By Grace Minjeong Sur Smith
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”
By Robert Kum
What being Asian or Asian American means to me – When asked this question, people will commonly answer family which is of course not surprising. However, when I use the term, I am not referring to the generic use of the term “family”, but am specifically referring to being a “Kum” (금). Let me explain First, let’s start with my last name. The pronunciation gets butchered quite a lot, either intentionally or unintentionally. Most people pronounce Kum, like it rhymes with Zoom. It is subtle but my last name is more of a hard “K” with a Ummm. As for my first name, my Korean name is actually Chong Seo. My family is old school and so the first part of the name for all males designate the particular generational era they were born, in my case Chong. So my four brothers and I all have this in our names (Chong Guk, Chong Hwa, Chong Myong and Chong Seo). Since we are a patriarchal society, my sister does not get this honor and so she is just plain Nancy.
Next, when most Koreans are asked what specific area they are from, most usually say Seoul. It is after all the largest city in Korea, roughly 17% of the population. Some say Seoul out of convenience because it is the most well-known city (Summer Olympics, etc.). When asked, I proudly say Okcheon. It is a small town approx. 150 km south from Seoul. For generations, my family lived there until my parents made the bold move to come to the U.S. in the 1960’s. When I mean generations, the local archive contains our family tree which extends back over 1,000 years. Being listed in this family book as being born there was so important that I later verified that my father could not bear to list my true birth place (Kingston, Ontario, Canada – That is a story for another day) but am instead listed as being born at the family homestead. I am actually not bothered by the mistake. In another 1,000 years, someone will look at the book and try to unravel the mystery of who I was and wonder about my weird Canadian connection. Continue reading “What Being Asian American Means to Me”