Sep 2015 - In This Issue:
Source: Center for American Progress

Carol Ann Lee served as the Project Manager for ML-SAAF since 2014. She managed the roll out of the Round 1 surveys, a massive undertaking that required the coordination of over a thousand participants, interviewers, and staff. 

Though born in America, Carol returned to Korea at the age of 5 and completed her primary and secondary school education in both Korean and international schools in Korea. Carol then returned to America for college and graduate school. As a result, English and Korean are native to Carol, and her bilingual fluency has served the ML-SAAF team well as they recruited participants and interviewers from the Korean community.

Carol graduated from the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration and is a Licensed Social Worker. Prior to joining the ML-SAAF team, Carol worked with a Korean social service agency as well as the Illinois Department of Human Services and Prevent Child Abuse America. 

Carol is currently in Seoul, Korea, enjoying a respite before she begins applying to doctoral programs back in the United States. The ML-SAAF team is grateful for the hard work Carol did to ensure that ML-SAAF would meet its ambitious goals in surveying Filipino American and Korean American families in the midwest. Thank you, Carol!

The ML-SAAF results on language and identity confirm what you may have already suspected: people who are comfortable speaking an ethnic language are also more likely to identify closely with that ethnicity:
  • If you are a Filipino American mother or youth who speaks Tagalog at home, you probably consider yourself more Filipino than American.
  • Likewise, if you are Korean American and speak Korean at home, you probably consider yourself more Korean than American.
  • If you are a Korean American mother who speaks English at home, you probably consider yourself more American than Korean.
But, remember, these results do not necessarily mean that making a child speak an ethnic language at home will cause the child to identify more strongly with his or her ethnic heritage. More analysis is needed to draw conclusions about why language and identity are closely linked. 

On August 11, participants completed the last ML-SAAF survey of Round 1 and submitted it to our office. This means that Round 1 is officially closed! It took a lot of effort on the parts of both participants and staff to collect nearly 1600 surveys over the past year. 

ML-SAAF is the largest study  of Asian American youth development, and the results will have long-lasting impact for Asian Americans.

Thanks to all the individuals who participated in Round 1! You are critical to the next three rounds.
Please email or click this link if your contact information has changed. 

O ur study participants reported varying levels of comfort with English, Tagalog, and Korean. For how these comfort levels correlated with their sense of identity, see below. *"Participants" refers to both parent and youth, unless otherwise indicated. 

Korean and Filipino participants who primarily speak English identified  more strongly  as an American than as a Korean or Filipino.

Korean and Filipino participants who primarily speak Korean or Tagalog identified  more strongly  as a Korean or Filipino than as an American.


Korean parents who primarily speak English identified  less strongly  as Korean than Korean parents who spoke Korean. 


It wasn't easy being Korean American in a primarily Caucasian community. At age seven, I had moved to Vernon Hills, Illinois. As one of the few Asian Americans in town, I was bombarded with an onslaught of questions: "Where are you actually from?" "You and Joseph Lee have the same last name. Are you related?" "Are you Chinese? Your eyes look Chinese."

It didn't help that Uhmma [mom, in Korean] often packed me kimchi bokkeumbap [kimchi fried rice] for lunch; an odoriferous oddity that stood out among the All-American chicken Caesar salads and peanut butter sandwiches that my classmates unwrapped at lunchtime.  My kimchi bokkeumbap was met with curious disgust by my classmates, and I would bring it home rather than eat it in front of them. Though for most of my childhood, I had identified myself as Korean, it wasn't long before I angrily told my bewildered Uhmma, "I'm American! Don't pack me lunch ever again, okay?!"

Yet, notwithstanding my declaration to Uhmma, I knew that my identity was not as simple as what I ate for lunch.  About a year after I told Uhmma that I was an American, there was an incident that underscored just how not American I was perceived to be. Ironically, that day, I was probably wearing an Abercrombie shirt and skinny jeans or whatever was generically American in May 2010. Uhmma and I were in the parking lot of the local post office. While backing out, a woman driving a silver car rammed into the hood of our white Toyota 4Runner.

Uhmma stormed out of the driver's seat. "I want aparlagy," she demanded. "Liddle damegey," she said, pointing to her car's relatively intact hood. "I pay damegey. But you say sorry."

"You chinks always want the same thing! You can take my money, but that's all you'll ever get," the woman screeched. "Go back to China!"

"She just said she's not holding you accountable for the accident. Just freaking apologize," I interjected in a reedy voice. "And for God's sake, we're Korean, you racist ignoramus."

Never had I encountered someone - and an adult at that - as blatantly racist as she was, and never had someone's derogatory comments bothered me as much as hers had. I was fuming. Maybe it was small of me, but I took pleasure in verbally slapping some common sense into her. No one would disrespect Uhmma and get away with it. And it wasn't until a few days later, when I could objectively reflect on my actions, that I realized no one would disrespect my heritage and get away with it either. I had told the woman I was Korean without thinking twice about it. As much as I felt American, and perhaps even chose to be American, I couldn't get away from the truth that I was also Korean.  

I am Korean American, with all its complications and contradictions. I do not have to explain to anyone how my identity comes together in daily life, but I also will not tolerate any ignorant, derogatory remarks about any part of my identity. In other words, I'll eat kimchi bokkeumbap for lunch if I feel like it.  

Seri Lee, a youth participant of ML-SAAF, is a senior at Vernon Hills High School and aspires to study history and psychology at the University of Chicago. Seri also enjoys playing the cello, making stuffed sock animals, and taking silly quizzes on BuzzFeed.

Midwest Longitudinal Study of  Asian American Families
969 E. 60th Street   Chicago, IL 60637