Stay Safe

“Stay safe”, it’s a phrase I’ve heard more in the last 2 months than in any other period of my life. Ironically, this is not the most dangerous place I’ve ever lived in.

Maybe, I have a misplaced sense of security. I know a lot of people who protest, and they are all fantastic people. I live close enough to Maidan that I feel cocooned by protestors. I do not feel any apprehension walking through Maidan. It’s not the protestors that worry me but the riot police and titushky. I am obviously a foreigner and a girl which, I believe, gives me somewhat of a shield, but maybe that’s wishful thinking. Obviously, I act accordingly, avoiding violent protests and being aware of my surroundings, and honestly, I think that’s the best anyone can ever hope to do.

My family used to own this really old Lincoln town car and I remember sitting in my mom’s lap (this was before we had seatbelt laws) as we drove though Northeast D.C. in the early 90’s. Washington, D.C. was known as the murder capital of the world back then and we were in one of the more dangerous neighborhoods. She would press my head to her chest and whisper to me “don’t look outside and don’t look these people in the eye. It might provoke them.” My mother was not being overly cautious. The streets were full of people strung higher than a kite. You drove through these neighborhoods knowing that a stray bullet through the windshield was a possibility.

Why were my parents driving with their 4 year old through such neighborhoods? Because they owned a fish market and then the liquor store on Rhode Island and 1st. We never really talked about it with non-Koreans, but I see no reason not to. My parents were immigrants and they had 2 little children, very little language skills, and very little family support.

It was 1992, and tensions where high. Not only was there a drug problem but the LA riots, also known as the Rodney King riots, broke out the day after my birthday. Of course, I don’t actively remember the events that lead to my surroundings, but as an adult, I can reflect and better understand the context. While those events took place on the opposite side of the country, it was felt throughout the Korean American community. Korean Americans in LA stood up to protect the stores that they had to worked so hard for against rioters, and in the chaos, horrible things happened. Tensions escalated between the Black community and the Korean American community in LA and those of us in D.C. felt it as well. Everyone was forced to a side by skin color, regardless of actions or beliefs. Koreans viewed Blacks as rioters and thieves while Blacks viewed Koreans as racist merchants. Both sides were not entirely wrong…

As a 4 year old, I had no idea what was happening. I just knew not to look strangers in the eye and to stay quiet as I napped under the counters covered in bulletproof glass. Sylvester, my father’s only employee, would call me little lady and compliment my drawings.

As I grew older, I started to help. I would attend the cash register and count cash. I remember watching movie scenes of drug deals as a teenager and watching the teams of women seated at a table counting stacks of cash and giggling because I had been doing the exact same thing since I was 8. I could count money just as fast as any money launderer or drug dealer. It makes this distinct riffling sound, a bit duller but louder than shuffling papers. Is it an ideal environment to raise a child? No, but did I come out any worse for wear? No. I got to spend time with my parents, and I grew up with a healthy respect for authority, went to college, got a job, and moved to the other side of the side of the world. Honestly, I have more angst about my “normal” years than my “unique” formative years.

Moral of the story? Danger is something to be aware of and to adjust for but not something that should stop you. Life goes on.

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