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Cel­e­brat­ing Asian Amer­i­can and Pacif­ic Islander Her­itage Month

I am cel­e­brat­ing my 50th birth­day this month. If you ask me when I was born, I will tell you May 22, 1973, since it is in all of our legal doc­u­ments and when my umma (mom) entered the birthing cen­ter. If you ask her, she will tell you May 23rd, which is the day I was actu­al­ly born. I was born in Busan, South Korea. Busan was the sec­ond largest city in South Korea, back in the 1970s. Korea was led by an auto­crat and was only 10 years into being an indus­tri­al­ized nation, it had not yet, become the BTS and K‑Beauty indus­tri­al­ized coun­try it is today. It was pover­ty-strick­en and my ahpa (dad) dreamed of immi­grat­ing to the land of plen­ty — America.

Being born in anoth­er coun­try and then raised in a dif­fer­ent coun­try, I was a con­fused kid. I didn’t look Amer­i­can but I didn’t feel Kore­an and I was usu­al­ly mis­tak­en for being Chi­nese — a com­mon stereo­type being all Asians looked alike”— we got clumped togeth­er as being Chinese. 

Busan 1970

Busan, South Korean in the 1970s

I was a latchkey kid because my par­ents worked all the time and some­times if they worked on the week­ends, the library and librar­i­ans were our babysit­ters. (This would not hap­pen any­more, but it was what our fam­i­ly need­ed to do.) I learned what to say when asked where my par­ent was or if we had a curi­ous and car­ing librar­i­an ask to see them, my broth­er and I would leave, wan­der the neigh­bor­hood, and then come back lat­er. The librar­i­ans didn’t notice that we were the same kids because all the Chi­nese kids look alike” and we went to a library where there were a decent num­ber of Asian fam­i­lies. When we wan­dered the neigh­bor­hood, white kids (usu­al­ly boys) rid­ing their bikes would chase my broth­er and me yelling chink” and oth­er exple­tives, but we would just ignore them because we thought they were stu­pid because we were Kore­an, not Chi­nese. There were also times I would call them stu­pid and then get beat up. (My broth­er, still a very tol­er­ant and kind soul, was not a fight­er and would be annoyed that he would have to run or get into fights because of my big” mouth.) 

Gamcheon Village

Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan, South Korean. After being revitalized in 2009, this former slum is now known as the ‘Machu Picchu of Busan’.

15 Best Things to do in Busan in 2023 (

In junior high, I want­ed to be Jew­ish. I grew up in Morten Grove, Illi­nois, where I was attend­ing a Bar/​Bat Mitz­vah cel­e­bra­tions every week­end. I loved the Jew­ish cul­ture and thought the rite of pas­sage to adult­hood was such a cool” tra­di­tion. When we immi­grat­ed, my par­ents want­ed us to accul­tur­ate and assim­i­late into Amer­i­can cul­ture. My pater­nal grand­fa­ther died short­ly after we moved to our new house in Morten Grove. I remem­ber the shrine we made for my grand­fa­ther, whom I don’t remem­ber ever meet­ing, but I also remem­ber cre­at­ing and hon­or­ing his death each year (called a Jesa) and one year we didn’t. Look­ing back, maybe it was part of the accul­tur­a­tion, maybe it was my par­ents got too busy, or maybe because it was only us and usu­al­ly fam­i­ly gets togeth­er to hon­or our depart­ed loved ones.

In high school, I final­ly embraced being Kore­an and Amer­i­can. I joined the Kore­an Club, attend­ed Kore­an church and was active in stu­dent gov­ern­ment (some­thing my mom thought was very Amer­i­can to do). It wasn’t until col­lege I final­ly under­stood my iden­ti­ty — being Kore­an Amer­i­can. I real­ized the best part of me was that I am born with the his­to­ry and blood of a resilient peo­ple. Fun fact, depend­ing on the source, Korea has been invad­ed by oth­er coun­tries try­ing to occu­py or annex it through­out his­to­ry over 20 times and each time Kore­ans fought back. Even dur­ing the Japan­ese Occu­pa­tion of Korea (19101945) when the Japan­ese attempt­ed to wipe out Korea’s cul­ture and lan­guage — my peo­ple fought back. My mater­nal grand­par­ents were teach­ers in Korea and were giv­en Japan­ese names and told only to speak Japan­ese, which they were flu­ent. Although I don’t know all the his­to­ry, my Oehal-abeo­ji (mater­nal grand­fa­ther) was also part of a uni­ver­si­ty demon­stra­tion against the Japan­ese occupation. 


