“Who am I?”: My Finding Amy Project (by Eun-Ji Amy Kim)

Our guest blogger this week is Eun-Ji Amy Kim, a PhD candidate in DISE at McGill University. Her current research interests include Indigenous science education and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics education). In her free time, she likes to bake cookies and hang out with friends at parks. She is interested in how languages and cultures of a place influence her identities. She is in the process of conducting her personal life-long project, Finding Amy.

Linkedin: ca.linkedin.com/in/ekim039

Academia Edu: https://mcgill.academia.edu/EunJiAmyKim


The classic existential question — “Who am I?” — can be posed only by people for whom “where” they are is not an issue, the place itself apparently being fully known and well defined… “Where is here?” implies a preoccupation with where we are in relation to other places. It also implies asking: “How do I find my way around here? Can I survive here? How can I survive here? Who were the people here before me?” (Chambers, 1999, p.137)

I am not a sociolinguist (though I wish I were), but I have this work-in-progress identity project, “Finding Amy” that might not end till I die.

I’ve been exploring the notion of me being a “minority” in Canada. I’ve been living in Canada for half of my life now. But, every time I move to a new city or meet new people in Canada, I have to go through an identity shift all over again. And so, I have begun the Finding Amy project. Who am I?

I was born in Seoul, Korea (the metropolitan capital) and raised there until I was 16 years old. Still, I always knew I was from Kimhae because, with my name, I was given an identity based on a place. My last name is KIM (김) of KIMHAE (김해). Kimhae is a town in Korea near the Pacific Ocean. In Korea, last names are all based on the place where our ancestors lived. I am Eun-Ji Kim, of Kimhae, the 73rd generation of the Sam-hyun tribe (삼현파). I was a proud Korean, a proud Seoulite, and a proud Kimhae-lian.

My family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada when I was 16 years old. I fell in love with Winnipeg instantly. I loved the clear blue sky, the friendly people. I started calling it my second hometown.

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Photo credit: Jin Lee lepetitprincejin@gmail.com

After 7 years in Winnipeg, I no longer referred to myself as Korean, but rather, Asian. Most of my friends in Winnipeg were 1.5 or 2nd generation Asian-Canadians.

We didn’t necessarily put labels on each other based on our ethnicity because EVERYONE had cultural identities other than “Canadian” and we all respected that we all came from somewhere. Even the White people celebrated their mixed heritage — German, Polish, Mennonite, Jewish, etc.

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We were all considered Manitobans. I felt accepted. No one really asked me the notorious question, “where are you from?” or perhaps they did, but only because the question was asked to everyone, because everyone was from somewhere else. Cultural difference was embraced.

When I moved to Ottawa for my B.Ed degree, I experienced another identity shift. First, I heard people speaking French for the first time! I learned French at school in Winnipeg, but I had never heard it spoken outside that context. In Ontario, I became an Anglophone for the obvious reason that I didn’t speak French, so couldn’t be Francophone, the available other identity category. Many students weren’t from Ottawa and the question, “Where are you from?” was asked to everyone, just like it was in Winnipeg.

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However, I started to notice something similar to what Sumanthra shared in her blog entry.

Q: “Where are you from?”

Me: “I am from Winnipeg”

Q: (Strange look in their eyes). “Winnipeg?”

Me: Yes.

Q: “I mean, where are you really from?”

Me: “Oh! I was born in Korea”.

They wouldn’t stop until they were satisfied with my answer. So, I started to identify, not as Asian, but as Korean-Canadian. This was due to my appearance though, and not to the culture I felt I belonged to. As Sumanthra said in earlier her blog, I was also “wearing my ethnicity”. My Korean-ness was my appearance, but in my language (English) or my culture (e.g., celebrating Canada Day, talking about Canadian politics and education systems), I was Canadian. In that hyphenated identity, I was both othered and included. And, I considered myself an Ontarian.

Things have changed, once again, since I moved to Montreal 4 years ago. I noticed that the “where are you from?” question has most often been replaced with comments like:

  • “I love your skirts! Are they from your country?” (Actually, the skirts was from Le Chateau—a Canadian brand)
  • “You look so Asian with the hairstyle! I love your exotic looks! I love your black silky hair” and “Oh my! You are tall for Asian” (Not all Asians look the same. And, yes, I am tall for Asian. Actually I am tall in general. I am 5’8”).
  • “How do you say this in your language?” (What do you think my language is?)
  • “What languages do you speak?” (I speak Korean fluently. I speak English fluently. I can understand French better than I speak it, I can somewhat understand Japanese, and I can communicate with my partner’s cat!)

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But, here in Quebec, I am no longer an Anglophone, and I am definitely not a Francophone (I am intermediate niveau 4 – and I am still learning). In Quebec, I am an Allophone. I am both intrigued and (kind-of) disgusted by this term. Allo-phone. Other-language-speaker. I live the life of the Other everyday in Montreal though I think of myself as an Anglophone.

In Manitoba, I was allowed to self-identify (and to be perceived) as Manitoban. In Ontario, I was Ontarian. In Quebec, I don’t think I will ever consider myself as Québécois nor will I be seen as Québécois, despite my experiences here.

I recently met an American who moved to Montreal two years ago. He speaks French quiet well and he advised me to “learn the culture and language HERE”. What made this American guy feel like he could tell ME how to integrate in Montreal even though I have spent longer time in the city than he has? Why was my experience in Montreal and my Canadian-ness invisible to him?

In Montreal, I am back to identifying myself as Korean, rather than Korean-Canadian, as I did in Ontario. When asked where I’m from, I’ve learned to answer, “I was born in Korea and raised in Winnipeg.” This avoids any follow up questions. Most of the time here in Montreal, I am Korean. Not Canadian, and not Québécois. While the White American got to position himself as the guru of Montreal culture, not surprisingly, here, I am the guru of Korean culture amongst my friends (ironically, people in Korea think that I am White-washed).

Once I become fluent in French, will feel like I belong here? Sadly I think I know the answer. I will always be an Exotic- Korean- Allophone. Still, I love the city and have decided to live here (for now). And so, I have to find ways to construct an identity that fits here in this place.

So, I go back to Chambers’ (1999) questions: “How do I find my way around here? Can I survive here? How can I survive here? Who were the people here before me?”

As part of my Finding Amy Project, I wonder,

  • Do Asian-heritage Canadian Francophones or immigrants (1st or 1.5 generation whose French is better than their English) share a similar experience of being perceived as Allophones?
  • Do Anglophones who are born and raised in Montreal identify as Québécois?

Here in the beautiful, yet complex city of Montreal, I will continue to ask questions in the ongoing search to Find Amy. For now, though, I will go work on my PhD ethics application and learn some more French.


Reference:

Chambers, C. (1999). A Topography for Canadian Curriculum Theory. Canadian Journal of Education, 24(2), 137-150.

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2 thoughts on ““Who am I?”: My Finding Amy Project (by Eun-Ji Amy Kim)

  1. anyounghaseyo amyshii? janun Jennifer. I spent 5 years in Korea and loved every minute of it! After returning to Canada I began to wonder, “who is Jennifer?” Perhaps, we have lots in common Amy. I’m studying at the University of Regina and my research explores identity and power with the English language among South Korean students. Anyways, it’s nice to have a forum like this for us (grad students) to express ourselves. All the best in your studies! Keep searching…you’ll find yourself…then lose yourself 🙂

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