I am ½ Korean, born and left in Seoul, S. Korea but saved then raised in America. Even now, my culture feels foreign to me. I don’t know my other ethnic half, so I claim Hungarian/Swedish thanks to my parents. Trader Joes creates my Korean dishes but I whip up Chicken Paprikas almost from memory. I don’t feel displaced having not identified with Koreans before. Now, I’m mature enough to savor the experience.
Growing up in Maryland, I never knew any Asians. Upon returning from a Sarasota trip at age 5, my incredibly dark tan convinced me of my Native American Princess heritage, living with the pale skins until my painted pony rescued me from the suburbs and whisked me away to the wilderness.
My parents had a few Korean keepsakes but I had no idea what being “Korean” meant. I did get a full-Korean sister then a blonde baby sister who thought she was 5% Korean by association. Still, discussions of heritage come last, if at all, after taunting, teasing and tattling.
Upon moving to California, I instantly bonded with a fellow ½ Asian gal until I changed schools the next year. I didn’t see another Asian child until one started in 5th. Although, it didn’t help with categorizing me because I looked too exotic to be white and too cow-licked to be Asian.
This continued until my 20’s when I found out a co-worker was adopted (though domestic, not Korean). Weaving a common thread with someone that held roots in my childhood, I craved to weave others. My first conscious exposure to Korean culture was sampling kimchi at Costco. Soon followed a trip to a Korean restaurant with a trusted friend to handle ordering. Eventually, my kids’ births cured me of wanting to look like anyone.
Since then I’ve had all sorts of friends continue my Asian education. I traveled to Asian countries, but not yet Seoul. My Kor(ter)ean kids speak more Korean than I thanks to Tae Kwon Do. Their studio hosts a trip to Seoul every few years, so when my kids reach black belt, we’ll take that trip of a lifetime to celebrate the end their journey and the start of mine.