First name: Stephanie Cho
What does it mean to be American?
For me, what it means to be American is complicated. The whole reason I’m in America is the result of U.S. imperialism. So, it’s confusing to me to answer the question, “What does it mean to be American?” I am a product of both countries–Korea and America.
Even my name is a combination of both nations. My first name, Stephanie, is the American name given to me by my white adoptive parents. I changed my last name to Cho, not to erase my adopteeness, but to be more thoughtful about who I actually am. Rather than being my full Korean name versus being my full American adoptee name, I am a product of both names. I have become this person as result of being an adopted person, as result of being a queer person, as a result of being in this country most of my life. This is who I have become.
So, I think right now, being an American is about being a fighter. It’s about democracy. It’s holding all of this within your identity. For me, being an American means that everyday my job is to fight for other people, to fight for my family, and to fight for everyone in our community right now.
Also, people like to say, “America, it’s a land of immigrants.” But America is not just a land of immigrants. It’s stolen land, too. There is this deep history of violence. America is a part of that, too.
Being American is understanding this country’s violent past. It is this time of asking ourselves, how do we be really transformative right now? There are some really interesting things that can come out of this struggle. But how are we going to show up? How are we going to show up for each other? How are we going to protect each other? How are we going to support each other right now?
So in this time, right now, I think to be American means to be really thoughtful, to be really supportive, and also to fight like hell. That is our job, that is what it means to be American here and now.
What makes America great?
What makes America great is that there is diversity of voices and opinions here. We can have real debates and real conversations here. Sometimes that gets sanitize, but I appreciate being able to have these conversations with people. We can have different candidates, but if we don’t like any of them, we have a choice. I appreciate having a choice here.
I would say that the people make America great and they make it terrible. We have some of the best people in the world here and some of the best minds doing incredible work. But we also have some of the worst people here that are doing the worst things they could possibly do to mankind.
And yet, despite all the terrible things, people are still having kids. I think this reflects that there’s still this level of hope, of gumption, of moxie, which I believe is an American construct–people are wiling to stand up, to speak up, and be brave. And it’s not just the typical kinds of people that are coming out and showing up. It’s people from all walks of life. In particular, I’m seeing more Asian Americans finding their voice.
And that’s the part that makes America inspiring and great. Even with everything that is happening, we are seeing the other side of courage and bravery. When i think of the people who are all inspiring and brave, they are all women of color. By stepping up, they are allowing others to feel brave and to feel like they can step up too. And in any kind of way. Not just in this big showy way. But in any kind of way, in everyday small occurrences. That’s how we really transform society–not in a big, showy way, but in everyday interactions. By choosing to be a good person, to be principled. By showing what real leadership is. Ultimately, it’s not in the big things, but it’s in the everyday small things.
MORE ABOUT STEPHANIE:
Occupation: Executive Director
What is your race/ethnicity? Korean
What is your sexual identification: Queer
Where did you grow up? Salem, Oregon
Do you claim a religion? No
Do you identify as a wife, husband, mother, father, homeschooler, etc.? Partner, Mom, Bad Ass
Do you identify any particular interests such as hiking, reading, biking, etc.? I used to be a light commercial welder in college