In a personal essay for Variety, Korean American actor Charles Melton, known for his role as Reggie Mantle in Riverdale, expressed his thoughts amidst the increase of Anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States. He shared that, growing up, he tried to suppress his Asian identity. Being born to a white father and a Korean mother, Melton wrestled with his identity as he was often told he was both not “white enough” or “Asian enough.”

melton
The Sun Is Also a Star | Warner Bros. Pictures

With an Army soldier for a father, he always felt proud to be an American citizen. However, he didn’t share the same sentiments towards his Korean heritage. Recently, the increase of violence against Asians has provoked Melton to reconcile with his past and reexamine his roots. He reflects on his memories and recalls times when he witnessed his mother being mistreated and demeaned.

My earliest memories are with her, out in the world among friends and strangers. But there was always pain in these interactions. I remember people talking down to my mother as if she didn’t belong. It demeaned her and in turn triggered something in me that I’ve long buried deep inside. A truth that at my young age, I didn’t know how to protect her, and it broke my heart.

— Charles Melton

melton and mom
Charles Melton with his mother | @melton/Instagram

Going to school as a minority is difficult because every kid wants to fit in. Peers ostracize you and there’s no representation even in textbooks. When he was in school, Melton suppressed his identity so much so that he would participate in making fun of other Asians while ignoring all the microaggressions that he himself suffered.

Comments from friends about my house smelling funny because of my mother’s home-cooked Korean meals and kimchi caused me to carry shame. At school, I never learned about my Korean American history – or Asian American history at all. If you never learn about your own history, how can you really exist? Trying to fit in at school, I chased the American dream by being a star athlete, all the while suppressing my Asian identity. I remember even beating everyone to the punch by making Asian jokes before anyone else would.

— Charles Melton

melton with mom2
Charles Melton with his mother on recruiting day at Kansas State University | Good Morning America

Melton laments that, while he was suppressing his identity, his mother was continually suffering from prejudice. He explained, “All the while, my mother held our collective pain – the feelings of displacement and shame – and carried the burden on her shoulders, blaming herself.” The hate crimes against the AAPI community has provoked Melton to dig deeper within himself, deeply reflect, and finally speak out.

Through it, I’ve realized that I never stood up for my Korean heritage. I’ve willfully ignored the racism and microaggressions directed towards me and my people. I failed to defend my heritage in fear of retribution. And now I can’t help but wonder what I did to contribute to the violence against Asian Americans.

— Charles Melton

He struggles with feelings of regret and is concerned that he may have even, in the past, contributed to hurtful stereotypes against Asians. While he wishes he had done more for his community earlier, he is attempting now to use his influence and speak out in solidarity with fellow Asian Americans.

I will no longer remain silent about my lived experience. The hate crimes that have swept the country have forced me to realize how important the platform I have is and the responsibility that comes with it. Domestic terrorism and hate-driven violence have plagued our nation and continue to do so. What’s clear in all of this is the rampant violence against Asian people.

— Charles Melton

He recognizes his mistakes and is owning up to them. While he continues to educate himself and others, he is hoping to “challenge this very broken system.” He plans to use his platform to make a difference.

I do know that I want to use media and entertainment as advocacy. I want to tell inclusive, representative stories. I want to reconcile my identity and come to terms with who I am, despite the pain. I want to uplift the AAPI experience through storytelling, caring, understanding, and kindness that I can share with the world.

— Charles Melton

He now proudly proclaims both his American and his Asian heritage. In his closing statement of the personal essay, he wrote, “I am Charles Melton, and I am a proud Korean American.”