Grace Doh is a high schooler living in New Jersey. In this interview, she shares with us more on how she keeps in touch with her Korean-American heritage through religion, activism, and writing.
Serena: So first, why don't we start off with you telling me a little more about your background and like, your cultural identity, I guess?
Grace: Okay. I'm Korean, second generation. My parents came to America when they were in their twenties for school, I'm a student at Bridgewater, a junior.
Serena: Okay, so is there anything you do at home to keep in touch with your cultural heritage or like, with your family? Kind of to keep in touch with your background.
Grace: Yeah, um... on Saturdays, before COVID, I used to be a teaching assistant at a Korean school in East Brunswick, and I go to a church, that's like a Korean church. So that's kind of how I like, kind of keep in touch with the language, and the people. That's how my family stayed in touch with the Korean community. And, just with my dad's job, since he's a pastor, he like, knows a lot of Korean pastors. In the United Methodist Church, I believe, so there's a lot of Korean people these days.
Serena: Yeah, actually... I know like at least two other Korean people whose dads are pastors. That's really funny (laughs). But, yeah, that's really cool. I used to go to the Chinese school at Bridgewater, actually. So I know Bridgewater is a very—there's a lot of Asian people there, right? Like, I've heard people call the area "Chindia".
Grace (Laughs) Yeah.
Serena: So how has your experience been in Bridgewater—even though it has more Asian people, has it still maybe been less accepting?
Grace: Well, I've moved around—well I haven't moved around that much, I've always been in New Jersey. I think I moved twice. I grew up in North Brunswick, and there were barely any Asian people there, mostly like an Indian community. Then I moved East Brunswick, and I stayed there for two years, and I've been in Bridgewater for about two years now. Definitely in Bridgewater, there are quite a few Asian people—not as much as EB, I'd say—I think I haven't really noticed too much like, blatant discrimination around here, maybe it's just the fact that—in school—you know, we're a little bit older and a little more mature, maybe, or just more conscious of being politically aware, you know—people know if they say something, they'll be kind of blamed for it, um... but, I think Bridgewater has a really nice community of Asian-Americans, and I think they—with any town, they like to stick together, and you can definitely see the distinction between different cultural groups, I guess.
Serena: Yeah... it's the same thing at—I used to go to Ridge, and now I go to Rutgers Prep. But definitely throughout my time in Basking Ridge, I've definitely seen like, a big distinction between groups of Asians, like groups of Chinese people and groups of Indians. And it's all kind of like, separate from the white people, which is like, the whole other half of the grade. Which is kind of a weird experience. Is it like that in Bridgewater too?
Grace: Yeah, definitely. I think just with any school, like, I think different ethnicities and cultural groups tend to stick together and kind of... self-segregate? I don't know if segregate is the right word, but kind of separate and stick together. Not that there's not any mixture, at all, but um, especially with the honors classes, I've noticed that there's a lot more Asian people. So I feel like that's how they kind of form a community.
Serena: Yeah, I see that a lot too, I guess it's kind of universal. You mentioned before that you are Korean, so throughout the pandemic, especially with the rising violence against Asian-Americans, how has this kind of, maybe changed your perception of your cultural identity, or how has that violence made you feel?
Grace: Mm, I think it's really—I've always considered myself a Korean person rather than like, an Asian person because "Asian" is so broad. But with the increasing violence against Asians during COVID, just the fact that East Asians in general are attacked just by their look—it's really made me identify more as an Asian person, and I realized that no matter what, people outside of—you know—our race see us as the same category, so I just realized that I'm an Asian person, not just a Korean person, and I fall within that group. There should be, I think, more solidarity between the different, um, ethnicities within Asia.
Serena: Yeah, for sure. I've seen a lot of discourse about how—of people turning against each other like, "oh, like—Japan never apologized to Korea for war crimes or China for war crimes" or like, "China colonized us", I think that's mostly from East Asian activists. But I think definitely the pandemic has really helped Asian people in general come together, for sure.
Grace: I think in Asia, you know, like, away from the western world, there's such a distinction between the different countries and the different groups of people, but in America, essentially, people see us as, you know, the same kind of group of people.
Serena: So like, why did you decide to join Redefy? Or why did you decide to start for like, social justice, I guess.
Grace: I like that Redefy—I mean the blog section, it was just a very broad theme. So I could write about anything relating to, you know, defying stereotypes and justice, and it just opened up wide opportunity to—or like, a wide selection about things I could write about and learn about. And I really liked that I could—I feel like all the writers and editors, they tend to write about things that they know in addition to things that are relevant to America and the world. I write about issues that I know and I am more familiar with so that I don't misinform, so I really like reading through other peoples' articles and learning their different perspectives and the different issues that are significant in their communities that they belong to, so that's been really interesting.
Serena: Yeah, I mean I do the same thing, I'm a writer too. I like, wrote about—I wrote like five articles about Asian-Americans (laughs).
Grace: (Laughs) Me too.
Serena: Yeah, exactly. Do you think writing those articles has helped you like, I guess understand your own identity, or you know—the Asian community any better, or have your thoughts about Asian-American identity changed because of your writing?
Grace: Yeah, definitely. I think i've become so much more passionate about being an Asian person and searching for justice for Asian people, and I think especially the research, and just like, reading so I can have an informed article, that's taught me a lot. And it's been really interesting reading through different peoples' experiences, and their speeches and videos and stuff like that. And also other peoples'—other Asian Americans'—like writers, on our team, and whoever else writes articles.