Ahn’s “Home Run: My Journey Back to Korean Food” is a touching narrative about how Ahn became reconnect to his native roots again through food. As he tells his story he states, “During my teenage years, after we moved to Los Angeles, I chose to downplay my ethnic roots” (24). I feel a lot of kids with a different ethnicity choose to do this at some point in their lives. I have witnessed it first hand with my brother that Ahn is not alone in this act. Not only have I noticed it within him, I, too have been guilty of downplaying my ethnic background.
As a teenager, being in high school can be stressful enough that most just want to blend in. Just like Ahn, I was born in Seoul, South Korea. My father is American and my mother is Korean. At age 18, my dad joined the Air Force and got stationed out there, which lead him to meet my mother. They had my older brother, Jimmy, and then a year later I arrived. I suppose some crazy turmoil went down, as my parents ended up divorced. This convinced my father he had no choice but to get us out of that country and into America with our grandparents.
Because of our journey together, my brother and I couldn’t be any closer. We have had many discussions about our heritage and the many thoughts that have ran through our minds growing up. Jimmy and I were so young that we have no recollection of our time in Korea or our mother. It appears as if our father’s love for us was way stronger than our mother’s. From the stories we were told growing up, it seemed as if our mom was a Looney-tune. With her ethnic background, her and my father just had completely different views on how to raise their children and what was right and wrong.
Considering we were so young when this big change happened in our lives | feel that we really didn’t know anything other than how to be American. It was almost as if we were ashamed to be part Korean because we knew nothing about it. We didn’t even know any Korean family members, including our own mother. I feel we could relate to Ahn’s statement when he says, “my Korean heritage was an inconvenience” (24). By the time we were old enough for school, we started realizing how people treated us differently than others. The constant questions of “where are you from? and “why do your eyes look like that? ” were exhausting and hurtful. Looking back on it all now, elementary school is the first taste of being around others for most kids; and everyone knows, kids are curious and have a lot to learn still. It affected our personalities to some degree though. Where! became more bitter and hardheaded, my brother turned more recluse and shy. In our eyes, we were just like the other kids in our school. We loved pizza and the ninja turtles, just like Ahn loved Baskin Robbins and the Detroit Tigers (24). How more American can you get?
By the time we made it to high school, my brother was more of a loner than I have ever seen. I felt bad that he let the kids who would pick on him growing up bring him to such an alone state of mind. He felt that it was better to be alone than to have to worry about anyone else judging him for his ethnicity. I, on the other hand, grew to not care or let any negativity about my nationality affect my feelings. I suppose you could say I became a little callous. I did have friends though, but not many in my school. I made friends through my first job as a pizza maker for Papa Johns.
I met a friend who was half Pilipino who understood what it was like to feel left out and looked at differently. Although Jimmy and I viewed life differently, we were still very close. As we grew into adults, our mother ended up finding us through the Internet and we decided to meet her together. She was nothing like we expected her to be. We had all these hopes and dreams growing up that she wouldn’t live up to the stories we were told by our father’s side of the family. The sad truth came out though the more we learned about her. Living in America for many years, she could still hardly speak English.
The communication barrier was surreal. We were always so curious as to if we would become more “Korean” if we had met her. But all meeting her did, was make us realize how much of a better life we had here in the States. Seven years have gone by and I have just recently gotten back in touch with my mother. She seems to have changed some key qualities about her that didn’t set well with Jimmy and I. She seems more willing to be open and honest about the past. So after regaining her respect, we both enjoy conversing with her and having occasional get-togethers.
She even took us out to a Korean restaurant in Houston where she lives, for our first taste of our culture’s food. Just like Ahn, we struggled with the menu and decided it was best to let her order for us (23). We had bulgogi and kimchi, which seem to very popular dishes in Korea. It was a peaceful dinner that not only reconnected us as a family but also with part of our heritage and culture. It was definitely a memory that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Subsequently, this outing had opened my eyes up to realizing that I really am half Korean and that I should embrace it instead of being shameful of it.
That night out, I had never felt more appreciation for what I am and who l’ve become. I now am teaching my mother how to speak English better and in return she has taught me certain Korean words. It’s fun to learn more about what makes me… well, me. One day I hope to travel to South Korea and see the country I was born in and also learn more about my ethnic roots. I will forever be American, but I am intrigued in continuing to learn more about my Korean half. It is interesting to think that just like Ahn, I have become more engaged with my nationality all through food.