Three years ago, a young man at church greeted me. I don’t remember how we got on the topic of school but he asked me what my major in college was. I told him I double majored in Sociology and American Ethnic Studies. He looked surprised and exclaimed, “Oh that’s interesting! Because you’re obviously not American!” He meant nothing by the comment I’m sure though there was no way of him knowing I wasn’t a U.S. citizen. I was hot with anger and frustrated with his response. I am surprised now that I held my tongue!! I don’t remember the rest of our conversation and can imagine he must have moved onto another while I stared silently back at him. You might ask why I was angry. I mean let’s be real…I wasn’t an American citizen back then if that’s what he meant. But I was irritated that the young man assumed that because I am a person of color that I am not American.
I am a 1.5 generation Korean raised in America for almost my entire existence. I am a messy and complicated mixture of the two cultures, marbled with some South Tacoma pride! So I was angry at the deep rooted thinking that being “American” is to be white. That I am seen as an “other” that will perpetually be seen as foreign.
Today I became an “American.” What I mean by that is that I became an official citizen of the U.S. I was in an auditorium full of 78 other people from 34 countries. It was a crazy feeling to think we all have a story to tell! The woman at the front named all 34 countries in alphabetical order and had anyone who was a previous citizen of that country stand up. It was truly overwhelming!
This process settled something in my heart. That I would aim to get rid of all bitterness at being treated as a second class citizen and choose to believe in Jesus’ truth, plan and sovereignty over my life. I will aim to not be consumed with hate but to move towards others in love for the sake of the gospel, opening my mouth to speak of hope and justice.
The lady at the front then had us repeat after her a pledge we had to say by law to receive our citizenship. Though by law I had to pledge my allegiance to the American flag, in my heart my allegiance lies with Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven completely. I will reject the things of American culture and society that are against the word of God and the same for Korean culture. It is only in the last 60 ish years that Asians have been able to be naturalized as citizens of the United States so I do not take this lightly. But I know my true and lasting citizenship is in Heaven and therefore I will not live for the American Dream. Nor will I set the U.S. as the standard and put it on a pedestal above other countries. God loves and grieves for all of the world including the U.S. I will ally myself with God and will aim to love what he loves. God placed me here no matter what anyone else says so I’m fully taking ownership of this country as my own, praying for and working towards its well being!
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7
I am convinced that in order to do this it is imperative that we (esp the church) see ourselves as part of a collective and not as individuals alone. We must feel the sting and the responsibility of our wrongs as a people and a nation. We must feel the duty and desire to make things right in order to give dignity to another and be reconciled. We must not set one people group as the standard and judge others based on that standard. Only then will people will know that we are disciples of Jesus by our love for one another. If love means to bear, believe, hope and endure all things, we can no longer afford to live as a bunch of individuals together on the same land. We need each other to love.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
By 2050 it is projected that there will no longer be an ethnic majority in the United States. The face of America is changing! Maybe I’ll see more people who look like me in public office, in the media, and in church leadership. Faces that are represented with dignity, honor and respect. Maybe assumptions will not rob me or others of relationships, but understanding will propel us into community with one another.