2006 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Junior first place

An event that taught a lesson about being Korean-American
Jiyoung Kim

The resounding rhythms of drums, accompanied by the loud reverberating tones of another timeless instrument, echoed through the room bustling with a motley group of people who were gathered together for a cultural festival. The bright colors decorating the room harmonized as audiences gathered to watch the performances of people from all around the globe, applauding at their distinct cultures and traditions. In the midst of all this commotion, the significance of one performing group was almost overlooked. The group is called samulnoree, a form of music originating in Korea. The people performing included members of all different ages, including me. Garbed in the traditional clothes of the olden entertainers, which would be loose white pants and shirts under a black silk shirt with sleeves in the national colors, red, blue, and yellow, we entered the stage. We seated ourselves, ready for another recital that we had practiced so long for. The venue was the Navy Pier cultural fair, a place we went for performances almost bi-yearly. Although the consistently rapid drumming tired out our arms quickly, the exciting underlying pulse, the heat of the air, and the passion to play the music fueled us on. I didn’t realize it then, but the truth is that in that moment, my mind was soaring from the pride I felt from being a Korean American in America; I learned so much about how important my culture was from that moment in downtown Chicago.

The mere idea of performing in front of such a large crowd hadn’t really crossed my mind before that moment. When I realized that this was actually it, I felt a strange sensation in my chest as I walked out with my drum. I later recognized it to be a sort of vivid pride that grew as I continued to perform. Every second of enthusiastic pulsations sent another shock of dignity through my system and I couldn’t help but to start smiling at my fellow performers. The light was on us, the cameras were rolling, and I could feel myself enjoying the idea of truly spreading our culture throughout America. I knew that as a Korean American, I had a lot of potential to show America just how devoted Koreans were to the things they did. My Korean pride never subsided and just managed to grow every time I went to the drums for a performance. I couldn’t shake the honor I felt and I knew that the virus had spread from me to my fellow performers, who were just as proud of themselves for being able to do a service to the community of Korean Americans. I recognized that while it may have been harder for us to adjust to their society, in the end, our culture would help enrich the Americans’ culture, leading to a distinct equality between us both.

It never really struck me as a life altering point in my life when I decided to join the samulnoree team. At that time, samulnoree was just a little activity to spend my time doing, but I never knew it would grow to become a passion the way it has now. You could say that I truly started enjoying it when we finally began getting places to perform at, but the one moment that truly made me love it was at our Navy Pier performance. The thrill of being able to share Korea's culture finally hit me when I realized how important this was to spread our land's history. Not only that, but this performance was also the one where we finally got to interact with other cultures and the audiences. After all the acts had gone, the Indians and we joined together to create rhythmic beats through improvisation. I knew how important it was for them too, to have their culture recognized and visible to the world. The excitement brewing in the room as we played was well worth all the days of practice. What was even better was that at this Navy Pier performance, we were also allowed to stay onstage and let the people who were watching learn to play as well. It was almost enriching to see all the people who wanted to try the instruments out and learn how to play them. I, myself, was teaching a little girl and it was definitely the highlight of the whole entire performance to be able to do this. I realized the power of each individual’s native culture and how unique each must seem when compared to others. It definitely taught me about Korea and how we have come so far in developing as a country. Through this revelation, I grew to become a proud Korean American, with a steadily growing love for my native country.

Korean culture has become an important part of my heart and I can’t say that my pride hasn’t grown enormously as well. I feel like through this experience, I’ve managed to learn so much more about my culture and it’s taught me to be proud of it. Nothing else has really been able to boost my ethnic pride this much and I realize that being able to express the culture of the land I come from truly is the best way to feel the reality of the influence of Korea on America.