AAPI Heritage Month Q&A Series: Anita Oh

AAPI Heritage Month commemorates Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that have contributed to America’s rich history and success. Growing up as an Asian American/Pacific Islander can be considered a collective experience that can impact each an every one of us in a variety of ways. Our cultural identity shapes a facet of who we are and I am happy to be featuring a variety of strong voices that will share their experience as an Asian American/Pacific Islander in America. I hope that this series helps you connect with your own heritage and reminds you to be proud of where you come from!

Anita Oh is a fantastic journalist and I admire her drive as she pursues her law degree. I absolutely adore her content on Instagram and highly recommend checking it out! Anita has the cutest outfits and the best scoop on what is happening in Philly. You won’t miss a thing once you keep up with her! Now let’s get into her AAPI experience.

Q: What ethnicity are you?

Korean-American.

Q: Do you speak your language?

Yes!

Q: Were you always proud of your heritage or did you initially reject it?

I’m ashamed to admit that I was not proud of being Korean for most of my life; in fact, I used to pray for blonde hair and blue eyes so I could fit in with those around me. I grew up in a predominantly white city and was often bullied for having small eyes or bringing Korean food to lunch. I rarely saw people who truly represented me in media roles. Often, Asian-Americans were non-existent, relegated to background roles or were cast as stereotypes.

Q: When did you begin to truly embrace your heritage and why? to truly embrace your heritage and why?

It’s been a long journey to embracing my heritage, and it was only quite recently that I truly grasped the importance of standing boldly in one’s identity. I received many messages over the years from Asian-American parents and students, especially young women, thanking me for representing our culture as a journalist. As one of the only Asian-Americans in my newsroom, the importance of having a seat at the table became clearer to me. Otherwise, some important stories that deserve to be told would go forgotten. Diversity is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

Q: What do you consider to be the best parts of your heritage and culture?

The transition from a painful history of Japanese colonialism to today’s thriving South Korean economy shows us that Koreans are incredibly resilient. On a micro level, I’ve seen this trait in my parents, who are living examples of strength and resilience. Our culture is also very respectful, especially to elders. I think this is important because we have so much to learn from those who have gone before us – but we often forget this as part of a society that teaches us to value self before others. Also, there is just nothing better than Korean food.  

Q: What was the first experience where you felt that demarcation of being a minority/different?

I felt it often as a child, because I grew up seeing very few faces like mine in my community, on TV, or in magazines. I distinctly remember one day at lunch, when my mom had packed my favorite Korean kimbap (similar to sushi but without the raw fish). It was common for us to trade parts of our lunchboxes: your apple for my cheese stick, etc. But when they saw my lunch, several kids pinched their noses, taunting me for bringing “stinky” food, and demanded no one else trade with me. It’s ironic now that Korean food is immensely popular in the States.

Q: How did growing up as an Asian American/Pacific Islander affect your relationship with your parents?

I owe everything I am today to my parents. I am proud to be the daughter of two brilliant, sacrificial individuals, who gave up so much of their own comfort (and at times, happiness) in order to ensure the best possible world for my brother and me.   

Q: Did you have any Asian American/Pacific Islander role models growing up in media (i.e. movies/TV/music/books, etc.)? Did this affect your self-image?

I remember being Lucy Liu one Halloween because I loved her leather leggings and her strong character. However, there definitely weren’t enough visible Asian-American role models to normalize my own experience. This lack of visibility subtly reinforces the idea that you are not seen – and you are not good enough as you are. Thankfully, this messaging is changing for young Asian-Americans growing up today and I hope to continue creating a world in which they are celebrated for their differences.

Q: How do you feel about the rise of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in media today?

We still have a long way to go, but the success of movies like Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before are strong progress.

Q: If you could give your younger self advice regarding growing up Asian American/Pacific Islander, what would it be?

Be proud of who you are, where you come from, and where you are going.

Q: How do you connect with your heritage and culture today?

I eat a lot of Korean food. I also often emcee or speak at events related to Korean-American culture. If I can help at least one young person feel proud of who they are – and avoid the battles I struggled with about my own Asian-American identity as a child – that is enough motivation for me.   

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About Anita Oh

Anita is a former journalist for CBS News and is currently pursuing a JD/MBA at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Wharton School. In her free time, she creates fashion, lifestyle, and travel content for her blog, Oh-Anita.

Instagram: @anita_oh | website: www.oh-anita.com