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BlogNew Organizing Project (NOP)

NOP3 | Korean-Un-doc-u-ment-ed

By October 18, 2012No Comments

By Keish Kim | New Organizing Project blogger

What identities do you identify yourself as?  Man, woman, Asian, White, Latina/o, upper-middle class, able-bodied, documented, undocumented?

For me, I find myself in these identities: Undocumented Korean American, woman-of-color. But what does it mean? How does being Korean and being undocumented play out in our society? In my respective community?

I was born in Korea, brought to the US when I was 8 and grew up the majority of my life in Georgia. Growing up in white suburban Georgia was a very difficult place as an undocumented Korean. It’s not that I ever felt the difficulty as I was growing up, but looking back, I think I was so secluded from the rest of the society. Soon after my family lost status, we steered away from the Korean community. The only time I saw other Koreans was during the weekly grocery shopping at H-mart. And when I took charge of my undocumented status, it was within the latino/a community. That was where my safe-space was created. But the gap between my Korean self and my undocumented identity was still distant. I didn’t know how to incorporate two identities and create a space for undocumented APIs. How could I, when I was afraid to approach and communicate with people who shared the same motherland?

I went to KRC with a mission. My mission was to better understand the Korean community. I flew to LA with nervousness and fear that I would not fit in and that I would be ostracized once again for not being “Korean” enough or for being “undocumented”. As you can see, if you were following my posts, KRC offered the sense of community I have been seeking for a very long time. At KRC, I was able to speak Korean without shame.  It felt so natural.  I felt whole.  Being surrounded by Korean food and the language, being able to crack jokes in Konglish (Korean and English) and to have people who actually understood and laughed with you…I never felt so at home. It was different from my undocumented community in GA. Although we shared similar struggles as being undocumented in the south, I often times felt out of place as the only Asian, non-Spanish speaking individual. But at KRC, I had both. My identity as undocumented Korean was accepted and I was able to take charge of my identities.

Now, I am at Syracuse University and like many other college students, college is an opportunity for me to explore a sense of self. Summer inevitably ended and now I am pursuing a dream I had fought for. And like many, my sense of my identity is always developing and changing. Coming straight from K-town of Los Angeles, I now struggle to find a group of friends where both my undocumented identity and my Korean identity are understood and accepted.  I see myself as a person-of-color but when I attend certain student orgs, I feel as if they don’t see me as a person-of-color. Or I enter into a Korean organization, I feel that maybe they don’t see themselves as people –of-color and my undocumented status is put to shame. Finding this balance between my three most prominent identities leaves me feeling alone at times.

But I know that I am not alone in this confusion and isolation. I am sure that there are many who face similar difficulties with their own respective identities. The three places where I established a sense of home has shaped who I am at this moment. And I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to take charge of my identities. As I continue to grow and learn more about our society, I hope that my experience and the knowledge I am attaining everyday become of use in the future.

My name is Keish Kim and I am a Korean Undocumented woman-of-color. How do you identify yourself?


Keish Kim on the left with other NOP3 bloggers and NAKASEC staff