“Hey, Micah, tomorrow is your special day!” Ellis and I joked as MLK Jr. Monday approached. Micah sheepishly answered, “No, Mommy, I’m only named after him. So it’s not really MY day.”
MLK Jr. Day is a special day for our family. We named our firstborn “MLK” as we couldn’t think of anyone else we both wanted to pay homage to. (No, Kevin, we will NOT be naming any of our kids after your William Martin Joel.)
Though Ellis was actually named after Ellis Island, after Kevin had stumbled upon the cool-named baseball player “Ellis Valentine” while catching up on his Sports Illustrated, our Ellis was conceived on MLK Jr. Day 2012.
This year, on MLK Jr. Monday, we spent the afternoon starting the search for our next home, exploring houses in a local suburb after a couple friends bought homes in the area. We are not sure about Musts v. Wants, other than urgently needing more space, commutes under an hour, affordable pricing, and good (not best) schools.
We rolled into town and some of the neighbors glanced over at us, just to see who was driving down their block. My immediate response was, “Yo, I can’t do this. Was our radio on too loud? I feel like I need to bump some Tupac or Guantanamera. Where my do-rag at?” Kevin reminded me, “You’re not REALLY Black.”
I knew that these neighborly glances from their garage or while walking their dogs were most likely innocuous but this is the part of the home-search that I am not yet at peace with: Can I do without people of color? Is lack of diversity a deal-breaker? If so, our options are even more limited for our budget. I also still yearn for that California vibe where folks would just say “hello” to strangers but I’ve accepted that that’s just asking for too much.
Say that we find a home that meets most of our criteria BUT it’s located in a town that is 95% white. Okay, now my heart is beating more rapidly as I type. I don’t want my kids to be THE Asians in their class or school. I don’t want to hear compliments about the Kim boys who are “just lovely, such good boys.” I don’t want to become Borat while hanging out with White moms, explaining, “In my count-trrrryy, we have postpartum ritual we like to call…”
I don’t want to feel as Other as MLK Jr. and Coretta, fighting the good fight, while raising up our family in a homogeneous community, whether it be all White or all Chinese. (And I know that with our Model Minority Mugs, we are hardly fighting the same prejudices as MLK Jr. and Coretta with the Good Name). Friends have brought up good points: that we can start the trend, and more Asians and other people of color will migrate soon enough, especially if there are good schools around. “If you build it, they will come.”
I’ve had the good fortune of attending only diverse schools, from the moment we immigrated to Los Angeles when I was couple months shy of turning five. I started kindergarden and stayed silent for a year because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself, sputtering out pitiful, laughable Ingrish. It was the first time I had seen people with light hair and blue eyes and it was a lot to process. My first teacher was an older woman whose light hair was turning blue so there were so many new colors I needed to digest, after only seeing Black hair and nearly Black eyes back in Seoul.
Even during my silent year, I did speak to Korean classmates, working out a system where I’d do their math and they’d help me out with Ingrish. I even developed my first crush on a Filippino boy named Carlos without really speaking to him directly. (And Kevin IS sporting Bruno Mars’ hair lately).
Later, when my little brother and I were bussed from Koreatown to the boojie Laurel Canyon area to attend a gifted magnet school, I did develop an inferiority complex as so many of our classmates were wealthy. Even then, we still had so many classmates who were also children of immigrants, also getting bussed in. This continued through college and graduate schools: so much color all around.
Now, Kevin, on the other hand, totally had a different experience. He was THE people of color in his graduating high school class. When I attended his high school reunion in CT as his then-girlfriend or then-fiancé, I started twitching as we were THE people of color (plus one classmate’s husband who was also Asian and mistaken for Kevin). While the classmates were getting they drinks on, one girl “complimented” Kevin: “Don’t you worry, KK, you were as White as the rest of us.”
I don’t know where we will end up yet but I don’t know how to reconcile my urge to start rioting when I visit an all White community, even for a single afternoon visit to a children’s museum in CT or at a Billy Joel concert. And now we in a Trump era…