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Not Forever: The Intersection of Two Worlds in A Step from Heaven - Essay Example

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Summary
An Na's A Step from Heaven is a fictional story, but it is inspired by the real experiences and observations of the author who, like the protagonist immigrated to America from Korea at a young age. Young Ju's situation, however, is only one story, no more indicative of the Korean-American experience than any individual's life can be said to represent the typical events occurring in the lives of any members of their perceived culture…
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Not Forever: The Intersection of Two Worlds in A Step from Heaven
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Download file to see previous pages Young Ju's first exposure to the ideal of the white women comes while she is still in Korea and her mother explains "an ahjimma will curl your hair so you will look like a real Mi Gook girl" (Na 16). Of course, when she arrives in America, she examines the hair of her classmates and "Only one boy has big curly hair" (Na 29). This is Na's way of demonstrating immediately the difference between the adult's imagination of the white ideal and Young Ju's perception of the reality. A bad perm will not help her fit into her environment; her hairstyle is completely superficial and has no bearing on her understanding of the language or the customs. It does not make her stand out any less.
The family has great expectations for their American experience, and the small protagonist, prior to her arrival, believes that America must be heaven. Her mother's understanding of the environment is one of complete freedom. She says, "In Mi Gook, you can grow up to be anything you want" (Na 17), but Young Ju is hampered by her own father's understanding. She cannot be president, he says, because she is a girl. She must not question him. She must listen to his assertions that girls whine and cry, that only men are strong. No wonder she clings to her friendship with Amanda, "The only person who lets me ask questions and be someone other than a good Korean daughter" (Na 109). While Young Ju's uhmma can speak the ideal of gender equality that she believes can exist in America, only Amanda can sail through life on that ideal. Young Ju has too many environmental influences dragging her back every time she tries to be something. Through her connections with American society, she can eventually embrace the idea that "Asian American women must be able to reject negative traditions without feeling like they are rejecting their whole Asian American identity" (Lai 187), but it is a long road to travel. Young Ju can be a good Korean American girl without suffering her father's abuse, but she must suffer through an entire childhood under her father's expectations before she can act on the concept.
The irony is that Young Ju's apa is only perpetuating the very factors that keep racist stereotypes alive in America. Rather than being oppressed by the outside, she and her mother are oppressed from within, forced to conform to an ideal that makes Asian-American women "desirable because they are cute (as in doll-like), quiet rather than militant, and unassuming rather than assertive. In a word, non-threatening" (Lai 186). These images, created by men, seep into the culture. In Young Ju's case, they are beaten into her, until the idea of moving beyond them becomes a betrayal of her upbringing. As she assimilates the ways of her white friend, she also has to assimilate the ways of her father's mind: "we are completely non-threatening. We don't complain. We endure humiliation. We are almost inhuman in our patience. We never get angry" (Hagedorn xxiii). Although stereotypes are wrong and false, it is Young Ju's home environment that communicates their stereotypes to her. No aspect of her school experience teaches her to behave in this way.
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