PC: @detroitshooting James
I stood before my brothers (형제) and sisters (자매) staring into their souls, hoping to hear what I wanted to hear. I have read a portion of their lives in the anthology, “Mixed Korean: Our Stories,” but that is such a small tidbit of who someone is.
“The act of reading is disassociated from the material book; the important thing is the encounter, which might just as easily involve an immaterial object” (32). Yes, the encounter is the important part. The encounter is so important to the personal connection. That is why we travel the country doing book readings. We lift our voices by showing the underbelly of our lives in hopes that others will not feel alone. We read our stories out loud, throwing the words into the air, knowing that someone’s ears will hear them, and, collectively, they will know that we are here.
Umberto Eco’s, In the Name of the Rose, centers around a monk, Baskerville, who arrives to investigate. Before he handles the book, he feels it necessary to put gloves on in order to leaf through the pages – to find answers, if you will. But then he realizes that if he is to merely turn the pages, he “would have to take off his gloves and moisten his fingertips and that in so doing he would poison himself” (36).
Let’s take this thought and turn it on its head. How can a person really get to know someone else if they always wear gloves? Yes, there might be some poison that just might spill into your ears and shake your heart, but isn’t that what encounters are about? People are not “screen books” (44).
It is true that we cannot fully remember all of the words of an encounter. We forget. This is why there are four gospels. Not only do we forget but we remember only what resonates. Is this then a matter of unreading? Is it possible to meet someone and unknow them? Can we erase from our memories what we have learned and heard? Maybe.
As Mixed Koreans, we live in the in-between. There have been so many myths spoken and written about us, which pushes us into the margins of loneliness. One of the women at my Discovery Session said, “we have lived in racial, solitary confinement.” Perhaps that is why people handle us with kid gloves or not at all. Isn’t it easier to read about a mixed Korean or listen to what others tell them instead of getting up close and meeting them yourself?
I want to scream, “Pick up the damn book! We’re not fragile. We just want to be seen and heard.” I pick up my tears from the floor, kneeling next to each one, staring at the distorted view I see of myself. I don’t have anything to wipe them up, but I know that God sees me, and God is scooping up each tear along with my collective Mixed Korean brothers’ and sisters’ tears. I don’t want to hide anymore. So, instead, we all drop to our knees and collect the tears – all of them. We no longer question whether we are alone because we stand not shoulder-to-shoulder, but heart-to-heart with each other.
And if you, the reader, are offended by my cursing, know that it was used intentionally. The word “damn” as a verb is used to condemn or curse. As an adjective or adverb, it is used to express or emphasize anger. This is what living in the in-between feels like. It is continually being told by someone that you aren’t Korean enough or white enough or black enough. So, flip it upside down. The antonym of “damn” is “praise” or “compliment” or “defend” or “protect.”
We represent a new “inner book” (82). There is more than one foundation for our existence. We live in the in-between not because we want to, but because we were born mixed. Just as the Tiv tribe in West Africa is a collective, so are Mixed Koreans. We represent the common idea of humanity, but we also represent two families. We are both and. Each of us is woven with a different background, but always with the thread of Korea. “The trick is to define the book’s place in that library, which gives it meaning in the same way a word takes on meaning in relation to other words” (117).
What would it look like if you played a game of Humiliation (121) but based upon mixed Koreans, not books? Think of one mixed Korean that you might know, and no, it cannot be me. Maybe they’re a celebrity, maybe they’re not. Yes, you can stop right now and google mixed Koreans. After reading a little bit about someone who pops up, such as Insooni or Dok2, what generalizations do you make? Isn’t that the same as talking about books you haven’t read? Doesn’t that mean that you have departed the game? Doesn’t that mean that you have laid the book down in order to look elsewhere? We turn to reviews and internet searches to fill in the gaps of knowledge. We want to fill our “virtual library” (124) with more knowledge so that we don’t embarrass ourselves. We put our gloves back on and make the decision to continue to look through life, but not allow the poison to penetrate our souls. Living by the rules of the virtual library means “that life in the virtual library would quickly become unlivable if not for a certain amount of ambiguity around the truth of our statements…” (126).
So, again I say, “Take off your gloves and pick up that amazing book!” If you don’t take the time to read us without the gloves, then the truth will become deformed.
 Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.