The Speech Contest

stop-the-mosque-at-ground-zero-rally-july-2010-2I had been avoiding giving speeches at the Mokwon University chapter of Toastmasters, mostly because the speeches are in English, the members are almost entirely Korean and the entire thought of competing with them just struck me as incredibly unfair. There was also the part about me not wanting to write or memorize a speech, but “I’m lazy” doesn’t sound as noble as “I’m committed to fairness,” so we’ll stick to the first explanation.

Andrew Seo, president of our club, solved this quandary on the question of fairness with a suggestion that, alarmingly, required a great deal of effort from me. “Why don’t you do a speech in Korean?” Hmm, other than the fact my Korean isn’t that good? “Yes, other than that.” Other than that, well you see I’m not very smart. The whole concept of “walk before you run” is really not my strong suit and, as such, I was doomed to combine my C- Korean skills with a highly technical and philosophically subtle topic – in this case the meaning of identity.

There seemed a massive potential for whacking my audience with a lovely cocktail of pretentious gas-baggery and surreal anti-grammar. In this matter, I was very lucky to get help from Kim Min-su and Hwang Jang-su, in addition to a very nice random lady unfortunate enough to have conspicuously free time in Magos Coffee shop while I was preparing. That which follows is the result of our combined efforts in both English and the original Korean. I hope you enjoy it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my warmest welcome to you all. I would like to thank you in advance for your time. Before I start my speech, I’d like to ask you a question I think is very important – what is your identity? Or, to rephrase, who are you? Please, take a moment and think deeply, take your time deciding.

Pause –

In my opinion, the answer to this question has the power to drive our species to extinction. Perhaps I’m being too dramatic, maybe.

Let’s start in 1999. I was 15 years old. I was in the middle of giving a patriotic speech. I was explaining to the other students the best ways to find and punish illegal immigrants from Mexico. These immigrants, I explained, would change our wonderful American culture. These invaders, I explained, would steal our American jobs. As I said these things I felt righteous anger and, with it, a delicious, powerful sense of certainty. The other students, being fine young patriots, applauded my words. However, I couldn’t help feeling a small but rapidly growing sense of discomfort as I took my seat.

Why was I more deserving of a job than a Mexican? Was I automatically special by virtue of my birth? Was that Mexican person automatically my inferior? In addition to these questions I asked why I was worried about protecting American culture. I didn’t make American culture. I am an American only because of the forces of chance, by virtue of the location where my parents got laid that one time. American culture didn’t feel like something I could claim as mine.

Pause –

I haven’t given another patriotic speech since, but I have continued to think about identity. I have come to believe that there are two basic types – earned and accidental. Achieving the status of college student ( * my audience was mostly college kids * ) is an earned identity, accomplished through your own efforts. Being tall is not earned, just an accident. If you become a lawyer, that’s earned. If you are Korean ( * my audience was more than 90% Korean * ), that’s an accident.

As I continued to think this way, I discovered something interesting. When we humans want to do something really terrible, we can’t seem to shut up about the accidental types of identity. When the Nazis were wiping out the Jews, they were also thinking, writing and saying warm fuzzy things about the great Aryan race. When the Japanese soldiers were ritually raping Korean women to death, they did so loudly proclaiming the greatness of their native culture.

Pause –

We possess nuclear weapons. With these weapons, we are capable of reaching extinction by tomorrow morning. I’m not sure we can survive the next Hitler, I’m not sure we’ll live through the next Hirohito.

So I’ll ask you again, what is your identity? Who are you?”

If you enjoyed this speech, please share it.

If you’d like to see the speech in the original Korean, continue below the next picture.

ProtestPhaesants토마 연설

여기서 저의 토마 스피치 있습니다. 즐겨 많이 드세요. 문법 많이 틀어서 최송합니다. 이런 각본은 원래 상태로 보여주실 거예요. 영어로 쓴 각본은 좀 달아요. 차이 점은 저의 초급 한국어는 때문입니다.

“안녕하시기 바랍니다. 제 말씀을 잘 들어주시면 감사하겠습니다. 스피치 시작하기 전에, 아주 중요한 질문을 하고 싶습니다 – 너의 정체는 뭐에요? 다른 방법으로 물어보면, 누구세요? 깊게 생각해 보세요. 천천히 결정하세요.


저의 의견에서, 그런 질문의 대답은 인간 종류를 멸종할 수 있습니다. 너무 극적인 말씀인가요? 아마도 …

1999년부터 시작합시다. 그때 저는 15살이었습니다. 저는 애국적인 스피치 중이었습니다. 다른 학생에게 맥시코 이민자를 차별 주는 방법을 설명하고 있습니다. 맥시코 사람들이 우리 미국 문화를 바꿀 수 있습니다. 맥시코 사람들이 우리 미국 직업을 훔치고 싶습니다.

저는 그런 맥시코 이민자 행동에 많이 화났고 저의 생각은 더욱 확고 해였습니다. 다른 학생들은 저의 의견에 많이 동의했지만 저는 자리에 앉을 때 불편 해 짐을 느꼈습니다.

저는 왜 맥시코 사람보다 자격 받을 만하습니까? 제가 자동으로 특별한 사람 되였습니까? 그 맥시코 사람들이 왜 당연히 저보다 낮습니까? 그리고 왜 우리 미국 문화를 보호해였습니까? 저는 그런 문화를 만들었습니까?

제가 우연히 미국에서 태어났습니다. 미국은 재 것 않입니다.


그날부터 애국적인 스피치를 안했지만 정체 대해 생걱을 많이 해였습니다. 정체는 종류는 2개 있습니다 – 벌 수 있는 정체와 우연히 된 정체. 대학생은 벌 수 있는 정체입니다. 키 큰 사람은 우연히 된 정체입니다. 변호사는 벌 수 있는 정체 – 한국인은 우연히 되었습니다.

그렇게 생각했을 때 흥미로운 것을 발견 해였습니다. 우리 인간 종류는 살인적인 것을 하고 싶으면, 우연히 된 정체 대한 말씀은 많이 나와요. 나치는 유대인 대량 학살 때, 우수한 독일 인종 대해 생각해였습니다. 일본 군인들이 한국 여자를 강간했을 때, 위대한 일본 문화 대해 말했습니다.


요즘은 우리 인간 종류는 핵폭탄 가지고 있습니다. 핵무기로 인간 종류는 내일 아침까지 멸종될 수 있습니다. 다음 힡러, 다음 히로히토 왕 나오면 …

다시 한 번 더 물어 볼거예요. 정체는 뭐에요? 누구세요?

이런 각본을 좋아하면, 친구에게 내놔 해 주세요.





If you enjoyed this article, please consider buying the author’s novel.

For customers living in East Asia.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: