I was an awkward kid in elementary school as I tried to navigate through its complex social system. It was challenging enough to learn new subjects but I also questioned my identity: was I Korean? American?
Korean-American? Or I was just a goofball?
Sure, I was good at math (what Asian kid isn’t) but trying to fit in when you had black hair and tiny eyes, and your brown lunch bag contained Korean-ized versions of American food, (i.e., French bread with Ragu Pizza Sauce and chopped hot dogs), while other kids ate peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, made me an outcast.
My modus operandi was to fit in by sounding American since I didn’t look it. I was successful, as kids never questioned what I was saying since my English was nearly perfect. The sounds of R and L didn’t give me away. If you heard me on the phone, you would never imagine I was fresh off the plane. However, the name “Yon” was an issue. Kids stretched their arms and yawned when they spotted me down the hallway. They thought they were so clever: as if I had never heard THAT one before.
Once during a game of kickball, my teammate attempted to torture me. She violated my personal space and faked multiple yawns into my face. “You’re so boring, you make me want to yawwwwwn!” She yelled as she stretched her skinny arms above her head and laughed in my face. I just couldn’t keep it together and burst into tears, simultaneously missing the ball kicked in my direction. In hindsight, I should have known she was projecting her own insecurities. The tyrant’s name was “Toronga.”
Perception is reality…as the saying goes. But whose perception is whose reality? What if, despite what everyone else’s perception is, you believe you are better than what others think? During my altercation with Toronga, what if I had possessed the wisdom and confidence to realize she was insecure about her name and had to make me feel bad about mine?
Perhaps, I wouldn’t have harbored feelings of inadequacy in the proceeding years.
I don’t share this story to seek pity. It’s just a reminder that when someone tries to make you feel bad, it’s so they can feel better about themselves. It sounds so simplistic and Psych 101 but it’s the truth. Think back to all of those times when you were the victim of a bully like Toronga. Or when you decided to bully someone. What was the outcome? What did you learn?
Awkward, yet happy Yon, pre-Toronga incident.