I got on my first airplane right before my 백일, 100th day birthday, which is historically a big day in Korea as it marks the survival of a baby in a country that endured brutal colonialism and an equally brutal civil war before catapulting to one of the largest economies in the world overnight. My father was a junior 직원 (loosely means “corporate subordinate”) of a Samsung subsidiary, and they tasked him to boost international sales based out of Los Angeles. Both my parents learned a bit of English in high school and university in Korea but as anyone who has learned a new language knows, speaking it or even trying to understand it amongst native speakers is a whole other ball game. It is not only intimidating but can be deeply isolating and lonely. Thankfully there was a well-established Korean community in and around L.A. and we made the trip to K-town every weekend. My mom found community at the local Korean church while my dad had to entertain clients, even on weekends.
My parents rarely talk about the difficulties they endured in a completely new world with no friends or family as young parents to my three year old sister and newborn me, but my siblings and I have picked up some clues along the way. Particularly from our own moving around as kids. My father’s international assignment ended when I was in the second grade and we moved to Seoul only to move back to L.A. the following year (a story for another time!)—we finally ended up in New Jersey, where you can still see the lone Samsung building in Fort Lee from the highway. Continue reading “What Being Asian American Means to Me”