It has been said that first impressions linger or that you can’t change them. However, after being in Seoul Korea for the past several days, it is my belief that first impressions are just that, a first impression.
As I have given much thought about what to write or how I should approach this post, many topics flooded my mind. But none of those thoughts could ever give voice to the profound feelings that I was experiencing as I was attempting to square the Korean people and the culture that I was being introduced to with my first impression of the Korean people and the culture I had experienced as an African American back home in the United States.
For one thing, the Korean people that I was being introduced to here in Korea were genuinely humble God-fearing people who have a history that is very similar to mine. This impression was in complete contrast to my initial introduction to the Korean people I encountered in Inglewood and South Central L.A. during the middle ‘70’s- early ‘90’s.
Those Koreans were rude, pushy and demanding that you buy whatever you touched in their liquor stores. As a result, tensions and friction between the African American community and the Korean community or the (new comers), were extremely high. All of this peaked around 1991 with two incidents, the shooting of a 15 year old girl by a 49 year old Korean grocer over a $1.79 orange juice and the chaos that erupted as a result of the L.A. riots. While there has admittedly been some effort from both sides to reconcile, in my estimation, the reality is the two communities merely tolerate each other.
Sharing in the learning on this Korean advance has helped to reshape those earlier dark narratives and my misperceptions of Koreans in at least two ways. First, it has provided me with a more in depth richness and appreciation of Korean history. In the first week we heard repeatedly about the tremendous oppression and suffering of Koreans. This was characterized by both the Japanese and Chinese occupations. But the massive suffrage of the Korean people culminated during the Korean War or the 6.25 as it’s known in Korea.
Secondly, the advance has given me a context for the locus behind the Korean church that grew so rapidly. While many have been quick to credit this growth and expansion in the Korean church to the fervency and dedication the Koreans had and still have for prayer, I believe that while it was their prayers, it was more basic and perhaps guttural. It was the earnest plea for God’s help by a people being oppressed in their land!
This experience is one that resonates with the African American experience. We belong to a similar heritage of suffering, and as a result of the earnest pleas for God’s help from my ancestors God responded by freeing the Black slaves in America.
I also find that an interesting parallel exists between these two cultures of suffering. Suffering and oppression leaves its mark on the people. Fervent prayer is the noticeable remnant conferred upon Koreans, while fervent praise was bestowed upon the African American. In truth both fervent prayer praise are required in order to withstand the sweltering heat and humidity of suffering and oppression. As a result, I am more convinced today that first impressions are just that, a first impression. But these are my lasting impressions of Korea and the South Korean Advance. I will cherish every moment I spent here and seek to further my education and continue the dialogue with my new friends.