Hanbok and Home

By Julie Yeeun Kim

December 25, 2020

May 3rd was the day my family immigrated to the US, now twenty-four years ago. It’s also the day the last little flame of the riots of 92 went out, now twenty-eight years ago. Time is weird, isn’t it? The more you have the less you do with it, it seems. Words are a paradox. The more you say the less they mean.

When my family moved to the US, our first destination was Koreatown, Los Angeles. We lived in an apartment on Harvard and Olympic. On the weekends, we’d walk our way through the streets, stepping into places that had burned to the ground just four years prior. By 1996, Koreatown had regrouped and was polishing itself into the glowing town it is today.

Every New Year season my mom made me wear a hanbok to church, the market, the plaza— wherever her busy samonim schedule took her. I hated how the hanbok felt around my neck, and I especially hated the eyes that it attracted. But each time I complained, her response was the same: You’re going to make all the grandmas and grandpas so happy . They think of home this time of year. Home is another interesting concept. It’s not until you leave that the house you left becomes the home you miss. What’s stranger and sorrier than leaving your home and hurting for it until the day you die? What’s more paradoxical than an Eastern Westerner? A Korean American?

My mom wanted to bring heartsick Koreans reminders of home. She wanted to reassure our elderly that, yes, our little ones will remember, and that, no, memories of home will not die with the recently arrived. She wanted to infuse life into spirits the way feet revive a town. And she did this by teaching me how to love and honor home–first with my hanbok, and now with my pen.