How do you get shocked as a child?
Children get shocked very easily. Your little brain cannot fathom something that is not simple and if some complicated matter is not explained by an adult, a child cannot understand it. Racism is one of those things – something that my Swiss-Korean developing brain would not process.
Many culture shocks happened to reconfirm multiple times that I do not belong in this country. The culture, the customs, the food, the social cues and interactions. My looks were enough to throw others off. Much was not needed.
The realization that I was really shocked as a child came after I read a book called “Minor Feelings” by Cathy Park Hong, a Korean American poet, writer, and professor who has published three volumes of poetry. Much of her work includes mixed language and serialized narrative. She was named on the 2021 Time 100 list for her writings and advocacy for Asian American women. A Taiwanese-American friend recommended it to me and this doesn’t shock me since Europe lacks massively in Asian representation. Also due to geo-cultural aspects Switzerland and Europe cannot have an all-Asian representation or associations like AAPIA (Asian American Pacific Islander Association) that was founded during the pandemic due to the hate crimes being committed in the United States. As I write this piece in May, the United States dedicates the month of May to raise AAPI awareness. I am guessing that this is my attempt to do due diligence in Europe.
I hated going to daycare as a toddler in Switzerland. I can remember vividly waiting at the window where a gigantic ladybug was painted on. I was shaken how big that thing was and it was annoying me because I couldn’t see outside – to figure out when my mother was coming to pick me up. I hated it. This in turn shocked my caretakers – my mother, my father, my grandmother, my aunts. They did not understand how a little child would detest and refuse to go to daycare this intensely. Who knew that 20 years later I could process that it was all due to racism, because I did not feel like I belonged there? A different language, different foods, different scents, different social interactions were happening at the daycare, all so polar opposite to my warm-perceived Korean household. Shocking how a child’s brain can process easily a place it does not feel like it has a belonging to. Displaced. Diasporic.
Even more now it is simply a running gag and a fun memory. Shockingly this wound deepened as I grew older. Racism never ends, it just becomes a processing of one’s own identity. And the more I get to talk about this with my POC (Person of color) friends and explain to some Caucasians why this is systematically targeting us since birth, the more visible it becomes.
Shocking but that is our society.
I did not choose to be born in a country, where I would never belong. So now I am here making a choice to heal my shocked childhood heart in search for my own place to feel safe and welcome.
-A-Young Amy Kwon