An All-American Korean American 4th of July

By Terra Trevor 

An armload of bulgogi covers the grill and a circle of friends surround the barbecue. Everyone has a pair of chopsticks in hand and turn slices of the sizzling beef. A picnic table is laden with platters of pindaettok, mandu, heaping bowls of kimchi, chap chae, and romaine lettuce leaves with red bean sauce for dipping. There is plenty of sliced watermelon of course, and three rice cookers stand ready in a row. 
 There is laughter around the table.

After another helping of dry cuttle fish, after we eat as much food as we can hold, we find a grassy spot under a shade tree, pull out a folk guitar, stretch back on the grass, and sing. The familiar melody has me humming along, while the group sings the lyrics in Korean. 
Most of the time I forget that my husband, our youngest daughter and I are the only ones who are not Korean. At these gatherings all my friends are Korean American, like two of my children.The afternoon leaves me with a contented feeling, a sense of belonging, like I have when I go to a family reunion. 

However, my friends within the Korean community didn’t feel like family in the beginning, way back when we began attending a Korean church in 1987, when my kids were then four, six and ten. I needed to reach deep with faith, because in giving my kids the opportunity to grow up within an all-Asian group I also had to let go of them a little bit in order to allow them to find their place within the Korean community and to learn to identify and express themselves as Korean adoptees, instead of tying to fit into the stereotypical Korean model everyone expected them to be.

I’ve heard adoptive parents say they want the Korean American community to accept their family on the adoptive parents terms and not to absorb their kids. They don’t want them to take over. But I’ve never felt this way. I wanted my children to have the same opportunity to be immersed in the Korean community and discover their identity, as I did growing up mixed blood Native American within Indian country. The difference is Korean culture was initially unfamiliar to me. We were making new friends and I was allowing them to take my children into a world unknown to me.

I remember my grandmother’s words. “Child,” she said, “We’re Indians, and our Cherokee, Delaware and Seneca culture has been scattered into odds and bits, yet Indian people are determined to keep our life ways alive.” 

I wanted to give my kids what was given to me, to make it possible for them to gather bits and pieces of Korean culture and braid it into our lives, and show them how to hold their heritage high. 
While my son and my oldest daughter explored the constantly evolving questions of what it means to be Korean American, and my younger daughter who is Cherokee, Delaware, Seneca and Irish, grew increasingly more diverse, my husband and I sank in roots and worked to build lasting relationships and to let our new friends know that our interest in doing so was heartfelt.

Over the past 25 years our Korean community gatherings has provided me with some of the deepest sharing I’ve ever known. 
At the picnic we rest just long enough for our food to settle, and then it is time to play games. There are sack races, three-legged races, a water balloon toss, followed by a scavenger hunt. Everyone plays, the grandmas and grandpas, even babies are encouraged to join in, and there is always someone willing to lend a helping hand.

I find it wildly wonderful that fancy equipment is not needed for our game playing. We have a ball, a blindfold, two gunnysacks and we have each other. Just people enjoying one another, a day of slowing down and relaxing at the park, it’s not always an easy thing to find.

This essay was first published in a slightly different form in Terra's memoir Pushing up the Sky: A Mother's Story. This essay also appears in The Huffington Post

Copyright © Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.

ABOUT THE AUTHORTerra Trevor is the author of a diverse body of work. She values the collective experience and has collaborated with other writers across genres and is a contributing author of 10 books including The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing After Removal, The University of Oklahoma Press, Birthed from Scorched Hearts: Women Respond to War, Fulcrum Books. Her memoir Pushing up the Sky: A Mother's Storyis widely anthologized with excerpts included in Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices On Child Custody and Education, The University of Arizona Press.

The Book War

By Wang Ping

I discovered “The Little Mermaid” in 1969. That morning, when I opened the door to light the stove to make breakfast, I found my neighbor reading under a streetlight. The red plastic wrap indicated it was Mao’s collected work. She must have been there all night long, for her hair and shoulders were covered with frost, and her body shivered from cold. She was sobbing quietly. I got curious. What kind of person would weep from reading Mao’s words? I walked over and peeked over her shoulders. What I saw made me shiver. The book in her hands was Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, and she was reading “The Little Mermaid.” The day I heard the story in my kindergarten, I begged my mom to send me to school right away so that I could read the fairy tales by myself. By the end of my first grade, however, the Cultural Revolution began. Schools were closed, libraries sealed. Books, condemned as “poisonous weeds,” were burnt on streets. I thought I’d never see “The Little Mermaid” again.

My clever neighbor had disguised Anderson’s “poisonous weed” with the scarlet cover for Mao’s work. Engrossed in the story, she didn’t realize my presence behind her until I started weeping. She jumped up, fairy tales clutched to her budding chest. Her panic-stricken face said she was ready to fight me to death if I dared to report her. We stared at each other for an eternity. Suddenly she started laughing, pointing at my tear-stained face. She knew then that her secret was safe with me. 

She gave me 24 hours to read the fairy tales, and I loaned her The Arabian Nights, which was missing the first fifteen pages and the last story. But the girl squealed and started dancing in the twilight. When we finished each other’s books, we started an underground book group with strict rules for safety, and we had books to read every day, all “poisonous” classics.

Soon I excavated a box of books my mother had buried beneath the chicken coop. I pried it open with a screwdriver, and pulled out one treasure after another: The Dream of the Red Chamber, The Book of Songs, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Tempest, The Notre Dame, Huckleberry Finn, American Dream, each wrapped with waxed paper to keep out moisture.

