When I first started blogging on Kimchi Mamas, my main
interest was learning about ways in which I could instill a sense of
Korean-ness (identity, culture, history, connection) in my daughter, who is
one-quarter Korean. Being hapa, myself, I wrote frequently and passionately about
my own feelings of inadequacy as a "real Korean;" my sense of removal
from my mother's culture, and my struggle to be considered "Korean"
My strong desire to "identify Korean" had never been supported by my full Korean mother, who used to tell me that I didn't "look Oriental" at all, with my double eyelids and medium-tall frame. She would often recall the time the two of us traveled to Korea, long ago, where I "stuck out like a sore thumb" amongst her family. She remembered everybody staring at me because I was so American-looking, so tall. Her intention was never to shame or criticize me; I think she was actually rather envious of my height and "exotic good looks."
Things are different now. For one, I spend very little
time dwelling on how I can be "more Korean." In fact, the whole
notion of forcing a cultural identity on myself seems almost ludicrous. I have
a few Korean friends, I eat Korean food, I have ingrained in me certain qualities
that I consider Korean (fierce familial loyalty, stubbornness, vengefulness,
and pride); but, I know that these qualities are not exclusively Korean. I am
as Korean as I want to be, and nobody can take that away from me.
Since all of that earlier worrying about my daughter finding her connection to the "old country," something wonderful has happened: my daughter has developed a very close connection with her Korean halmoni. She is learning Korean words, games, cultural traditions, and can even sing Arirang with a perfect accent! It has occurred to me that my daughter's connection to Korea, through my mother, is more profound than mine ever was. How can this be?
Maybe it's because Halmoni has mellowed out over the years. When I was born, my mom (who married my dad, an American) wanted nothing to do with Korea. She had left the country as a young girl -- not as a refugée, but as a foreign exchange student -- and never wanted to go back. Her early experiences in Korea were filled with nothing but awfulness: a harsh Japanese occupation, two wars, food scarcity, abuse, and fear. She wanted to erase her memories and immerse herself into Western culture, to start anew. Any of my attempts to learn about my mom's past, with a few exceptions, were shot down with, "Oh, I don't want to talk about that!" As a result, I grew up quite ignorant about Korea and my family's history.
Now, enough time has passed for my mom's childhood memories to have softened -- and she now enjoys telling my daughter about Korea. This is how my daughter is building a connection to her roots, my original goal. I didn't engineer this process in any way -- it happened gradually and organically -- and I could not be more pleased! Now, if only I could get the child to eat kimchi...
By Twizzle, who loves her mother dearly, even though the woman bugs the shit out of her.