Reflection on My Cultural Identity

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While here at the University of Ghana, I have been taking Intro to Traditional African Drumming. Moving our bodies to the rhythm and beating with our hands until they become red and our arms sore, we not only learned how to drum, but also gained insight into Ghanaian culture. Our enthusiastic teachers and fellow Ghanaian students taught us the traditional songs and dances of Kpanlogo, Batcha, and Abagdza (the first two from the Ga people of the Central Accra Region and the Ewe people of the Volta Region, respectively). Watching our lively class ensemble beat our drums reminded me of the deep culture rooted in the traditional arts. It reminded me of doing traditional Korean drumming as a young child…

Wearing long red, yellow, and blue sashes around my body, I marched through Koreatown as a thin middle-schooler in a flowing traditional drumming outfit. I beat the buk secured to my body while walking through Los Angeles’ annual Korean Parade with my classmates from my Korean school drumming class. Throughout my childhood, my parents ensured that I learned about our culture. They immigrated from Korea in the 1980s, and worked hard to adapt to the US. Nevertheless, they always pushed me to speak Korean, eat Korean food, and celebrate Korean holidays.

Although I embrace my Korean culture now, when I was a teenager, I constantly tried to be “more American”. I avoided having too many Korean friends and abstained from watching Korean dramas or listening to KPop. I even rejected Korean cuisine at home. I took pride rather in being more “whitewashed” than my peers. Over time, I realized I was distancing myself from my own culture due to shame. Western society has ingrained in us the myth that Asians and other minorities are perpetual foreigners, no matter how many generations have taken pride in their American citizenship. Years of reflection on my identity recently faced a turning-point. During the few months here in Ghana, I’ve had to reaffirm my cultural identity on a regular basis. A typical conversation with a Ghanaian starts out like this: “You’re from China?” They’re perplexed to discover that I’m American. “But you don’t look American. Where are you really from?” they ask suspiciously. I consider myself first and foremost an American, but learning about my Korean heritage played an integral role in defining myself as a Korean-American. To be American doesn’t mean to be white as most of the world perceives us to be. I am a Korean-American woman, and I am just as American as Uncle Sam. Whether Americans be Black, Muslim, or Hispanic, our diversity serves as our country’s strength.

My time in Ghana has helped to deepen my interest in cultural exchange. I enjoy informing Ghanaians about the colorful face of America. I also find it important to inform Americans back home that Ghana doesn’t just consist of African villages with starving children. I believe that it is crucial for people of different cultures to learn from each other to not only gain new knowledge, but also acquire new perspectives and respect for each other. So through this blog, I hope I’ve been able to humanize Ghanaian culture and break down such stereotypes.

Atsu (one of our drumming professors) and my classmates.
Atsu (one of our drumming professors) and my classmates.