Today I am hosting a guest post from my friend and classmate, Yeram Choi. -Ian Ramsey-North
A vast majority of us have been called by an incorrect name, other than the one assigned to us at birth, for a myriad of reasons. As a Korean American, however, it is a common occurrence for me as I bear “The Cost of Being an ‘Interchangeable Asian.” The weight of this burden ranges from a quick laugh at Starbucks when I see the wrong name on my order, to a deep sense of shame when others call me by an incorrect name in the classroom or at the workplace. In every instance, I am called by the name of another Asian individual in the room.
Growing up, I heard every phonetic variation of “Yeram” you could possibly imagine, but I did not really mind. I unabashedly corrected others when they mispronounced it because I was proud of my unique name. Every day promised a new adventure as I heard yet another version of my name. But, I eventually hit a wall in high school. Fueled by teenage angst on top of years of exacerbation, I assigned myself an “English name” and vowed to live the rest of my life as “Leah.”
Admittedly, this abrupt decision spawned a disjointed approach to my identity. On the one hand, “Yeram” desired to stay loyal to her Korean heritage. This would be the natural thing to do, since she was born and raised in South Korea. On the other hand, “Leah” simply wanted others to get her name right, without unnecessary, emotional exertion. In that moment when I decided to go by an “easier” name, however, my sense of urgency to assimilate as “Leah” trumped my desire to stay true to my cultural roots as “Yeram.”
I quickly abandoned “Leah” when I arrived at college. During my undergraduate years, I fell into a comfort zone where I spent most of my time with second-generation Korean Americans and Korean international students. I never felt uncomfortable when I introduced myself to members of these groups. All of them pronounced my name correctly on the first try, and remembered it as such on every try thereafter. Without the need for difficult conversations about race, I thrusted myself into a false sense of reality, where I would always feel “safe.” Every time I wanted to speak up, I heard ‘nadejima‘ in the back of my mind, which roughly translates from Korean into “Don’t speak up. It’s not your place to do so.”
Needless to say, I experienced a rude awakening when I stepped out of this warm cocoon to face the cold realities of Corporate America. Whether at my first job as a paralegal in big law, or in-house in the investment management industry, I was constantly called the names of my colleagues who were also of Asian descent. My sense of joy in each accomplishment, big or small, withered away with each instance of being confused for yet another Asian. I asked myself why this would happen. After all, I looked nothing like my Asian colleagues. It was not until I came to terms with this phenomenon as a form of microaggression that I understood its potential to detrimentally impact my career. I knew I could no longer stay silent.
Law school trains us, as aspiring attorneys, to correct others when they are misinformed about the law. It is our collective duty to call out that which is not right – from a factual or legal standpoint – so that we can achieve the best results for our clients. As I enter my last year of law school, I will challenge myself further to correct others when I come across instances of microaggression. It should come as naturally to us as it does when we correct each other in our study group sessions, or when we debate one another about the strengths of an argument in moot court. I hope that you, too, can join me in this effort so we can create a more inclusive BC Law community.
Yeram Choi is a rising third-year student at BC Law. Contact Yeram at firstname.lastname@example.org.