity that I am proud of, my words will find their own niche of immortality.
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