Authors: David Yoon
To understand why this is an issue, it’s helpful to know that basically every country in Asia has historically hated on every other country in Asia. Koreans hated Chinese, and Chinese hated Koreans, and have forever. Also Chinese hated Japanese hated Koreans hated Thais hated Vietnamese and so on. They all have histories of invading and being invaded by one another. You know how European countries talk shit all the time about each other? Same thing.
“That’s stressful,” I say with a frown.
Joy and I are up to green bricks now. I hold one up and notice it’s the same color as the green hiding in her hair.
“I don’t just have boy problems,” says Joy. “I have Chinese boy problems.”
Koreans hating Chinese hating Koreans hating blablabla.
“Racists,” I say.
Joy just nods. She knows I’m talking about her mom-n-dad.
I know this is the point where one of us should say some-damn-thing about Hanna. But what is there to say?
There’s plenty to say. But I’ve said it over and over and over, so many times that I don’t have to even actually say it anymore. Now I’m just super tired of saying it.
Our parents are racist. I wish things were different. I miss
Hanna. I wish things were different. Our parents are racist. I miss Hanna.
Chk, chk. We build until we reach the violet bricks. There’s a bunch of white and black and brown bricks left over.
“What should we do with these?” I say. “They don’t fit into the rainbow spectrum.”
This is a ridiculous and obvious metaphor, and Joy smacks my forehead to point it out.
“Metaphor incoming, doosh,” she says.
Then we just kind of stare at each other.
“Fuckin’ parents, man,” I say.
Mom’s driving me and Dad back home from the party. It’s a long way from Diamond Ranch back to Playa Mesa. The neighborhoods start all Korean, then go Mexican, then Chinese, then black, then back to Mexican, then finally white.
Playa Mesa is in white.
We’re only at the first Mexican when Dad quietly throws up into an empty to-go cup.
“Eigh,” says Mom. “You drink too much, Daddy.”
“I’m okay,” says Dad.
“Eigh,” says Mom, and rolls down all the windows.
Dad seals the lid on the soda cup and leans back with his eyes closed. The straw is still sticking out of the top. It’s like Satan created a drink daring all to take a sip.
The fresh air helps with the smell.
“You don’t drink like Daddy, okay?” Mom says to me through the rearview mirror.
“Okay, Mom,” I say.
“One time, one man, he drink all night, drink too too much? He sleep, he throw up, he choking in his sleep? He die.”
I’ve heard this story before. “That sucks.”
“Really don’t drink, okay?”
“You got nothing to worry about, Mom.”
And she really doesn’t. I’ve had about two drinks my entire life, and I didn’t bother finishing them. Same thing with top chap Q, Q’s sister, Evon, or any of my other friends. We’re all sober kids, all in the same Advanced Placement (AP) classes, and therefore do not get invited to parties and their concomitant opportunities to imbibe. We wouldn’t drink even if we did.
We are APs, or Apeys for short. We do not go to
. Instead of parties, we find empty parking structures and hold midnight table reads of
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
. We pile into my car, a teenaged front-wheel-drive Consta with manual windows, and drive halfway to Las Vegas just to see a meteor shower and get a good look at Orion’s scabbard in the flawless black desert sky. To be clear, we never actually continue on to Vegas. Whatever happens in Vegas, whatevers in Vegas, who cares. We turn the car around and head home and wonder about life outside Earth, and whether we’ll ever encounter aliens or they’re just ignoring us because we’re still so embarrassingly primitive, or if the Fermi paradox is true and we really are the only intelligent beings in the entire universe.
Traffic is super light—just a stream of lights rocketing along at eighty-five miles per hour—and already we’re up to Chinese. Dad points it out.
“This all Chinese now,” he says. “Used to be Mexican, now totally Chinese. They take over whole this area. Look, signs say
HONG FU XIAN
blablabla, ha ha ha.”
“Chang-chong-ching-chong?” says Mom, laughing too.
“You guys,” I say.
“They eating everything,” says Dad. “Piggy ear, piggy tail, chicken feet, everything they eating.”