My first birthday—in Korean—it’s called “dol” or “doljanchi.” I know it’s my first birthday since I am wearing a Hanbok and it’s very significant in telling a baby’s future prosperity. Also, this is one of the only 2-3 pictures of me as an infant. I have these and then I’m in grade school.

Grace 2

My paternal grandparents. I remember my Halmeoni (grandmother); she came to live with us for a little while when I was in grade school. She was the best. Also pictured is my Hal-abeoji (grandfather) and I referenced above.

Lead­ing back to Asian Amer­i­can and Pacif­ic-Islander His­to­ry Month, for me, it’s about remem­ber­ing where I came from and what my par­ents endured to get my broth­er and I to the Unit­ed States. In ret­ro­spect, while it was hard on every­one, the great­est neg­a­tive impact was felt by my mom. She was uproot­ed from her sis­ters with whom she was very close and then thrown into a tru­ly for­eign and unwel­com­ing world. The life of an immi­grant could be very iso­lat­ing and lone­ly, espe­cial­ly if a fam­i­ly is not join­ing rel­a­tives already estab­lished in the States. I still think she feels the impact of this iso­la­tion, lone­li­ness, and miss­ing her fam­i­ly. Remem­ber­ing and learn­ing more about my cul­ture helps shape my iden­ti­ty as a proud Kore­an Amer­i­can, so my chil­dren can also embrace who they are, and be proud to be Kore­an Amer­i­can and part of the larg­er AAPI community. 

Learn­ing about AAPI his­to­ry in the Unit­ed States allows me to remem­ber that AAPIs have helped build Amer­i­ca. We are not a dis­ease, or a for­eign­er, or a scape­goat. For­tu­nate­ly for those liv­ing in IL and with school-age chil­dren, in July 2021, Illi­nois was the first state to require all pub­lic schools to make Asian Amer­i­can his­to­ry part of the cur­ricu­lum. But I would also like to add that learn­ing AAPI his­to­ry, when done with inten­tion, will be won­der­ful and eye-open­ing. I would cau­tion that those learn­ing it should also be aware that those teach­ing it may still carve out what some­one doesn’t want taught. We do not want AAPI his­to­ry to be used as a wedge against oth­er mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. What is best is when AAPI his­to­ry is taught along­side with African American/​Black his­to­ry or oth­er com­mu­ni­ties’ his­to­ries and a full pic­ture of Amer­i­can his­to­ry can be understood.

Asian Amer­i­can and Pacif­ic Islander Her­itage Facts

  • 1765: Fil­ipino sailors, known as Manil­a­men” were inden­tured ser­vants on Span­ish ships. They jumped ship and estab­lished Fil­ipino Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties in the bay­ous of Louisiana. 
  • From 1863 – 1869, rough­ly 15,000 Chi­nese labor­ers built 90% of the Transcon­ti­nen­tal Rail­road on the west­ern front.
  • 1963: The brief but last­ing friend­ship between Mal­colm X and Yuri Kochiya­ma — While many know Mal­colm X, Yuri Kochiya­ma and her fam­i­ly were sent to an intern­ment camp from Cal­i­for­nia to Alaba­ma, where she saw the racism faced by Black Amer­i­cans in the Jim Crow South. Lat­er in life, she moved to New York, and as a moth­er of six chil­dren, was active in the civ­il rights move­ment and held great admi­ra­tion for Mal­colm X. It was there that they met and bond­ed, and she con­tin­ued her fight for social jus­tice and human rights. Kochiya­ma bridged peo­ple and move­ments, a true human rights activist.” (zinned​pro​ject​.org)

This is just a small glimpse of AAPI his­to­ry and what rich­ness the AAPI com­mu­ni­ties have brought to the Unit­ed States.

Some resources to learn more about AAPI Her­itage and His­to­ry: The Smith­son­ian Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Cen­ter, Wing Luke Muse­um, and Yuri Edu­ca­tion Project. Co-founder, Fre­da Lin, is a dear friend and was my room­mate in col­lege — fresh­man and senior year.

May is Asian Amer­i­can & Pacif­ic Islander (AAPI) Her­itage Month, which is a time to rec­og­nize, uplift, and hon­or the con­tri­bu­tions that Asian Amer­i­cans and Pacif­ic Islanders have made both his­tor­i­cal­ly and cul­tur­al­ly. KYC is proud to cel­e­brate our Asian Amer­i­can and Pacif­ic Islander staff mem­bers, clients, and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, this month and year round! 

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