2008.08.15 00:06

Heritage, Tradition and Convention

I was chatting with a friend about cultural "heritage" from a FOB point of view and wanted to talk more about it.

I said I think cultural "heritage" is over emphasized in the US. Or misunderstood. As a person raised in urbanized Korea in the 80-90s, it seems like what people think as "Korean" is not quite what I experienced anymore. I don't eat Korean food for breakfast, and I am not the only one in my age who prefers western food in early morning. There are countless more examples, things "we don't do anymore".

It seems like generation gap issue like this is pretty common, even when you're raised in the home country, yet it is considered assimilation or lost of heritage for immigrants. And is it necessarily a bad thing?

This actually reminds me of my experience as a college freshman in Seoul. My hometown Daegu used to be famous for apples. Everyone, seriosly everyone I met in Seoul who was not from the area had to mention Dague apple. No, no one in my family owns an apple orchard. In fact, apples aren't produced in the city of Dague that much anymore. Are we losing our color? Maybe.

I often hear phrases like "the way people lived for thousands of years before ...". Is there really such a thing? After all, spicy red Kimchi is a south American fusion food, only appeared after red chili pepper was introduced to East Asia by the Portuguese. There were influences like this throughout the human history.

It is probably easy for a person like me to say I reject this and that of my culture for a certain reason, than someone who may feel guilty about self-denying. But is it really self-denying?

Personally, I can read for pleasure in two languages. It wasn't easy to get here, even after being exposed to two languages as a child. I am not saying this to brag off but want to testify that, although there is a joy in being (nearly) bilingual, I am not sure it is worth the effort to everyone and I don't think anyone should be forced to it. I think people make comments about being or not being able to "speak the language" too easy. I can tell you that it is very hard to "speak a language" other than the one you received your official education in.

And the Korean language I speak and write is quite different from what I grandparents spoke. We were taught to "protect" our language in school in Korea, but is it even possible?

One uncomfortable thing for me is the often romantisized way in which heritage is talked about. Some people say they are jealous of more recent immigrants who have a certain heritage. I guess what they are referring to is food or traditional clothing, or something soft, fluffy, "world show case" kind of stuff. Not something putting (often unfair) restrictions on their lives.
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Picture is Pye-baek, part of Korean wedding, still practiced these days. Technically, it is not a part of the wedding, which used to be at the bride's place, but when the bride is officially introduced to the groom's family when she moves some time after the wedding.

This is when the bride becomes part the groom's family. She offers dates and chestnuts to the parents-in-law and they throw them back to the bride, which she has to catch with the cloth as in the picture. Meaning of it is to bear a son (or sons) and serve the ancestors (we don't have to clarify whose ancestors we're talking about here). She also has to bow to groom's entire family.

These days, it happens right after the "western" part of the wedding and bride's parents get to receive the bow. But only parents. Not everyone like for the man's family. It is still an important part of the wedding, privately held only for the family (and a few close friends of the bride) in a separate room, and still an intimidating part for the bride (as I hear from a very recent wedding I attended).

I know a Korean-American woman who did this at her wedding at the reception. I wonder if she knew that she was basically being told to bear a son and serve the ancestors for her husband's family. In one hand, I am almost jealous, that it is an "option" for her, that she doesn't have to worry too much about what it means (well, maybe that's not what her Korean parents-in-law were thinking). One the other hand, I want to say something, that it's not just "dressing up in a pretty costume", it has a meaning, that some people don't necessarily accept, or moreover, some people fought hard to overcome.

Interesting follow-up story on the Daegu apple is that Daegu apple is actually Missouri apple. Daegu only became famous for apples when an American missionary decided to plant some apples from his hometown in late 1800s.

Culture is fluid. What seems pretty old can be a fairly recent thing in reality. But it can also have more meaning than it looks from outside.
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