The summer before I started eighth grade, my mom sent my brother and me to Korea. It was my first trip to the motherland since immigrating to the US at age two. There were many wonderful things I discovered. I also got lectured by taxi drivers (plural) about my atrocious Korean.
They went something like this:
- It doesn’t matter if you live in America. You are Korean.
- You cannot forget this.
- You will always look Korean; therefore, you must speak Korean.
- How will you pass along your heritage to your children if you don’t know Korean? (Note : I was 12.)
- You need to tell you parents to speak only Korean at home.
I was able to understand everything they said, but my Korean was not good enough to employ sass. Even sadder, my Korean language ability was probably at its peak during that time of my life.
In my defense:
— My parents decided to speak English at home so that we could assimilate. It worked. I am quite fluent in English
— After age 2, I lived in: Missouri, rural Massachusetts, Florida, Mississippi, central (not coastal) California, Colorado, central Texas, Arizona and southern Washington. There are opportunities to speak Korean in those places, but doesn’t this explain some things?
(In full disclosure, I also spent a year in South Korea – but on a US military base. As long as I didn’t venture very far away, my Korean was impressive. Like, people actually brought me along to translate.)
In the end, the Korean cabbies were right. I hope this makes them proud.
Journal entry — 2 Feb 15
J has a very sharp sense of smell & often comments on stinky food: egg salad, fish, etc.
She thinks kimchee is stinky. One day, I told her that it is her destiny to love kimchee because she is half Korean.
Tonight I ate my dinner on the couch next to J. She is on BiPAP.
M: J, can I go get some kimchee now? ?
M: Are you sure? The smell won’t bother you?
M: Is it because you are half Korean? (hopeful)
J: Because I have BiPAP on.