A new week, a new contributor!
We asked Nancy the two questions we ask all new Kimchi Mamas: what makes you Kimchi, and what makes you Mama? Please welcome Nancy to the fold!
Love, the Kimchi Mamas
When my son was two years old I began a novel about Korea. In the book, I wrote about a woman who was taken away from her son and her husband, forced into a comfort camp and eventually driven to lose her mind due to the horrific experience. The woman in my story somehow managed to get on a boat back to Korea after the Hiroshima bombings but she was never the same.
My story was completely fictional, as far as I knew, but years later I was given a book titled “East to America,” edited and collected by UC Berkeley professor Elaine Kim and UCLA professor Eui-Young Yu. The book was a collection of stories by Koreans who came to the United States. I was especially amazed by one story as it was about a woman whose life had followed what seemed to be the exact same trajectory as the character in my book. She had come back to Korea on a boat, just like the woman in my story. However, this real woman had not been driven crazy. Instead, she was fully functioning and living as an immigrant in America and now telling her story. Theories on genetic memory aside, this story cemented, in my own mind and heart, my place as a full blooded Korean. This was the true story of my people.
It makes sense to me that I am here in America now, as what I remember in significance about my childhood in Korea is running around, taking buses, going all over parts of Seoul, especially downtown. I never could sit still. My adoptive mom often said to me when I was a little girl, “you will have to marry an American man, no Korean man will put up with you.”
When I left my abusive adoptive parents as a teenager and met people from many backgrounds, I began to mix different perspectives and new knowledge with my own amalgam of Korean passion, creativity and ambition for all things. I was finally able to allow myself forgiveness of my past and joy of the present.
I studied everything I could about child-rearing by taking classes and reading hundreds of books in an attempt to overhaul what was immensely unhealthy about my own childhood and reinvent my own wheel to parent in a healthy way for whenever it would be that I had a child of my own.
With all that I had experienced as a child while in Korea, and all that I had added to my philosophical bi bim bap as a young adult in the American melting pot, I set out to begin my “mama”-hood. I love it and treasure it. My son is the most beautiful being that I have ever known, the most amazing gift in my life. As I watch him grow up and even through our struggles, I am reassured of the goodness, wisdom and beauty that is the human experience because of my mama-hood to my amazing son.
It is through being a mother, with each time I confirm and celebrate his Korean heritage with him, that I rediscovered all the beautiful strengths that my culture has to offer. I remembered that Koreans survived the harshest times in their history through the arts: poetry, paintings, music. Koreans held firm to a language and culture that was being tortured, killed and wrangled out of them for thirty-five arduous years. We Koreans are a pretty amazing group of people! I am very fortunate to have that fire and spice flowing through my veins, and now I am very lucky to be one of the Kimchi Mamas.