Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 6

FROM OUR PRESIDENT

Where Are You From?

A

s a longtime U.S. citizen, four words continue to unsettle me: "Where are you from?"
Starting middle school can be scary. For me, it was terrifying. I started middle school in the final
month of seventh grade, just four days after immigrating to the United States. I was the only
Asian student in that rural school.

I have vivid memories of those early years in America. Meeting someone new usually elicited a trilogy
of questions:
"Are you Chinese?" "No."
"Are you Japanese?" "No."
"Then what are you?"
My silent thought was, "I am a human being." My verbal response - "I'm from Korea" - generally
prompted one of two reactions: "North or South?" or "I know someone who fought in the Korean War."
Those "icebreakers" did not break any ice. Even if well meaning, those encounters left me feeling distinctly un-American and like an outsider. As a lawful permanent resident of the United States, my first
government-issued I.D. began with two jarring words: "Resident Alien." Then there were the occasional
yet searing racial epithets hurled without care. During those tender and vulnerable years, the hateful
words cut right through me and diminished me.

Connect
with Esther:
elim@dcbar.org

My childhood experience is not an uncommon American story. I struggled with race and racism. It
took many years to simultaneously embrace my heritage and be a proud American. The coexistence
of one's heritage and patriotism lies at the very core of this great American melting pot.
To this day, people still ask, "Where are you from?" And I wonder why they assume I am from somewhere else, even though I've lived here most of my life. Why do they not instead ask, "What's your
ethnicity?" or "Where did you grow up?" The "where are you from?" question is particularly perplexing
for Asian Americans and other people of color whose families have lived here for generations.

"The coexistence
of one's heritage
and patriotism
lies at the very
core of this
great American
melting pot."

That sentiment crystallized when my British American colleague noted that he is never asked where
he is from, unless his British accent is revealed (he moved from England to Texas in his adolescence).
But his wife, born and raised in Hawaii and of Japanese Filipino descent, always gets asked, "Where are
you from?" The couple is in equal parts amused and bemused when, after learning she's from Hawaii,
someone says, "Oh that's nice; when did you come to America?" These collective experiences provoke
questions about conscious and unconscious bias.
As the first immigrant to serve as president of the D.C. Bar, my personal journey and heritage shape
my views and perspectives. I feel connected to those in our community facing adversity, poverty, and
barriers, and to those living on the margins of society. In many ways, their challenges and angst make
me reflect on what it means to be a lawyer and how the law can be a tool to help people.
Living in America, I'm often reminded of my Asian-ness. Ironically, I never felt more American than
when I lived and worked abroad as a U.S. lawyer. There, people saw and treated me as an "American
lawyer" because I directly approached issues, freely expressed my views, and openly found humor.
I wore that with pride.
As globalization continues, what is the evolving complexion of the United States of America? Will
my daughter - half-Korean, half-Chinese, and all-American, born in the nation's capital - be asked
throughout her life, "Where are you from?" If she responds, "Washington, D.C.," will she be challenged
with the usual follow-up question, "No, where are you really from?" Or will she be made to feel at
home in her homeland, where new friends don't care or notice where she might be from but wonder
about her favorite sports, hobbies, books, and so many other wonderful things all-American?

Photo: Patrice Gilbert Photography

6

WASHINGTON LAWYER

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MAY 2019

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Washington Lawyer - May 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - May 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar Of Events
Cybersecurity Rules & Risks For The International Lawyer
Borders, Refugees & A Global Crisis
Climate Change: Turning To Law In Race Against Time
Member Spotlight
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask The Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Special Coverage: Youth Law Fair @ 20
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Calendar Of Events
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cybersecurity Rules & Risks For The International Lawyer
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 13
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 14
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 15
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Borders, Refugees & A Global Crisis
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Climate Change: Turning To Law In Race Against Time
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 23
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 24
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 26
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Ask The Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 41
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 42
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 43
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 45
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Special Coverage: Youth Law Fair @ 20
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover4
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