Dearest Daughter

By Karen Jungsoo Ahn

November 13, 2020

You were born on the first day of spring, the sign of something new. I remember holding you to my chest to cherish your very existence. If ever there was a time when love could be touched, it was then. You became my world, my ultimate responsibility, my life’s purpose. I want you to know great love through how I love you. I want this memory and these desires to be engraved onto your heart.

My love, you need to engrave these desires onto your heart. You need to remember how much you are loved for survival. Your skin is deep caramel and your hair is delightfully “all over the world.” Your eyes come from mommy, who comes from the Ahn family from the Gyeongsang province in South Korea. Everything else — your toned, sinewy legs, your eyebrows and lips — all of this beauty comes from daddy, who comes from a strong African-American family from Tuskegee, Alabama. My love, I ask you to always love who you are and from where you come.

I write this letter to you because I have been thinking a lot about the world and the type of mommy I want to be to you right now. I’ll try to be honest with you always. Here’s what I’ve been thinking…

Mommy didn’t understand a lot of things before you were born. I had heard about Black-American children and adults getting killed for no reason on the news. I thought it was sad, but I didn’t think too much about it. I didn’t think I really had to because I wasn’t Black. This was wrong of mommy.

I always thought I was a good person. I tried my best. I was kind to others. I made sure that I was on the good guys’ side in any situation. Yet, I never understood how grossly unfair it was that innocent people were getting killed just because of the color of their skin — until I held you. Forgive me — please — my love. Mommy is learning and I am trying.

There are so many mistakes I have made, and I want to tell them to you so you can see how I am trying and how I am fixing myself for you.

I thought assimilating to our all white community was the best way to give you a great life. Daddy and I tried to do this, and it didn’t work because we’re not white. We just ended up hating ourselves for not being able to fit into a place that would never accept us as them. We both learned a lot from this experience. You should talk to him too.

I tried to hold your Koreanness over your Blackness without thinking about how you are double the goodness of your ancestors. You are great because of daddy and mommy. Never should you have to choose sides.

I let racism from my community permeate my identity as a mother. When certain ahjumahs would stare at us and then snicker to their friends as we walked away, I would internalize their judgment as something wrong with me and my choice to be with a Black man. Now, I stare furiously back into their eyes to let them know they cannot take my strength away as your mom — Bullies!

There are many things mommy got right too. I think. I suppose time will tell. Will you let me know? Even now? I will listen.

I watch you, though. I pay attention to every move you make and every word you say to see if I’m doing a good job.

Last weekend, we were hanging out at the park by mommy’s work, and we ran into Black Lives Matters protesters who were chanting words together. You stood up on a bench, started jumping, and yelling, “No justice, no peace!” with the crowd. I will always remember this moment. All 3 feet 8 inches of you, bouncing in your butterfly dress, radiant and beautiful. One of the leaders, then, asked everyone for a moment of silence, and we sat down. As people talked about a man named George Floyd, you shuffled around a bit, looked through my purse for a toy, and then whispered in my ear, “Mommy, when will they start singing and dancing again?”

My love, I don’t know.

I hope you will always talk to me. I hope we will talk about that moment at the protest one day, and about all the thoughts that flooded me when you were born. Until then, I will hold you tightly, my little spring lady, as a symbol of youth, innocence, and renewal.