My mother was born in Korea and immigrated to the United States when she was in sixth grade. You think being the new kid in middle school is hard? Try being the new kid in a new country, speaking barely any of the country’s language. Over the years, she has adapted to America and embraced a more American lifestyle, but her Korean roots forever remain. She still speaks fluent Korean (usually when fighting — I mean talking — to her mother on the phone), and, no matter what, will eat rice with every meal. Most of my exposure to my Korean heritage has been from my mother. She taught my sister and me how to wear a hanbok on Lunar New Year and properly bow to our elders. She cooks miyeok guk on our birthdays and dduk guk on New Year’s. Having a mother who is still very connected to her Korean heritage has given me a sense of appreciation and relationship with my culture that I am extremely grateful for.
Conversely, my father was born and raised in America and, similarly to me, lived a relatively American lifestyle. My father’s not fully Korean upbringing has pulled me into an interesting mix of a Korean-American identity, kind of in between my parents’ identities. I am grateful to have lived the experiences that are tied both to my Korean culture and to the more Americanized culture I have grown up with. Having parents who can also resonate with both is what has enabled this. On the other hand, not growing up with just one culture can present challenges as it is hard to be fully in touch with both identities. My mother being more Korean-ized than my father has also added to this dynamic. It is difficult being the only Asian in the room at predominately white events and at a predominantly white school, but it is also difficult not being able to speak to your grandparents in Korean. I think that as I grow older and continue to be more reflective of my identity, it is important that I also recognize the challenges of establishing a strong sense of self.
However, what is more important is recognizing the absolute blessing of having a Korean-American identity. I have lived for 18 years experiencing two different cultures; I have honestly had the best of both worlds. Ordering Shake Shack and pizza weekly, but also having homemade dweji bulgogi or other homemade Korean foods made by my mother. Participating in highly competitive Settlers of Catan tournaments with my family and playing the just as competitive game yut nori with my grandparents. I feel privileged to have experienced a life that has incorporated and combined the cultures and traditions of both my parents. I feel even more privileged knowing I have such a fantastic family to make our own traditions that blend our Korean identity with living in America.