I think that I always bring up my mom because she has had the most lasting impact on me and continues to do so. My parents are originally from Korea, and I feel like they were also of a generation where they felt that they had to assimilate, assimilate, assimilate. Because of that, identity slowly gets erased. And I grew up in a homogenous, particularly in elementary and middle school, population. So I feel like anyone whose cultural identity is exoticized or othered, you have this very fraught relationship with one’s personal identity. But my mom was always very celebratory about it. The first time I ever went to Korea, I thought I was going to my peoples, my homeland. I was incredibly excited because I felt the US was this weird ambiguous space of kind of being other but kind of accepted but in this weird grey zone. So I was excited to go to my homeland but it was a completely different experience. I didn’t speak the language, I dressed differently, I behaved differently, so I actually had a lot of tense exchanges with people in Korea. So this kind of refusal of acceptance was really devastating to me.
After having a lot of conversations with my mom about not feeling like I have a place or an identity, I don’t really belong in the States and I don’t really belong in Korea. But she told that it’s not this void of an identity, what you’re doing is actually expanding what identity can be and look like, and that’s actually a beautiful thing. That is something that has continued to stay with me. So that was 16 years ago in Korea, and I actually just went last month for work but also to visit family and reconnect with my cultural roots. A little bit worried about being another ‘other’, but this time was really different. The one thing I really noticed, oddly, was how many figs and dates were in Korean foods. Also thinking about hybridity of identity and culture, I also think food is really representative of that as well because you can see in each food and dish the differences but also the through lines.
For example, my mom told me that the first time she traveled in the United States she was so shocked that every culture has a form of dumpling. So it’s incredible to see these cross cultural exchanges, through trade of ideas through food. So when I saw those dates it really reminded me of that experience with having these conversations with my mom, going back to Korea for the first time as a cognizant human and then returning again -- it was a really amazing experience that I will cherish. Which is why I bought store-made -- store-bought -- dates from Trader Joes. It’s also one of my favorite foods of all time.