Our differences in culture clashed, and I initially experienced a disconnect from my Korean culture.

Primary Media
Teenage girl
Credit: Courtesy of Sarah Yang
Published On: October 26, 2023


Growing up in Canada, I often clashed with my immigrant parents and our Korean culture. I would bring home Western thoughts and ideas to our family, yammering in English as my parents tried to listen haphazardly. At other times, my parents spoke to each other in Korean while I pretended to understand. It was grown-up talk, foreign talk, an inside joke that I wasn’t in on, and a language I had trouble understanding. Soon enough, silence as well as one-word replies served as our shared form of communication. Our differences in culture clashed, and I initially experienced a disconnect from my Korean culture.

Already, I felt my appearance did not belong in the Western world, and this disconnect strengthened the feeling that I did not belong anywhere, even with those who shared my facial features. This internal conflict manifested in my interactions with my parents. I became angry when I couldn’t understand their culture and upbringing. It was my culture too, after all. Instead of addressing the miscommunication and conflict at hand, however, I became passive-aggressive. As a result, words and actions were constantly misinterpreted in my household.

The Joy Luck Club is a book, later made into a movie, that focuses on the relationships between Chinese-American children and their parents who had immigrated from China. The movie was able to depict Amy Tan’s experience as an acculturated child, and it resonated with me—my relationship with my mother and my ties with my Korean culture.

In this book, misinterpretation of culture led to multiple frustrations within the mother-daughter relationships. These frustrations were felt in my family as well, and they weakened my ties to my Korean culture. As I got older and more insightful, the need to be fluent in both cultures—Korean and Canadian—has stayed with me. However, I now realize the love from my parents that I once did not completely understand, and I realize the complexity of culture, as well as the importance of communication as an acculturated child.

Though I did not think I was unattractive, I interpreted mainstream media as saying otherwise. It’s oversaturated with White adolescence, disregarding racialized youth and our realities in the Western world.

Recently, I have found Western pop culture has witnessed the rise of K-pop (Korean popular music) and anime, polarizing the treatment I have been receiving. I used to be made fun of for my Korean features and culture, yet parts of it are now being celebrated in the mainstream media. East Asian cultures (Japanese, Korean, and Chinese) have become glamorized or fetishized, whereas the rest of Asia is disproportionately looked down upon or forgotten. This makes the continent of Asia seem monolithic, affecting my interactions and relationships with other Asian-descent people as well.

Since my elementary years, peers and teachers perpetuated racism at every school I attended. Microaggressions heavily contributed to my culmination of hurt and anger. Other forms of racism were blatant as people commented on my facial features, hollered slurs, and assumed Asian stereotypes. I experienced this prejudice from multiple cultures. Much of the racism I experienced was due to a lack of education that heavily impacted my daily living and how I perceived myself. I internalized this ignorance and began inflicting lateral violence within my Korean and greater pan-Asian community. It became common for myself and other students of Asian descent at school to call each other names and perpetuate cultural stereotypes and bias.

Instead of facing our vulnerability, it was simpler and easier to displace our hurt and turn to crude humour as jokes, a form of saving face that many of us were unconsciously taught to do when we were young. Morbidly, this internalized racism served as an unspoken but mutual bonding experience between us all. I felt a sense of belonging and solidarity. However, this confidence and feeling of solidarity did not last long. It was fleeting and temporary—the result of avoiding the main issue.

Though I do not displace my hurt anymore, the racism I experienced when I was younger has stuck with me to this day, affecting my self-image and sense of identity.

Faith Reflection


Let us pray for communities marginalized by systemic and cultural oppression, and for the healing of wounds inflicted by racism.

We ask for God’s grace to shine upon those who have been pushed to the fringes of society and have endured the weight of discrimination and inequality.

Help us recognize our own privileges and biases, as well as how they affect others around us.

God, we know that true change begins within each of us. Let us not be complicit with oppression; rather, guide us as we examine our own hearts, to confront our own prejudices and unconscious biases.

May we, as a society, recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, acutely aware that our differences in race, background, or circumstance can bring us closer together.

Grant us the wisdom to forgive ourselves and others, to take the burdens of ignorance of old off our shoulders.

In times of uncertainty and division, remind us of the teachings of love, compassion, and forgiveness that you have bestowed upon us. Let these principles guide our actions as we seek to uplift the marginalized, dismantle systemic racism, and build a society that truly embodies the principles of equality and justice for all.

May we, as your children, work together to create a world where racism has no place, and where all can thrive in your grace.


Living It Out

Push against your cultural biases.

  • Rooted in colonization, many only consume media and text from the Western world: Indulge in cultures of differing ethnicities by trying a cultural food you have never tried before. In addition, listen to music in different languages, watch movies from around the world, or read a book that tells the authentic story of someone in a different part of the world.
  • As allies, seek perspectives from Indigenous and racialized people: Every individual has pre-conceived notions and biases. To widen your perspective, listen to individuals of different racial and ethnic identities. On issues of racism, consider speaking to understand rather than to only respond. Individuals of every race and identity can learn from each other. This can break down cultural barriers and promote the becoming of intercultural communities.
  • Be persistent in the cause: Becoming anti-racist is not a linear process. With racism being embedded in our social as well as institutional structures, it is easy to make mistakes and mentally remove ourselves from the anti-racism cause. However, commit to learning from and reflecting on your mistakes. Anti-racism requires ongoing self-reflection and education, not only to become anti-racist but also to disrupt systems that perpetuate racism.
    Being persistent can include educating yourself further, supporting anti-racist organizations, and voting for legislation that lifts up the cause of anti-racism during your next local election.

Sarah Yang (she/her) is a high school student from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She plans to pursue postsecondary education after high school. Sarah is affiliated with Teulon and Balmoral United Church Pastoral Charge and has been active in promoting anti-racism. She participated in the United Church Indigenous‒Racialized Youth Retreat in fall 2022. She also enjoys reading, crossword puzzles, and exploring her creative nature.

Matthew Tyhurst, a grade 10 student who is White, has written a blog post, “A White Teenager's Anti-Racism Exposure and Education,” engaging with Sarah Yang’s testimony, which we invite you to read.

Both Sarah and Matthew are involved with AR4YT, a United Church of Canada anti-racism app geared toward youth, covering topics like the history of racism in Canada, White privilege, and how to get involved in anti-racism work. It is available on Google Play and the App Store.

A version of this article originally appeared as a blog for International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2023.