Because Koreans founded the Unification Church, there was a prevailing racial hierarchy present in all communities of Moonies. Jews were no longer ‘the chosen people’ as they lost their rights to the title after crucifying the Messiah. Koreans were now the chosen people and became the supreme nationality. Reverend Moon, who was supposed to be the second coming of the Messiah (or at least take up Jesus’ mission) demanded his followers learn Korean, as all the holy doctrine he wrote was published in his native language. Our holy robes were essentially hanbok, traditional Korean garb that we wore on holy days. Koreans held higher positions in the church and within it’s subsequent companies. Japanese church members were forced to pay a tithe called kodan, which were reparations for the violence and evil deeds done to the Koreans during the Japanese occupation, but they were still better than Westerners as they were not Asian at all.
Despite the brutal history between the Japanese and Koreans, Asians as a whole were perceived to be more pious than Westerners. Korean cultural elements of filial piety and male-dominance were prized, and Western men were encouraged to be matched to Asian wives: Korean being the most coveted. Even my own father had expressed that he had originally hoped for a dedicated Korean wife.
Children born to parents of any nationality were given Korean first names, which would plague them through every year of public school. While most of my siblings lucked out on being given only Korean middle names, my youngest brother was given a Korean first name. During his pre-school years, the teachers and other children were incredibly confused by his name, Shinsung, and it took my sister and I a lot of effort to convince our parents to have him enrolled in school by his middle name, David, upon reaching kindergarten. His name was never legally changed, and upon joining the air force at eighteen he was legally obliged to go by his Korean first name since it was what appeared on his birth certificate.
Most of the second-generation or ‘blessed children’ I grew up with (children who had been born to parents who had joined the church) were full Asian or half-Asian. The Asian and half-Asian children were esteemed for their blood lineage and beautiful genetics, while enjoying the ability to progress through childhood without being questioned why they had Asian names. Most Americans can’t tell the difference between Asiatic nationalities anyway.
Despite wearing a hanbok at holy day gatherings, having a Korean middle name, or knowing bits of Korean from reciting pledge, I was lamentably white. I wouldn’t have minded being a mixture of European nationalities, but my mixed Jewish and Arabic heritage left me with both my father’s prominent Judaic nose and spaces between my teeth so large that they could accommodate Popsicle sticks. I looked nothing like the beautiful mixed children I attended Sunday school with, and in the outside secular world I was called ‘big nose’ and ‘ugly’. ‘Gap-toothed Jewess’, is my most recent favorite; a slur that sounds comically Shakespearean because ‘Jewess’ is so archaic.
Adolescence into adult hood I suffered from severe self-loathing and confidence issues. Ninth grade, the year I spent in Bridgeport Connecticut in a Moonie boarding school was the worst for me, as I was overexposed to the tri-state church community after a somewhat alienation in Arizona. Despite the fact that the teens that attended boarding school all took drugs, drank, and fucked each other (all three prohibited in church doctrine), there was still a sense of self-righteous, smug superiority that outshone their licentiousness. Ones who had grown up with Westchester were especially cruel, as they all were mostly Asian and claimed more devotion to the church because of their proximity to a large Moonie community. The most attractive of them enjoyed liaisons with each other, while still being prized as the best candidates for future marriage matching.
Bred socially awkward, having no suitable taste in music or clothes, and sporting inelegant facial features, I crashed and burned in 9th grade. Despite trying in vain to fit in, I remained an outsider and made no friends in boarding school. The school bully informed me I looked like a weasel, and the junior I had a crush on made a point of putting me down whenever I encountered him. Crushes I had on the boys in school festered in my gut, and I was utterly convinced I had no chance of obtaining a suitable match; I was from a white family, grievously ugly, and severely unlikable.
I no longer considered myself apart of the Unification Church by my 17th birthday, but the anger and resentment toward the way I was treated remains as scars to this day. I was raised to believe the only honorable women were descended from east of China. I was not educated to love myself or to value my abilities a person, but rather, my value was based on my blood lineage.
I tried to combat my insecurities with hobbies. I was an avid reader, and fiction took me away from the real world, love and adventure were finally accessible even if they only existed within the confines of book covers. I also got involved in theatre, which allowed me to be something other than myself. Eventually, I trained to be a makeup artist, hoping it would lend me beautifying powers. Because I couldn’t afford to have my nose and teeth fixed I could try to distract others by accentuating better facial features, such as my eyes.
After leaving boarding school and eventually ending up in Dutchess County, New York, I had unconsciously hoped that the outside world would be more accepting of my ethnicity, and that it wouldn’t matter I wasn’t a petite, small featured Asian girl. Some of my resentment bubbled up in the form of a terribly racist game I played called ‘Asian Girlfriend’. Similar to ‘Punch-Buggy’, my friends and I would silently deck each other on the shoulders when we would pass a white male with an Asian girlfriend. However, once I reached my twenties and moved to New York City, I realized the preference for Asian women still prevailed outside the unification church.
A large percentage of white men in New York City dated Asian women; I passed them on the street in Manhattan, and practically every other family I saw in Park Slope was made up of this combination. While broaching the topic in public conversation was considered racist, online conversations and theories were published in forums and studies, often where the merits of Asian women were broadcast by white men. While white men wrote about how they valued their femininity and submissive nature, resulting from their Asian traditional patriarchal family backgrounds (the same values we were raised with in the Unification Church), contrarily, Asian women wrote about how they were not defined by these values and that they were just as independent and moderns as any other non-Asian woman.
American women were dis-valued in the Unification Church for their outspoken nature and sense of independence. I grew to abhor this idea, as I believe American women earned their independence and suffrage through 235 years. Descendants of colonists, homesteaders, slaves, and patriots, they had to be just as strong as their men to survive. I remember reading one story about a Kansas pioneer woman that lived in a sod hut, equipped with a rifle she fought off the wolves that chewed into the hut, while she was experiencing labor of her second child as the first was tethered to the bedpost. I couldn’t see how those women like that could stay diminutive and submissive. The right to own property, the right to divorce, the right to vote, the right to equal wages and sexual equality were all pushed to success in the USA by American women. American women were made up of women of every nationality, yet they valued themselves enough as independents, despite racism, sexism, and their cultural backgrounds.
I made the assumption that Asian woman born after the 1970s were raised with the benefits of both cultural family traditions, and the freedom of independence that being an American brought with it. They could still be valued for having strong family ties and cultural practices, yet not be tied down by them as they pursued their own careers and lives like an American woman. Buried by anger, I thought that these women were just reaping the benefits of progress made by American women over hundreds of years. Even Asian women who lived abroad still existed within a society of western influences, where they no longer had to abide by the traditional cultural practices of becoming dutiful wife and mother. I hated Yoko Ono, she just peed on people while on top of ladders and called it ‘art’, when all she did was mooch off of (and eventually help break up) the Beatles. But there was no one out there who would write me my own ‘Hey Jude’.
Eventually, I had to give up being angry, as the resentment of seeing another cute white boy with an Asian girl didn’t make me any prettier or desirable. If a man ever fell in love with me, it would have to be because I was an honest, caring, independent and loving person, and being angry that I wasn’t half-Japanese or Korean wouldn’t make me that way.
I’m still trying to learn to value myself, which is a constant struggle. My hope is to be able to afford both therapy and plastic surgery so that I’ll be fixed both inside and out.