Saying Good-Bye to the Pause After the Hyphen

By Kathy KyoungAh Khang 01-26-2010

My husband asked me that question last night: "Do you think you'll feel different after you become a citizen?"

I can't remember when I didn't consider myself a hyphenated American. Asian-American, Korean-American. Always something-American. Sure, there are those who will argue that it should be just "American," but I don't believe that "American" should be a melting pot or salad bowl. There are just too many cultural gifts we are able to bring freely when we come to America. However, knowing that legally I wasn't an American, I would often hesitate when describing myself. The pause after the hyphen.

Because in a land where "American" can be defined along lines of culture, race, ethnicity, and legal status, a green card didn't always feel legal enough. My entire life minus eight months wasn't American enough. Flawless English and paying taxes wasn't American enough. It was obvious enough that I was Korean or Asian, but the American part is often questioned even though no one can actually see my legal status. For some, my legal status still won't be enough, but to be honest, I think I will feel more "secure" knowing that my vote will count, if for nothing else than to cancel out someone else's. Ah, democracy.

But I am looking forward to the ceremony and the finality of the process -- far more than I anticipated. It has been fun, and quite unexpected, to be congratulated by friends and readers who have followed my journey through my blogging or private conversations. I have been encouraged by hyphenated and non-hyphenated Americans who embrace and exercise the privileges of citizenship while acknowledging that there is so much more that can be done to welcome the "other." I am humbled by the welcome -- genuine and heartfelt.

I'm also thinking a lot about my parents, who did not come to America with dreams and hopes for a life of excess and materialism. They hoped for better, and isn't that what most parents want at some level for their children? Many helped them along the way -- the building super who fixed up an old lamp no one but my parents would want (I still have the lamp); "Grandma" Marianne and her sister Jane who helped my parents practice their English; family (and friends who were like family) who were a few steps ahead of the process and helped make this foreign land more familiar.

So now that I've rambled and released the extrovert

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