Simmone Park, like many Asians around the world, struggled with coming to terms with her dual identity as a North Korean Canadian woman.
As a speaker and standup comedian, Park had an honest and vulnerable conversation with NextShark where she opened up about her journey of overcoming racism as a child. This eventually manifested itself as internalized racism in her adult years.
Growing up in a primarily white neighborhood in Toronto as the daughter of a North Korean father and a South Korean mother, she struggled to find a sense of belonging. She never felt Korean nor Canadian enough.
Her father was two when he was able to leave North Korea. He and his family walked out of the country right before the Soviets began to occupy the North.
Although this was before the establishment of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), “they still should not have been able to go to the South, but somehow they managed to get through. It was just a matter of divine timing because they should have been killed on site,” Park explained.
Park looked up to her father. She grew up as a tomboy, thinking “an Asian sentiment is that most fathers want a son, and so, I was like ‘What would a son do, and I tried to embody that,” she said. Her father was deaf in one ear from a traumatic experience from his past, and she had convinced herself that she was also deaf in one ear. She even brought herself to the doctor to check on her ear and her doctor told her that her hearing is perfectly fine.
“It’s this mental cage I put myself in, trying so hard to just be a part of my father’s life so that I was good enough,” adding, “I think this all comes down to me never feeling that I was enough,” she said.
She has struggled with her identity in more ways that one. On her 11th birthday, three men showed up to her party in full KKK gear. In her experience, white supremacists and neo-Nazis were not hidden, undercover people — some of them went to the same high school as Park.
It was partially due to incidents like that which led to her internalized racism. She thought “these men didn’t like me because I wasn’t white.” She was grappling with conflicting notions: “I am not white. I don’t want to be white, but I’m still going to do everything in my power to prove that I am just as good as a white person. But then I don’t feel Korean enough or Asian enough.”
On one hand, Park did everything in her power to prove Asian stereotypes wrong. She took a stunt driving course to prove that Asians could drive. In college, she moved to Germany and studied a full university-level course load in German to prove that Asian people could speak German. After college, she lived and worked around the world, creating branding campaigns and pitching to heads of state and CEOS. But, all this time, she never felt like she belonged.
She thought: “how could I make these people accept me as their one of their own even though I don’t look like them, I don’t speak their language, I am not like them, but we’re all the same.”
Park jokingly told NextShark that the moment she realized her internalized racism was when she met the Hawaiian “Game of Thrones” actor Jason Momoa 12 years ago and didn’t think he was beautiful.
“If you can look at Jason Momoa and not see beauty, that’s how deeply ingrained and messed up my self imposed xenophobia, and that internalized racism was,” Park explained.
As she moved through life, Park dug deep within and asked herself: “What happened? What wall did I build up to protect myself from this trauma?” She had to chisel her way through the walls she built up over the years.
“Everything is a mirror I think. So if I cant look in the mirror at myself and see somebody that I love and that I accept, then how could I look at another Asian person and fully accept and love them as they are?” she said.
Park eventually realized that her internalized racism had to do with not fully accepting herself. She grew up constantly “fighting the current,” but learned that “if you actually just let go and flow like water and you don’t resist as much, and you just let life unfold and let it be, then you realize, ‘Oh, actually I don’t have to define myself in any of these ways, I just am.”
When it came to trying to “lessen” the trauma from her 11th birthday, she said, “I’m just trying to find compassion behind it, because happy people don’t do that stuff. It is always really hurt people that are out there trying to hurt other people.”
Although experiencing all of her trauma was painful, she thought “but now I’m me, and who knows where I would be had those things not happened. I know I’m strong, I’m real strong, but I’m also soft — feminine. These are parts of myself that I would have never let myself admit.”
She realized that she could be honest with herself. She also realized that humans are fluid, and they don’t have to be confined into a box. They could have different sides to themselves.
In hindsight, she knows that “yes, there’s a lot of hard work, but after that, it’s like this lightness… you work through that heavy stuff, and it hurts, and you keep going. You go further into that pain because it is literally like extracting a disease from your body.”
All of these discoveries have been very recent for Park — most within the last 18 months. “I was clearly too scared, or too blind to want to go into it.” But now, she knows that “there is nothing I can’t overcome and that I know what’s on the other side of navigating through this pain.”
It was after Park moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of a career in comedy that she really began to cultivate an authentic appreciation for the Asian American community. In turn, it helped her in her journey towards self-acceptance. As she witnessed first hand the community’s rise in entertainment and media, Park said, “We don’t have to be this meek minority anymore, we could just be.”
These realizations led her to her journey of becoming a comedian today. For Park, comedy is a great way to “get people to ease up but actually listen.” Now, she uses her platform to empower others by speaking up about her trauma.
Park actively speaks up about topics relating to identity and racism. She believes that in order to fight through racism, we must recognize our shared humanity. We must “beable to see ourselves in the stories of another person, even if they are not the same color.”
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