“Me love you long time, sir.”
Comment by Dan Hull, an attorney in San Diego, CA on my last ATL post Happy Law Day! Can We Bring Civility Into Law?
I don’t think I need to give any context as to why the original comment and Hull’s subsequent comment is offensive. Under most circumstances, I really don’t care what commenters have to say. They’re entitled to their opinion, as am I, and we can just agree to stay in our respective Internet corners. But I am going to share with you why I found Hull’s comment to be so disrespectful and hurtful.
My family immigrated to the United States from Korea when I was ten years old. (That’s South Korea. Believe it or not, people frequently ask.) My mom was a former high school art teacher and my dad was an architect for Samsung. Koreans, we’re prideful and a resilient group of folks.
When we moved to the States, my parents started their own businesses that is typical for many Korean immigrants. My dad opened a laundromat and my mom started a nail salon. They managed to do this despite the fact that none of us spoke any English.
I remember I used to spend weekends and summers going between two stores and helping out. I’d wash, dry and fold other people’s shirts, pants and underwear.
When I went to my mom’s store, I’d wash the customers’ feet. Frequently, I would feel invisible. The customers, who were overwhelmingly kind, well-meaning people would look through me as though I didn’t exist. I was just some girl. A woman would laugh, gossip with her friend sitting next to her while she occasionally pushed her foot closer to my face to make sure I got all the callus.
I remember coming home after graduating from college and spending the summer working at my mom’s nail salon. My mom proudly announced to one of the customers that I just graduated from college. The customer glanced up at me and asked, very sweetly, “well, are you going to work at your mom’s store since you’re done with school?” Stunned, I responded “I am starting law school this fall.” She gave me a crooked smile and responded “Well, I guess you won’t have to work here, then.”
There are certain scars that form from being an immigrant. We’re subject to stereotypes. Sexual overtones, and Yellow Fever is part of what shapes my life experience. I’ve overheard male lawyers talk explicitly about wanting to have sex with me because somehow, my race made me feel exotic to them. One partner suggested I always wear “FMP.”
I’ve always worked extra hard, to be extra smart, to be extra tough because I didn’t want to fall into that stereotype. I didn’t want to be the girl who worked at a salon – whether that be a massage salon or nail salon.
The trolls that post snarky comments anonymously are expected and rather prosaic. But to have a fellow member of my profession publically say “me love you long time, sir,” it’s a sharp reminder that no matter how good of an attorney and person I am, I’ll always be subjected to these stereotypes.
To some, I’ll always be the girl that works at the salon.
5/2/2015, 2:50 PM: My co-host, Keith Lee weighs in on this discussion.
5/2/2015, 4:48 PM : Dan Hull apologizes.