March 17th was a difficult day to get through mentally and emotionally. I was scrolling through social media when I came across the death of eight people, six of them being women and four of them being Korean. This incident hit close to home, having family members that recently moved to Georgia. Not only that, but my mom has been working in a spa for the majority of my life. I stared at my screen, angered and in utter shock at how these hate crimes increasingly grew.
What could I do when I am in Italy? I reposted a story share on my Instagram, and one of my Italian friends commented, “WHAT? I’ve just discovered this thanks to you…” I explained to her what is happening, which made me realize how I must not stay quiet.
I always have felt that I grew up with privilege, growing up in a “bubble” surrounded by not much diversity. My high school is in Philadelphia’s suburbs with a student body consisting of around 86% Caucasian, 7.3% Asian, and fewer percentages in other races. I often suppressed my Korean identity and embraced my American identity. I didn’t want to speak to my mother in Korean or translate anything for her. I didn’t want my lunch box to smell because I had egg rolls, rice, and seaweed. I didn’t want to keep giving out my homework answers, but I wanted to fit in.
Before coming to Italy, I was nervous about how my identity would be perceived here. The Korean-Italian community was particularly fascinating to me because the Korean culture is less prevalent in Italy than it is in America. I wanted to learn how my identity as a minority exists in this environment, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. It was vital for me to overcome American tourists’ stereotypes and have difficult but necessary conversations about the increased fear of Asians since the outbreak. I know that I am Korean, but most people cannot tell what race I am and make assumptions. Most people in Italy will look different from me, and it is daunting to imagine how my appearance might be perceived negatively.
Thankfully, I have not felt that my identity has influenced the way others in Italy treat me. Most people I interact with here ask, “Di dove sei? (Where are you from?) I reply, “Sono Americana di Philadelphia.” Sometimes, they’ll ask where my parents are from, but nobody ever asked rudely. Instead, it was out of curiosity.
I have noticed a significant increase in the number of police and military officers in Rome. I have personally never been approached by one, but I often wonder (now that we are in the red-zone) if the police would stop me from checking my documents since it is apparent that I am not Italian. Yet, I feel safer here than back at home.
I’ll be reflecting and learning what I can do to support my community. Before we went into the red zone, I was thrilled when I came across a Korean mart on Via Cavour. Before arriving in Italy, I packed three ramens and quickly ran out during my first quarantine period. This mart had a variety of Korean snacks, ramens, foods, and more! I purchased various ramen, frozen kimchi dumplings, and canned sikhye (Korean sweet rice beverage). I will be visiting again when the red zone is over!