I facepalm, but with my knee. Koreans eat quote-weird-end-quote stuff too: sea cucumbers, live octopus, acorn jelly, all of it delicious. White people, black people, Indian, Jamaican, Mexican,
-people eat weird, delicious stuff.
I want to say all of this, but I find I can’t. It’ll just get me nowhere. My parents are just stuck on thinking Koreans are special.
“Ching-chong-chang-chang?” says Mom again.
Dad laughs, steadying his to-go drink from hell, and for a second I can imagine them before they had me and Hanna. It’s a paradoxically sweet vignette. Mom-n-Dad warmly muttering to each other in Korean, most of which I can’t understand, except for the startling appearance of the word
, which means
If I were like any other normal teenager, I would lose myself in my fartphone (that’s what Q says instead of
, because all we’re doing is farting around on social media anyway), giving out crappy likes on the crappy feeds,
maybe crafting beats if I felt like being creative. But then I would only get carsick. So all I can do is be present and in the racist moment.
“You guys are so racist,” I say instead.
I’m so used to them being racist that I can’t even bother arguing with them anymore. It’s like commanding the wind to alter direction.
You are aware that non-Koreans populated the United States of America before you came here, right?
I used to say.
You’re aware that Korea is this tiny country, and the world is full of people you know little about, right?
Arguing with Mom-n-Dad is pointless, because the wind will blow wherever it wants according to its own infuriating wind-logic. Only the insane would keep trying to change them. Especially when they end things with their
defense. Like now:
“No racist,” says Mom, wounded. “We just joking.”
“Joy Song has a boyfriend and he’s third-gen Chinese,” I say.
I of course say no such thing. Saying that would instantly make Joy’s life hell once her mom got the call from my mom, and my mom is always making calls. Then Joy would build a drone in her garage and order it to dice me up with lasers in my sleep.
But part of me itches to do it anyway. Because this is America, and because I want to force the issue.
Did you know,
I would say,
that Korean-Americans make up only 0.5 percent of the entire population? Did you think about that before you came here? Did you think you could avoid the other 99.5 percent of the country for very long?
I don’t say any of this. Instead, I talk about Q.
“What if Q was Chinese? Would you be all
in front of him?”
“No,” says Mom. She looks almost insulted.
“So just behind his back.”
“Do you call Q geomdungi behind his back?”
“Frank, aigu!” Mom’s glaring at me through the rearview mirror’s slash of light.
Geomdungi means the n-word.
“Q is okay,” says Dad. His eyes are still closed. It looks like he’s talking and sleeping at the same time. He sounds reasonable and soothing, even when he’s drunk. “Q like family. I like Q.”
Dad says this despite the fact that Q has only ever hung out at my house a handful of times in all the years we’ve known each other. There is a secret to why this is.
The secret is in the smiles. Mom-n-Dad, all smiles, and Q, too. Everyone smiling, pretending the specter of Hanna is not right there before us. By Mom-n-Dad’s internal wind-logic, Q is fine—Q is a friend, Q is a boy. There is no family name at stake here.
But still, I’m afraid Mom-n-Dad would possibly say or do something carelessly hurtful to my most top chap. So the few times Q’s been over, I’ve kept things simple and quick: say hi to Mom-n-Dad, smile-smile-smile right up the staircase, and head straight into my room for shitty old video games on my shitty old system. Eventually I just found myself hanging out at his house all the time. It’s easier than all those smiles.
Q first pointed out the smiles a long time ago. He was
angry. I was angry too. Who wouldn’t be? We sat all night with our anger, discussing it, shaping it, until it became a kind of energy shield defending us. I vowed to protect Q from any harm my parents could potentially dish out. I ranted out a fiery apology, going on and on until Q finally stopped me with an arm hug to say
You didn’t pick your parents, and neither did I
That’s what Q tells me whenever my parents say something ludicrous:
I didn’t pick your parents to be my best friend in the whole world.
The car is quiet but for the whistling wind. For a second I think the issue has been successfully forced, copious science has been dropped, minds have been quietly blown, we are all one human race, this is the United States of America, I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted.
But then Dad keeps going.
Dad keeps dream-talking.
“Q is so-called
. You know
“No he’s not,” I say, but Dad just keeps on going.
