Download Full Text (3.5 MB)
Entry for the 9th Annual Baker & Whitehill Student Artists' Book Contest. Opening Reception Thursday, March 02, 2023, Fleet Library, Main Reading Room. Juror: Andre Lee Bassuet.
artists' books; Baker & Whitehill
Book and Paper
Year of Graduation
Faculty / Course
Sunhay You: Intro to Asian American Lit
Materials + Techniques
accordion book made with thick hard cover, vellum and hanjie.
This Illustrative book was for my Asian American Lit class, on the narrative based prompt. In this book, one side highlights my great grandmother's experience of going through WWII when Japan invaded Korea and the other side highlights my own personal experience of dealing with discrimination and inequalities for being a minority in America. In the middle, the character that represent my great grandmother and other character that represent myself, hold on to the banner called "just trying to survive." Through this, I wanted to emphasize the point that at the end, my great grandmother and I survived all the sufferings we had to face due to our lack of strength as Korean identity. My great grandmother is now about 100 years old. She was born in 1924, and has been through all those years of WWII including Japan’s occupation of Korea. I remember back when I was still in Korea, attending elementary school, and she would often tell me the story of Korean life in her early years. Even though I didn’t really know a lot about history in general, those stories really frightened me. Back then, my great grandmother was too young to understand what was happening in the world. One day, she woke up to realize her Korean school principal had been replaced by a Japanese principal. Then, the whole school began to force the Korean students to learn Japanese. They also forced them to get rid of their legal Korean name, the one they were born with. My great grandmother had a beautiful name. Her real name is Yeon Hee Pyo (표연희), but the Japanese changed her name to にしむら まさい which can be pronounced as Nishimura Masi. Hearing that story just made me tear up. It felt like they were taking her real identity away. Then she told me how those Japanese teachers and Principals would threaten the students if they spoke any Korean language at school. They would even often call them バカ which means “Stupid” in English. Those young Koreans were psychologically lost at that point; even worse, they had to follow the new rules, cutting their hair, changing the style of their clothes, and learning lessons in an unfamiliar language. Instead of being told how to act, they were repeatedly told what not to do. They were punished even if they did not know what they had done wrong. Then slowly girls around her started to disappear. At first, she didn’t know what caused that to occur. But now, as she looks back at it, she understands and she thanks God that she was able to remain safe in her family’s arms. Hearing her story about her past really hurt me and I was able to feel the pain while she was speaking to me. Even though I didn’t have a drastic tragedy in my life, I still suffer from the way I was treated when I lived outside of Korea. To explain, I have to go back to when my family lived in China. That time I was only five, but I truly had so much trauma that until this day, I am frightened to go back to China. Back then I didn’t have much of a memory about Korea. Yet, I remember that I was always homesick, wanting to go back to Korea where my grandparents lived and where my friends and cousins and I had fun playing together. While I was in China, I suffered due to language barriers and culture differences. I remember the moment I walked into a Chinese preschool. I remember the eyes that stared at me because I couldn’t understand a single word that had been spoken to me. The food, the lessons, the activities, all the things that my classmates did in that preschool just did not make sense to me. After a few months, I just couldn’t deal with it any longer and decided to move to a Korean international school. Being in Korean school made a big difference for me. I was able to talk to people who spoke the same language, eat the food that I was used to eating and play games that I used to play. After a few years, my family decided to move back to Korea and those few years in Korea were the best years of my entire life. Just being able to connect with your teachers, your classmates, store owners, friends and family made a huge difference in my life. However, pleasant moments don't seem to last forever. During my middle school years, I came to America due to my father’s job. I had no choice but to follow my parents to America. Not even once did my parents ask my opinion about moving. Once again, getting used to the new environment, new people, new culture and new language was really disorienting for me. It was hard for me to understand what was going on around me. I was always nervous, on edge, afraid that I would be punished for something, even if I didn’t understand why. I was even made to change my name from Haeun (하은) to Angela due to my teacher’s inability to pronounce my Korean name. During my entire middle and high school years, I always repented that I followed my parents to America. I would always blame my parents for the situation I had to deal with here. I really had no one to lean onto and talk about my feelings, thoughts and situation. Slowly, as I became older, I started to find my own ways to protect myself from all the little digs, subtle acts of discrimination, and racism I get just because I look, act, eat, and talk differently from others. I started to pace myself on learning. I started to work harder by staying up a few nights reading books and taking various after school classes. After a few years, the hard work I have done really paid off. Yet it wasn't enough for me to protect myself as a minority living in America. Looking back at my personal story and my great grandmother’s experiences, I came to realize how even though we weren’t enjoying life, we had to go through those difficulties in order to survive. My great grandmother had to suffer through those times of losing her real name, learning Japanese and getting used to the Japanese lifestyle; I too, was trying my best to fit in as I lived in different countries. The idea of Survival for minorities is everything. Because in order to continue living, to keep breathing is to find ways to continue with the difficulties. Therefore if we can not run away from those difficulties, the only way is to subordinate ourselves. Subordination in this sense is the idea of trying to lean on something that suppresses an individual. Even though it might seems Contradictory, in order to bear those oppressions that have been pressured toward minorities is to work with pleasure and sense that makes individuals forget the violence. For my great grandmother and I, language was something that had similar meaning to it. Even though language prevents us from being equality treated, language was only the way for us to communicate with those who were not like us. We had to learn those other languages in order to speak for ourselves. Therefore it can bring pleasure to our living yet makes us remember the continuation between the Japanese empire and U.S. empire. It might be hard to understand what it means for all the minorities to endure and hold back on the feelings. None of the words can truly describe what it means to live as a minority with lack of power. It truly brings confusion toward our identity, making us think in more complex ways. Yet all of those experiences that have been gone through by individual minorities was the desire to live. The desire to survive.
Um, Haeun; Collections, Special; and Library, Fleet, "Survive" (2022). 9th Baker & Whitehill Student Artists' Book Contest 2023. 21.