I devoured them all, in rice paddies and wheat fields, on my way home from school and errands. I tried to be careful. If I got caught, the consequence would be catastrophic for my entire family. My mother finally discovered I had unearthed her treasure box, and set out to destroy these “time bombs.” She combed every possible place in the house: in the deep of drawers, under the mattress, chicken coop... It was a hopeless battle: my mother knew what tricks I had in my sleeves. Whenever she found a book, she’d order me to tear the pages and place them in the stove, and she’d sit nearby watching the words turn into cinder.

When the last book was burnt, I went to the coop to sit with my chickens. Hens and roosters surrounded me, pecking at my closed fists for food. As tears flowed, the Little Mermaid came to me. She stepped onto the sand, her feet bleeding, and she could not speak, yet how her eyes and body sang and summoned me to join in! That night I started telling stories--the Little Mermaid, Romeo and Juliet, Huckleberry Finn, Aladdin...first to my siblings, friends, then to the neighbors—stories I found from those forbidden treasures, stories I made up for myself and my audience. We gathered on summer nights, in the winter darkness. When I spotted my parents in the gathering and saw the stars in their eyes, I knew I had won the war.

First published at Kinship of Rivers.
Copyright © Wang Ping. All rights reserved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wang Ping was born in China and came to USA in 1986. She is the founder and director of the Kinship of Rivers project, a five-year project that builds a sense of kinship among the people who live along the Mississippi and Yangtze rivers through exchanging gifts of art, poetry, stories, music, dance and food. With other artists and poets, she has been teaching poetry and art workshops to children and seniors along the river communities, making thousands of flags as gifts to bring to the Mississippi during 2011-12 and to the Yangtze in 2013.

Her publications include American Visa (short stories, 1994), Foreign Devil (novel, 1996), Of Flesh and Spirit (poetry, 1998), The Magic Whip (poetry, 2003), The Last Communist Virgin (stories, 2007), All Roads to Joy: Memories along the Yangtze (forthcoming 2012), all from Coffee House. New Generation: Poetry from China Today (1999), an anthology she edited and co-translated, is published by Hanging Loose. Flash Cards: Poems by Yu Jian, co-translation with Ron Padgett, 2010 from Zephyr. Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China (2000, University of Minnesota Press) won the Eugene Kayden Award for the Best Book in Humanities, and in 2002, Random House published its paperback. The Last Communist Virgin won 2008 Minnesota Book Award and Asian American Studies Award. She had two photography and multi-media exhibitions--“Behind the Gate: After the Flooding of the Three Gorges” at Janet Fine Art Gallery, Macalester College, 2007, and “All Roads to Lhasa” at Banfill-Lock Cultural Center, 2008. She collaborated with the British filmmaker Isaac Julien on Ten Thousand Waves, a film installation about the illegal Chinese immigration in London. She is the recipient of National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York State Council of the Arts, Minnesota State Arts Board, the Bush Artist Fellowship, Lannan Foundation Fellowship, Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, and the McKnight Artist Fellowship.

Mexico and the USA: My Motherland and Fatherland

By Aurora Garcia

The USA is the country where I live. While the United States is not my motherland, it is the country where I have lived the longest and the country that gave me a new life, and a son. It is not the country where fate would have me be born in, but where I actually and consciously chose to become a citizen. But of course without renouncing to my Mexican citizenship.

For the longest time I rejected the idea of acquiring a new citizenship. I felt like a traitor. I don’t know when it started to grow into me. At first I thought, well, nothing will change the facts. I was born in a house with the scent of Lime and Plumeria. I grew up in a home where I would quietly stare at the clouds and the leaves of the Lime tree. Nothing could erase the memories of the smell of my mother’s cooking or the smell on a rainy day in my beautiful homeland, and the games and the joy. This love will remain untouched.

When I came to the USA everything was new to me—the smells, the places, the language, and the people. I felt so alone and out of place for the first couple of years. Then I don’t know how or when it started. I began to have a sense of belonging. I learned the language, studied, worked, had wonderful friends, and all of a sudden, I didn’t feel like a traitor anymore. I understood. I was no longer confused. For the longest time I’d had a fight within myself on where I belonged, and which country I owed loyalty to. Then one day, out of the blue, it came to me, and I clearly understood that there is no reason to choose. How can you answer to the question, who do you love the most, your mother or your father? Both, and you don’t have to measure it, you don’t have to explain it or compare it.

I know the feeling of my attachment to the US started before I had my son, but it became stronger after he was born. All of a sudden we were creating memories together. His childhood moments were so different from mine, but equally beautiful, and I immersed myself into it.

Mexico/USA! Yes, I own one of each flags, but I don’t display them everywhere I go. It is my belief that you mostly carry those feelings within your heart. When I lived in Mexico, I don’t remember ever displaying the Mexican flag other than at appropriate ceremonies and at institutions, and in a very respectful manner. These beautiful countries mean and represent much more than their politics and their unfortunate situations. They represent the smells, the laughs, their beautiful scenery and their natural resources. These countries are the people who don’t make the headlines, but instead keep a low profile and spend their time raising a family and working hard.

So, let the eagle continue to devour the serpent and ask for divine power for that eagle to wide spread its wings. And let the stars shine brighter and us not be blinded by the glow, but instead hold on to some of that light. There is plenty love, space and time for everything and everybody.

Copyright © Aurora Garcia. All rights reserved.

Aurora Garcia is a nonfiction writer and essayist who was born in La Piedad, Michoacan, Mexico. She moved to California in 1989, when she was 14 years old. This is about the time when she began writing, but throughout her teen and young adult years she kept her writing to herself for fear of being exposed. Although fluent in English and Spanish she instinctively writes in Spanish, as it is her native language. Aurora lives with her husband and 12 year-old son. She loves life, nature, art, music, and diversity, admiring the contrasts and richness of her homeland culture, as well as the beautiful language that Spanish is. Aurora believes her passion for writing was inherited from her father who wrote songs and poetry.

  • If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. —Barry Lopez, in Crow and Weasel