Oath of Assimilation by Soo Yeon Chun

In America, I learned to translate
강아지풀, 나팔꽃, and 연꽃 2
not into puppy grass, trumpet flower, and kite bloom
but green bristlegrass, morning glory, and lotus,
which is to say, I learned to conceal isolation
behind blossoms of language
& wear the glazed petals on my chest
like a foreign prince
as badges of heritage.

Oath of Assimilation | Soo Yeon Chun

I hereby declare 1
that three years ago, I was born again, 
as a mellow-skinned immigrant
with slit eyes and twisted tongue. 

At the airport, I hugged my mother—
“I believe you,” she beamed, 
her words soaking my bones
like the permanent smell of kimchi. 
I left her body cold 
as an oath & explained the difference 
between “believe” and “believe in,” believing
that I could become America’s own,
absolutely and entirely. 

In America, I first learned to renounce and abjure
my distaste for cheese, 
to embrace its nauseating slide down my throat
and its strange weight in my stomach. 
Swallowing a spoonful of mac and cheese
in a forceful gulp, I swore all allegiance and fidelity t
fixing my spice-stained, rice-ridged palate,
until I was overcome 
by the familiar nausea—this time, 
not at cheese, but at myself.
In America, I learned to translate 
강아지풀, 나팔꽃, and 연꽃 2
not into puppy grass, trumpet flower, and kite bloom 
but green bristlegrass, morning glory, and lotus,
which is to say, I learned to conceal isolation 
behind blossoms of language
& wear the glazed petals on my chest 
like a foreign prince 
as badges of heritage. 

In America, I learned to become a relentless potentate 
over my alien body, punishing 
every stare held a second too long,
every taboo state of mind,
or every gesture out of place. 
I exercised sovereignty over my parents’ 
shame, scoffing at mother’s failure to curl her r’s, 
wincing at father’s tearful attempts to tell 
the store employee, in broken English, 
that he had lost his wallet, 
swearing that I will never be 
unbearable—like them. 

In America, I learned to support and defend 
people who called me “refried” 
& bared their effortlessly pale skin 
like a secret. I learned to admire 
the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America
as models of order, perfect 
even in its imperfections, 
and fought against all enemies, foreign and domestic, 
including the red, rancid creature
that strained against my eyes’ glossy veneer 
at every condescending gaze
and silent judgement. 

In America, I promised that I will bear
the haunting question:
“how did you learn English?” 
My answer: the same way I learned to tear myself
away from my mother’s arms 
in a single wrench
on behalf of the United States.

In America, I swore that I will perform work
well beyond what others expected 
of a dog-boned immigrant
with a voice as soft as overcooked rice,
that I will become a figure
of national importance
in other words,
that I will either cave completely 
under America’s hand, tender yet unforgiving, 
or inhale shallow breaths of resistance,
pleasant and civilian,
pointing America to the right direction 
rather than creating fundamental change.

Now, America, I must confess 
that I take this obligation freely,
as you tighten your grip around my neck 
like an eagle’s talons curling around its prey
without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,
until blood drums in my ears,
until stars explode in my vision,
until a blue-red flame bursts forth from my lungs—
so help me God. 

  1. The italics are excerpts from the Oath of Allegiance that one must take to become a naturalized citizen
  2. Korean terms for different plants, which literally translate into puppy grass, trumpet flower, and kite bloom 


About the Author:

Soo Yeon Chun is currently a senior at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. Besides writing into the midnight hours, she enjoys listening to music and practicing drums. An alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, she is a lover of all things strange and in-between. Previously, her works have been recognized by Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, Jack London Writing Contest, and Live Poets Society of NJ 23rd Annual National H.S Poetry Contest. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Passengers Journal, Inlandia: A Literary Journal, and Rigorous, and others.