The Three Sisters of PyongYang
A look back at the bold women of her great-grandmother's generation helps a Korean-American understand her own atypical upbringing in Ohio.
One day in junior high, I was walking in the mall and noticed a cute toddler being pushed in a stroller toward me. I smiled at him, but as he and his mother went by, he pushed himself up from the stroller and twisted his torso around to stare at me. I wondered why—and suddenly realized that I was probably the first Asian person he had ever seen. This is what it was like to grow up Korean-American in Youngstown, Ohio.
While jarring moments like this made me realize that I was often perceived, even by babies, as an outsider in the very city where I was born, on the other hand, my home life wasn’t very Korean at all. In fact, I knew little about Korean culture, and my parents—my mom was a pharmacist and my dad an accountant-turned-stockbroker—didn’t help. They didn’t speak Korean to me, and the only reason I had any Korean friends at all was because when I was nine, my aunt and uncle brought me to a Korean church. I wanted to keep playing with the Korean-American…
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