I live in an area with an ever growing community of Koreans and Korean Americans. It must be signficant enough for the arrival of H-Mart, a Korean franchise grocery market http://hmart.com/. This weekend was the grand opening and it was packed. The buzz around here was palpable since the news hit that such a store was going to be created. Korean mothers, myself included, were counting the days. My informal Korean language class even tried to make the opening day together as a field trip for our burgeoning language skills. While we didn’t get to go all together, I went with my family, twice!
Crammed into an already busy Friday afternoon, we were greeted with music supplied by a DJ, balloons, cotton candy, greeters in hanboks and free gifts for anyone who had a receipt. Imagine my surprise when one of the freebies was a calendar featuring our own Korean adoptee, Marja, and her Kimchi Chronicles http://www.kimchichronicles.tv/.
This new store creates the little bit of Korea I was craving and I am excited about inputting the store into my weekly shopping rounds. I don’t have to travel very far now to satiate my appetite for Korea, Korean food and Korean people. What astounded me was just how many Asian faces I saw. Where did they all come from? It was a bit of a mindtrip to see non-Koreans standing in line and walking around. Some looked quite lost much like when I am in Korea. All the signs are in both Korean and English. And while the store will go through its growing pains of creating an atmosphere that welcomes the majority non-Korean speaking public, I was pleasantly surprised as to how comfortable I felt. We made a beeline to the snack aisle, that is the REAL reason my kids love accompanying me. It was amazing to see how comfortable they were as they perused the aisle looking for their favorites knowing full well that this is not our typical experience. My big boy’s first question was, “where’s all the Korean stuff?” Music to my ears!
In my head, there is always a divide between my Korean self and my American self. I am finding Korean is occupying a larger portion there what with all the Korean dramas I watch every night. I find myself using more Koreans words in my daily speak, wondering how something is said in Korean and if I could say it louder than a whisper. I get so excited when I can figure out a Korean text from someone and respond in kind.
The transitions are so long in coming that I forget I am not 25 years old anymore. I have to catch myself in my thrills as it is perplexing for my boys to see me this way. To them, I am Korean. They see me hanging out with the other Korean mothers, call my friends and family members in Korea and watching Korean TV. This is their normal and rather uninteresting.
I have to also remember that in their privilege of always knowing themselves to be Asian, they are comfortable poking fun at Asian people. I never felt comfortable with that, it sounded wrong and at times self-mutilating. But they are not me, and they are so assured in their sense of who they are that I stop myself from giving them the “that’s racist!” lecture. Aside from blank looks coming from them, I realize they see their Koreanness in the mirror every time, in their parents, grandparents and some friends. Around here, they are not the minority. I am just grateful they indulge me in the novelty I get from walking around in H-Mart today having people speak to me and to them in Korean and not think otherwise.