What Being Asian American Means to Me

  By Robert Kum

What being Asian or Asian American means to me – When asked this question, people will commonly answer family which is of course not surprising.  However, when I use the term, I am not referring to the generic use of the term “family”, but am specifically referring to being a “Kum” (금).  Let me explain  First, let’s start with my last name.  The pronunciation gets butchered quite a lot, either intentionally or unintentionally.  Most people pronounce Kum, like it rhymes with Zoom.  It is subtle but my last name is more of a hard “K” with a Ummm.  As for my first name, my Korean name is actually Chong Seo.  My family is old school and so the first part of the name for all males designate the particular generational era they were born, in my case Chong.  So my four brothers and I all have this in our names (Chong Guk, Chong Hwa, Chong Myong and Chong Seo).  Since we are a patriarchal society, my sister does not get this honor and so she is just plain Nancy.

Next, when most Koreans are asked what specific area they are from, most usually say Seoul.  It is after all the largest city in Korea, roughly 17% of the population.  Some say Seoul out of convenience because it is the most well-known city (Summer Olympics, etc.).  When asked, I proudly say Okcheon.  It is a small town approx. 150 km south from Seoul.  For generations, my family lived there until my parents made the bold move to come to the U.S. in the 1960’s.   When I mean generations, the local archive contains our family tree which extends back over 1,000 years.  Being listed in this family book as being born there was so important that I later verified that my father could not bear to list my true birth place (Kingston, Ontario, Canada – That is a story for another day) but am instead listed as being born at the family homestead.  I am actually not bothered by the mistake. In another 1,000 years, someone will look at the book and try to unravel the mystery of who I was and wonder about my weird Canadian connection. Continue reading “What Being Asian American Means to Me”

What Being Asian American Means to Me

 Holly Engelmann, P.C.

A 2022 STAATUS Index survey was conducted of 5,235 Americans across varied racial/ethnic groups, demographic characteristics, and geographies in an effort to better understand how perceptions towards Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPIs) evolve over time. (https://staatus-index.s3.amazonaws.com/2023/STAATUS_Index_2023.pdf). There are a lot of really interesting key findings, but for purposes of this post, I want to briefly focus on visibility and acceptance from my personal perspective.

Visibility. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there were about 24 million Asian residents in the United States in 2021, yet the STAATUS Index study reports that 26% of respondents were unable to name a famous Asian American. The next two most frequent responses after “I don’t know” over the past three years have been Jackie Chan, a 69 year old Hong Kong actor (not Asian American), and Bruce Lee (who died 50 years ago). This finding aligns with my personal experience. Throughout my life I have been told that I look like Kristi Yamaguchi (a 51 year old Japanese American former figure skater famous in the early 90s), Lucy Liu (a 54 year old Chinese American actor), and more recently, Dr. Pimple Popper (a 52 year old Chinese American dermatologist). I don’t look like any of these women, but it’s a reflection of how few famous Asian women (let alone Asian American women) there are for people to draw comparison. I get it – to many people, I look like a 50 year old Asian woman. Jokes aside, I do believe that visibility is important so that Asian Americans aren’t just portrayed in mainstream American culture and media as Kung Fu martial artists or geisha sex workers (see page 33 of the STAATUS Index study). The fact that we have over fifty-five Asian American attorneys at Duane Morris is a great step to being visible and seen as smart, witty, and business-minded people. Continue reading “What Being Asian American Means to Me”

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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