Sunday, September 14, 2008

On to my children …

From very young, I never had a reason to want to know more about my birth parents. But every day, my own children astonish me. And of course, I wonder, did my birth parents pass on some love-of-design gene to me?

As I’ve said, I love design. I’m drawn to well-designed packages, typography, compellingly composed photography and paper. While granted, my children have noticed, I wonder back to the crumpler/folder theory of how Asians are drawn to a compulsive neatness and the order of things.

My son collects all kinds of things: Pokemon cards [of course!], rocks, sticks, marbles and wine corks. The latter were brought to me early one morning. He had sorted them. “The ones in the bag are really nice. See the words on them? This one has a leopard print on it. I like the way this one has wavy lines,” he told me as he showed me his most treasured corks. And yes, they were the most well-designed of the bunch. Then, he went on, “These in this container are just plain or boring. I think I’ll make a bulletin board out of them.” That’s my boy, I thought. His father doesn’t sort nearly as precisely.

My daughter also makes me proud. Her favorite thing is paper. When we open a new book or magazine, she smells the paper and rubs it against her velvety face. I recall my days of sniffing mimeograph paper. The love of that purple-hued courier type on white with its intoxicating scent.

My adoptive parents did not have such habits. So somewhere in Korea there is a paper-sniffing, cork-sorting person with my face in the back of her mind.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

You all are good at math, right?

How many times have I heard that comment? I heard it in grade school, high school, college and even now, as an adult. I shouldn’t be offended. In college, my math prof asked me if I wanted to major in math. So that means I’m good at math, right?

But, I didn’t become a mathematician. No, I became a designer. Not a CAD person or an engineer. A graphic designer to be exact. Seems a bit far fetched from a mathematician, although I do some crazy math to figure out decimal figures of fractions for layouts, or conversions from points to picas to inches.

It would seem from my experience that Asians must be “good at math.” My Taiwanese friend, however, says she is hopeless at math. [And yes, she is.]

What do appearances say about us? As one who is often mistaken for something else, I think we all use our sense of experience, be it personal experience or learned experience from our parents, to evaluate new acquaintances. Do we feel more comfortable when we feel that we know something ahead of time? It would appear that our experience in something comforts us. But are we that predictable?

Society and the media think so and feel the need to compartmentalize. Researchers, too, are notorious for it. [See an example in the post Mistaken Identity.] But the lines have blurred. Despite this, race categories are becoming essential in the US election. Emphasis of one heritage over another appeals to certain groups. When will the race factor just not matter? When will gender not matter?

When will we take an individual for his or her own merits, and not the merits of a particular race or gender?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

To visit or not to visit

It’s been 39 years since I left Korea. And I truly consider myself first and foremost an American and a Puerto Rican. In all those years, I had never wanted to find my birth family.

When I was younger and people asked me if I wanted to find my real mother, I would always say, “Why? She’s at home in Newport, Tennessee.” I’d known no other.

In the spring of 1995, my then husband-to-be wanted to take me back to Korea for our honeymoon. I said, “Are you kidding me? There are tons of places in America that I haven’t seen or experienced. I’d rather explore my own country, thank you.”

But since the births of my children, I have had underlying urges to know more about my birth country. I do love Korean food [especiallly kimchi and Korean citron tea]. And I have since made a Korean-American friend.

My mother passed away shortly after my first child was born. She always encouraged me to learn more about Korea, but I never really showed much interest. My father had been stationed in Korea during the Korean War. Despite my rolling eyes, my dad loved to use Korean words and phrases with me, and he introduced me to kimchi, a favorite food of his.

My seven-year-old son was drawn to Tae Kwon Do, a Korean martial art. He’s learned to count in Korean. His best friend is going to Korea this summer, and he’s quite keen on the idea. So, now that I have children who are curious about that side of their lineage, I would love to go to Korea with them, so that we all could learn more about Korea together!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Friend, Ted

I so enjoy a sense of humor. My friend, Ted, breathes humor. He theorized the “Crumpler or Folder” idea. He taped his face for a laugh on the eve of my leaving Clarksville, Tennessee. I miss not seeing him on a day-to-day basis. But I can go to his one-and-only blog for my daily laugh. His face says it all.

Check out his one-and-only blog entry here.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

“Yer not from roun’ here, are ya?”

My family made one of our few treks to Tennessee this holiday season. After being on the road for a few hours, we made our usual stop at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. As I checked out, the cashier asked, “Where are you traveling to?”

I said, “Tennessee.”

“Where are you from?” was the reply.

“Oh, Virginia.”

This short conversation got me thinking. How did she know I was traveling? I know that most Cracker Barrels host the interstate traveler. I worked for Cracker Barrel for many years through high school and college. But even in my native East Tennessee home, I often get this question, “Yer not from roun’ here, are ya?” My reply is always the same, “Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I grew up around here.”

I grew up loving overcooked veggies like fried okra, “kilt (aka killed)” lettuce and spring onions, canned green beans, chitlins, and pintos and ham hocks. I love my cousin’s decaf sweetened iced tea and her apple stack cake. But these loves are not evident when a stranger sees me. I appear as a stranger, an outsider. However, my heart still dwells in the rural hills of East Tennessee.

My Asian friends at times will remind me of my looks and my strange dichotomy. Recently, we were driving from D.C. and became lost. My husband, knowing the back roads of Virginia well, directed us out of the rural route and onto the main highway.

On our journey down the back roads, my friends mentioned a fear of breaking down in the rural area. “What if we have a flat tire?” they asked. Our cell phones weren’t getting a good reception, so I said I’d just approach a home and ask for help. Their reply was that I wasn’t a white male, but an Asian female. Did I really want to do that. From my upbringing, I realized that I was thinking in terms of my relatives and how they would help us if I approached their homes. But it was true that I didn’t appear to be from “roun’ here.”

My son is now learning that he is not a true white male. He is struggling with his identity. Classmates and strangers are calling him “Chinese boy” in a derogatory way. We live in a city that is quite diverse and yet, he is still faced with the cruelty and ignorance I faced in rural Tennessee. My husband and I have come up with this description of who he is … Anglo Korean Latino American. We explained what they all meant to him and if someone continued to harass him, to say, “Just Google it.”

In some respects, I feel a need to get back to my roots and understand what motivates people. My parents always explained to me that criticism has its roots in insecurity. We don't know the true struggles of those around us.

While I was home, I met with an old high school friend. She now teaches high school English in Tennessee. She relayed a story to me of an eighteen year old in her class. His classmates learned that he had no proper bed. He had slept on the floor of his grandparents’ home since he was fourteen. His previous bed had broken, and they did not have the money to replace it. So, he just slept on the floor for four years.

The students in his class were so moved by his need that they all chipped in and bought him a bed for Christmas this year. Kindness goes a long way.

Though we may have different skin color, different facial features, different backgrounds, we all understand emotions in the same way. We all feel hurt, sadness, happiness and joy. And we all appreciate kindness and acceptance.