I’m 42 and I’m not successful, but I’m Korean American. (Am I allowed to say that?) My story begins in Seoul, Korea in 1970, the year of the dog, when I was born. I was born into a very broken family. My father was in the military and got intoxicated every weekend. My life was completely torn upside down by my father’s rage, drunkenness & violence towards my mother. You can still see the marks of emotional damage that those early years caused within my family experience. It is really sad, but so awfully true. I cannot deny it because I can see the scars through the window of my own soul. Your past is still a part of you…
I’m a strong Christian, but I’m still struggling. (Am I allowed to confess that?) I don’t have my act all together even though I’ve been walking with God for 35 years now. I still sin. I lose my temper. At times I say some four letter words. I have demons inside of me that need to come out. I feel lost and disconnected in my environment at times. There are moments when I cry in silence because I can still feel the pain of my childhood. I say to myself, “When will I finally be able to move on and put all this behind me?”
I live in a very wealthy part of Southern California. You’ve probably have heard of it…OrangeCounty like the show, “OC House Wives,” but I don’t live in a “gated community.” (Am I allowed to be here?) I don’t even own a house. I’ve been renting ever since I got out of college. I put myself through school, so I have a heap of debt. I don’t drive a nice car. I don’t send my kids to a private school. I’m not a trophy wife. And I don’t shop at Nordstroms. I can’t afford the expensive designer shoes or clothes, and I can’t afford to get my hair or nails done. I’m not Barbie. So what am I doing here? Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong…
You know…Forrest Gump’s mother was right…”Life is like a box of chocolates. You just don’t know what you’re gonna get.” I was conceived and given life. I never could have imagined that my family was going to immigrate to America, but it happened. I never wanted to grow up in an abusive home, but I did. I never dreamed that I wouldn’t fit the “model minority” stereotype. (On the surface, it looks so damn good, doesn’t it?!) Sometimes I wish I could fit that mold so that my life could become simpler. I was primed since my childhood to drive myself to success and wealth at any cost. Even if it meant losing my very own soul, but I just couldn’t do it. My heart is too precious to me and it’s all I have, so I chose a different path for my life…
I have tried many times to find solidarity with the Korean American community, but each time I would reach out, I fell short of their expectations. I just don’t fit. And I decided in my mid-30’s that I would finally stop trying and give myself some measure of peace through space and time. Peace to discover my destiny. Space to redefine community. Time to create a family.
You see, I didn’t marry someone Korean. My parents disowned me, and I had to cut ties with my family. We tried to mend the relationship six months later by throwing a “wedding celebration.” The celebration was all about honoring them and not really about giving the bride away. I was the last child to get married, so I was appointed to be the “redeemer” for the whole family. I was supposed to marry a wealthy Korean man. Somehow this single act was supposed to climax to the ultimate reason for my existence. I had unfulfilled my duty as a good daughter, and things were never the same between us.
I don’t come from an educated family. I attended a Korean Baptist church for many years, growing up in Michigan. All the kids were from wealthy backgrounds. Their parents were doctors, lawyers, and highly educated in Korea. All the kids that I went to church with went to private schools, lived in affluent neighborhoods, and were very materialistic. I remember one Christmas, when my two Korean girlfriends and I had exchanged gifts with one another. Let’s just say that my gifts were nothing much compared to theirs. I couldn’t keep up with the Kim’s and the Lee’s…all their Ralph Lauren clothes and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. They knew it, and I knew it…that I was different. My poverty showed, and my solidarity with the only Korean community I knew at the time soon diminished as our lifestyles drove us apart.
I can’t speak Korean. I attended USC for one semester at the age of 17. I got introduced to a Korean American group at my father’s church in L.A. I became very zealous to discover my roots for the first time, so I took Korean classes and tried really hard to speak the language. After a whole year of this cultural immersion, I realized that I was “trying” to become something that I wasn’t. I was trying to fit in with this group who had strong ties to their history, culture and language. No matter how hard I tried, I was considered the “white girl” from the Midwest. There were so many Koreans at USC, and as I tried to connect with them, I soon realized that I couldn’t relate to their experiences. When I tried to share mine, it seemed like it didn’t matter. I wasn’t Korean enough for them. I soon transferred to a different university.
The list goes on and on…I didn’t go to the right college. I don’t make enough money. I have biracial children. I don’t hang around Korean people. I don’t follow the Confucian belief that uniformity, hierarchy, and patriarchy form the path to solidarity. Rather, I believe in interdependence, dialogue, and equality which make me so “unKorean.” I haven’t been well received in the Korean American community, and to be honest with you, there’s just no room for me. I’m not enough, and besides there are just too many rules and too much exclusiveness.
In my search for my identity, my own healing and my destiny, I think I’m doing what so many people are already doing…being true to themselves. This is where peace truly begins to lead the way for one’s journey. I don’t know how else to do it. Running away won’t give me a better path. Being angry will only fuel me for a time. And trying to conform to the expectations of others will smother me. I’m not cookie-cutter. And you know what I’ve discovered on my journey? No one wants to be. Hi, I’m Merci-Mi, and this is my Korean American story.