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The first time I saw me…?

When was the first time you saw yourself relfected in pop culture?

That was the gist of the question asked by Beverly Wang, host of podcast It’s Not A Race, to her guests and many listeners.

I didn’t have to think too hard.

I know the first time I saw me reflected in pop culture. It was in 1991. I was growing up in Tasmania. I was 15 years old and one of two Korean Australians in my entire year.

I saw little representation of me on TV. I did not see me reflected in the books I read. Magazines were full of beautiful blonde women and the local radio station blasted pop songs by Madonna and Bryan Adams.

It was a relatively happy but pretty monocultural up bringing.

Then one day, in the mail, came a box of videos. Recorded on these VHS tapes was a Korean drama called “What is Love?”.

My father had sourced them from the mainland — from a Korean video store in Sydney.

The show was about two Korean families. One holding tight to traditional notions of family and the roles people play within it. The other, modern and accepting of different ideas, especially the role of wives and daughters within the family.

Their son and daughter fall in love and marry, forcing these two families with such different world views together.

Shenanigans ensue.

It was the first time, I not only saw me reflected in popular culture, but my entire family.

I lived in that male dominated household when I was younger. We did whatever my grandfather thought was right. We dared not cross him.

My father and mother however had different ideas and raised me and my brother differently. The tension was in how they navigated upholding our different values while still respecting our elders.

But, as enjoyable as the show was, the characters didn’t portray me exactly. They spoke to my Korean heritage and gave me a glimpse into the rapid cultural change that was happening in my parents’ homeland at the time. But I still longed to see someone like me, a Kossie (Korean-Aussie), reflected in pop culture here in Australia.

For that I had to wait another twenty-two years.

It was 2013 when a young woman walked on to the stage of a television singing contest. Her name was Dami Im. She was a South Korean born Australian migrant. She came to this country when she was nine years old.

A sweet young woman with a powerful voice, she ended up winning the X-Factor because the Australian public voted for her.

In a strange way I felt accepted because she was accepted.

I know. It’s a little silly. I am different to her. I am a terrible singer and my wrists are about the size of her waist. But there was something nice about seeing her up there on stage smashing out pop songs under the lights and in front of an adoring crowd.

I am now in my 40s. Thanks to the internet, I see a part of me reflected in Korean pop culture often. I am also thrilled to see someone like Dami on the Australian stage in my lifetime and have quietly followed her career.

However, I cannot wait to see who comes next.

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April 2019
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