Joe Choe is a 20-year-old junior at Harvard University who enjoys calling out politicians and world leaders at political events, especially if they have a history of spewing inaccurate or outlandish statements.
Donald Trump is one such politician, but when Choe attempted to correct Trump on an inaccurate statement he made about how much money South Korea contributes to the defense of the Korean Peninsula, Trump’s response exposed an uncomfortable social issue that still plagues Asian Americans just like Choe.
During a Q&A at a Trump campaign event, Choe had stepped up to ask his question as staffers struggled to run the microphone over to him.
As Trump tried to hurry the process along, he saw that Choe was wearing a Harvard sweatshirt and asked, “Harvard? You go to Harvard?” before the microphone had reached Choe. When Trump didn’t immediately get a reply, he joked, “He’s choking!”
When the microphone finally reached Choe, he began to ask Trump about his earlier remarks about South Korea. Trump interrupted him once more by asking the one question American-born Asians hate being asked simply because of their race:
“Are you from South Korea?”
“I’m not. I was born in Texas, raised in Colorado,” Choe responded.
The audience laughed and Trump awkwardly shrugged off the statement. Choe was able to get out a short statement on how many hundreds of millions of dollars South Korea actually spends, correcting Trump’s earlier remarks, before Trump dodged the statement by ranting about how little that amount actually was compared to the many other countries the United States protects around the world. Choe recalls to NextShark:
“When he abruptly (and rudely) asked me whether I was from South Korea, I was a bit taken aback. First of all, what if I actually were from South Korea? Would that have made my opinions less legitimate? Not only was he rude by cutting me off and not letting me finish, but it’s obvious he asked that only because I look Asian.”
Choe, who speaks both Korean and Spanish, is the son of two Korean immigrants who came to the U.S. to attend university. His father earned a PhD in aerospace engineering while his mother earned PhD in pharmacy from the University of Texas, Austin, where they met.
Choe’s experience with Trump is just one of many that Asian Americans face due to ignorance-backed racial assumptions. Choe explains that he counters such attitudes with understanding:
“Whenever I encounter micro-aggressions, or even just outright racism, I try to maintain my composure and have honest conversations with the perpetrators. I’ve learned that often, these hurtful words and thoughts come from ignorance, not hatred, so a productive conversation usually helps.”
Choe’s experience with Trump, however, won’t dampen his aspirations. He tells NextShark:
“My dream job would be working for the United Nations (World Bank or World Food Programme, specifically) and eventually maybe becoming the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. or even the Secretary General. I always try to dream big. After all, I only have one life on this Earth, so why not?”
Choe has also had the pleasure of meeting the head of the international organization he hopes to one day work for:
“One political figure I admire is UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and one of my favorite moments at Harvard is eating dinner with him last year.”
As for calling out politicians in the future, Choe has no intention of staying quiet on the issues he believes the world needs to urgently address:
“There are a host of issues that I would love to confront politicians about. Climate change is one thing. It’s mind boggling that there are some people who continually deny the scientific evidence that human beings are adversely affecting nature. But I will definitely continue calling out politicians if they do something wrong in the future! You have my word.”