A PIECE OF KOREA, A PIECE OF ME
February 28, 2008
Having finished reading Mira Stout's One Thousand Chestnut Trees, I'm left with a bit of an ache over my family in Korea, and about the half of me that exists across an ocean. This book jabbed at the part of me that looks for some sense of cultural identity; there's a profound emptiness that grows more noticeable as I get older -- an awareness of the inability to tell stories of "my people," whatever that means. Now that I have children, I feel like I have so little to offer in the way of culture and tradition.
It's odd to be aware of a void.
Growing up, I often heard adults (both American and Korean) tell me how fortunate I was to be able to have a sense of two cultures, both Korean and American. That's all fine and interesting, but as a kid, the notion of "culture" amounts to food and language; there is little sense of tradition, or heritage, or story. It's easy for a kid to be proud of eating kimchi and bulgoki, and bringing a Korean flag to school for cultural-awareness day, and being able to tell friends how to say "I love you" in Korean. But that's not culture. Culture is deeper. Culture is identity.
As I've gotten older, I don't feel as though I have two stories to tell, as I had been raised to believe I would. Instead, I have two halves of a story, neither of which connect in any meaningful way. The two stories happen to cross paths at a point in history, and it's in that crossing that I was born. There are no ties to an ancient past, no deep roots in any land; it's a bit like being a cultural orphan.
And yet somehow, this void and lack of history is my identity, and it's the identity of millions of people born into multi-cultural families. This book does a fantastic job expressing this two-halves identity. We half-breeds all share this. And that is both fascinating and reassuring.