The first time I encountered the idea of a “multiverse” — multiple dimensions of reality, of potential — was when I watched Spider-Man Into the Spiderverse (arguably the best Spiderman movie, don’t @ me). In it, Miles Morales is just one of many very different Spidermans who are part of different universes: There’s bitter, middle-aged Spiderman; there’s young Gwen, Spiderwoman; there’s a black-and-white Spiderman; an anime Spidergirl; and even Spiderpig. If you’re wondering why this article that is not about Spiderman is spending its first paragraph on a Spiderman movie, don’t worry, I’m getting there.
One night, as I was trying to fall asleep, I had an idea for a writing project (my writing ideas always seem to come at the most inconvenient of times, most frequently while I’m showering or about to fall asleep). I kept wondering about my multiverse — is there a universe in which I didn’t quit Korean school after less than a year, and the Monica of that universe is fluent in Korean? Does that Monica also speak only in Korean to her parents, rather than Konglish? Is she able to hold more than a five-minute conversation on the phone with her grandfather, who lives in South Korea?
I wanted to explore this idea of the multiverse, especially concerning liminality — of in-between-ness — which is what I’m currently doing with a series of bad, first draft poems. There’s little things, like how I hold my chopsticks. There’s a universe in which I was taught the “correct” way to hold them, a universe where I wasn’t taught the correct way but learned how to hold them correctly, a universe where I was taught correctly but got into the bad habit of holding them incorrectly, a universe where I’m not taught the correct way and can’t hold them correctly (which is the current universe we live in).
In all of these universes, does my cousin still question my ability to hold chopsticks the right way? Does my uncle still make fun of the way I hold them? Do I still feel bad about not being Korean enough because of something so small as the way I hold chopsticks?
The question of being Korean enough is something I started struggling with at the end of high school and was the subject of my Common App essay, which feels very cliche; but maybe there’s a universe in which my Common App essay is not about this topic. Even though it feels cliche, it’s something that immigrants and children of immigrants grapple with a lot. I am othered in America; I am othered in Korea. Not American enough, not Korean enough.
There was a time when someone calling me whitewashed wouldn’t bother me, when I felt something akin to pride when I was called a banana — yellow on the outside, white on the inside — because it meant that I was one step closer to whiteness in the predominantly white middle school and high school I went to. It meant that, maybe, I had a better chance of fitting in, of not being subject to racist microaggressions. It led to a lot of self-loathing about how I looked and the culture I came from, to the point where I stopped speaking in Korean to my parents, stopped wanting to partake in cultural events like chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving.
Now I feel like I’m making up for lost time. Maybe there’s a universe where I took Korean classes instead of French to fulfill my LSA language requirement (instead of trying to improve my Korean by using Duolingo). Maybe there’s a universe where I asked my parents more about Korean current events and history (instead of relying on Western media). But even in these universes, would someone still tell me I was whitewashed? Would someone still tell me to de-emphasize the Korean part of my identity? (Both of which have happened within the past two months). Would these questions and conversations still happen in a loop, regardless of whether I went to Korean school for more than one year or whether I kept my Korean name as my legal name or whether I could hold chopsticks the correct way?
It’s what I’m trying to explore in my writing. There are spaces of liminality, of in-betweenness, of what could have been and what has been and what has not yet been.