Exercising Self-Reflexivity: Personal search for spaces of radical mediation

Personal search for spaces of radical mediation

In my personal pursuits of defining, understanding, and engaging in radical media practice, I have begun to realize the impossibility of identifying a single model to be the ideal formula for social transformation. On the contrary, I have started to question whether any prescribed set of formal or aesthetic conventions can even bring about change without any re-configuration made to the very processes of constructing art or any kind of representation. What has become fundamental in my work is how communities, in this case racially marginalized diasporic communities, can rearrange the process by which production of representations occur. In doing so, such communities are able to share their collective stories or memories beyond the systems of corporate profit maximization, institutions legitimizing the centralized power of the prevailing state apparatus, and/or industries monopolizing knowledge production.

In the spirit of the alternative and the radical left, I sought to be a part of a collective process of storytelling. I sought to be a part of a process in which involved social actors are able to autonomously share their stories without relying on or feeling the pressures of the knowledge controlled by the U.S. colonial state apparatus. I sought to re-visualize the history of the place and community of my origin. However, it is not my intention to form and spread a nationalist agenda. This is more of an attempt at understanding the historical circumstances that contributed to conditioning my family to immigrate to the United States, fall into a subordinated position as racialized subjects, and be identified as embodying an “inferior” cultural identity. It was here, in the U.S. that I was pushed to forget my family’s history and nearly did forget my native tongue. Nowadays, I suspect that the act of forgetting is not a self-contained choice made in an asocial and apolitical vacuum. The act of forgetting was a condition that needed to be fulfilled in order for me to be inculcated into a violent system constituted by racism and cultural assimilation, which are major apparatuses reinforcing a machinery dedicated to colonizing the consciousness, particularly of those marked as the inferior “other” (a mark that applies to members of the Korean diaspora in the U.S., as well).

Therefore, I sought a site of critical and radical pedagogy in which imagining community memory-sharing practices could be possible. I sought to engage in discourse with other Korean Americans who had similar questions I had to ask. I wanted to have conversations regarding questions like, “Why is Korean history so little known in the United States and other parts of the world? Why is the official history of U.S.-Korea relations so riddled with holes, so full of silences that take fifty years to be heard” (Cho 58)? In the year of 2013, I finally found a group of Korean American artists, activists, and organizers who sought to collectively engage with oral historical accounts shared by Korean immigrants who have experienced the Korean War, U.S. military presence in South Korea, and social displacement from their homes and families.

Pedagogy here does not imply that we, as activists, teach those who have been victimized and disenfranchised to reconnect with and make sense of their memories. More accurately, it is we who are being shared their stories, therefore reconnecting with our forgotten family histories. In the words of Paulo Freire, “Political action on the side of the oppressed must be pedagogical action in the authentic sense of the word, and, therefore, action with the oppressed” (Freire 66). Perhaps this project has more to do with my own growth as an activist seeking to learn from those who have experienced the traumas of war, national division, U.S. militarism and continue to struggle through racial marginalization within American society. The argument for many Korean American activists is that we are not separate from those experiences of our family members belonging to the previous generations. On the contrary, particularly in my case, I have inherited the colonized consciousness, which is the very foundation for the inferiority complex I have carried with me throughout my life, as I was conditioned to look at myself to hold a subordinated status, as a Korean, an Asian, and a racialized other. After investing some time researching Korean history, I have come across some literature affirming my suspicions of the perpetuating process of colonization internalized, still occurring within the consciousness of many Korean people. Chungmoo Choi, in particular, articulates quite effectively:

The very fact that the self-marginalization, or self-degradation, has been sedimented in the epistemology of the Koreans appears potently imposing on the life of the Koreans in the so-called postcolonial period. The experience of colonialism was, and is, an impossible weight on Korean consciousness (Choi 238).

To recapitulate, my personal motivations for engaging in this research project is in the need to address the disconnect between my lived experiences as immigrants struggling with the violence of assimilation imposed by an American culture dominated by “whiteness” and the Korean history with which we have had significantly minimal contact. This collective oral history project coordinated with other Korean American activists (and Asian American artists, activists, organizers) is an attempt at understanding how Korean Americans could make sense of our connections to the continuing realities of U.S. imperialism.


Works Cited:

Cho, Grace M. Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2008.

Choi, Chungmoo. “Transnational Capitalism, National Imaginary, and the Protest Theater in South Korea.” Boundary 2 22.1 (1995): 235-61.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum, 2000.


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