“Daddy, sleep,” says Mom.
But Dad does not sleep. “Black people always no money they having. Always doing crime, gang, whatever. Make too many baby. That’s black people.”
“Dad, jesus, that’s not true,” I say. All I can do is shake my head. This sort of drunken rambling is familiar territory for me. I find a painted line on the highway and follow it as it dips and rises and splits into two. We change lanes and the tires do two fast, sharp drumrolls.
But then Mom sits up. “It is,” she says. “I wondering, why
black people behaving like that? Our customers? So many, they behaving like that. Ninety-eight percent.”
Mom likes to make up fake statistics. So does Dad. It’s annoying as hell.
I snarl at the window. “So, slavery, decades of systemic racist policy, and the poverty it created don’t have anything to do with anything.”
“1992,” says Mom, “we coming to United States, only we have three hundred dollar. That’s it. We stay friends’ house almost two year. Dr. and Mrs. Choi. Only we eating ramyun and kimchi rice two year.”
That’s not the same thing
, I think. I don’t bother listening to the rest.
Mom-n-Dad are like this big ice wall of ignorance, and I’m just a lone soldier with a sword. I just kind of give up. I find myself missing Hanna big-time. She used to argue all righteous with Mom-n-Dad all the time, like the lawyer she eventually became. She wouldn’t back down a single millimeter, not for shit. She would take the argument all the way to the limit, and then just hold it there. Like:
Where does Korean-ness begin and end?
What about kids born from Chinese or Japanese occupiers? What about those comfort women? Should their Korean cards be canceled?
Don’t you think you should have to live in Korea to be fully Korean?
Don’t you think you should have to be fluent in Korean to be fully Korean?
Why’d you come to this country if you’re so Korean?
And what about me and Frank?
She was brave—braver than me—but now I wonder if being brave is worth it. The brave go first into battle. But that makes them the first to go down, too.
I wait for the car to get quiet again before saying:
“What if I dated someone black?” I want to add
, but don’t.
“Frank, stop it,” says Mom, and gets a grave look, like
That’s not funny.
She glances at Dad. Dad is asleep. His to-go cup is tipping. She puts it in the center cup holder, which somehow makes it even more disgusting.
“What about white?” I say.
“No,” says Mom.
“So only Korean.”
Mom sighs. “Why, you have white girlfriend?”
“Don’t do it, okay?” says Mom. “Anyway. Big eyes is better. Nice eyes.”
Mom is obsessed with girls having big eyes. Joy’s mom is obsessed with girls having big eyes. Same with the parents of the other Limbos. We tried figuring out why once at a Gathering. Someone said it must have something to do with a bunch of round-eye American soldiers saving them from civil war, which led to a close examination of the size of General MacArthur’s eyes, which pivoted to theories about big-eyed characters in Japanese anime, which devolved into a big Lego-throwing debate about which was better, Japanese manga or Korean manhwa.
“You marry Korean girl,” says Mom. “Make everything easier.”
I dig the heels of my hands into my eyes. “Easier for you.” I want to add,
I could care less if she were Korean,
but we’ve beat this horse before and it’s an incredibly durable creature.
“Not just us,” says Mom. She’s indignant. “Easier for everybody. Korean girl, we gathering with her parents, we speak Korean together. More comfortable, more better. We eating Korean food all together, going to Korean church together, more better.”
“So, more better for you.”
“No,” says Mom, louder. “You will understand when you have baby. Okay: pretend you have mix baby, okay? People say, ‘Oh, what nationality this baby?’ Too headache for baby. For you too! Where baby belong? You think about baby.”
So I think about baby. Not my baby, but specifically the future baby of Hanna and Miles. I’ve seen
babies before, and like all babies ever born, they’re adorable. Who could be so cruel as to reject a
What the hell am I talking about? I hate that word,
. Just a couple generations ago people called French-Russian babies
. Now those babies are just called
. This word
is just brainlock messing with my head.
I give up. “Okay, Mom.”
“Anyway,” says Mom, calm again. “I know lot of nice girls.”
I massage my temples. I’ve reached the end of the discussion, where there’s nothing left to do but say
“Okay, Mom,” I say.