Mixed Korean: Our Stories: An Anthology, edited by by Cerissa Kim, Katherine Kim, Sora Kim-Russell, Mary-Kim Arnold. Truepeny Publishing Co.
Mixed Korean: Our Stories, published by Truepeny Press, is an anthology featuring forty mixed Korean authors, and while not limited to Korean adoptees, adoptee voices feature prominently in the collection. In “Half Korean: My Story”, author Tanneke Beudeker writes about growing up half-Korean and half-African American in an adoptive Dutch family in the Netherlands, her childhood joy destroyed when white kids at her Christian school ostracize her for her race. “My parents tried to support me by talking to the teacher, and they did what most parents would do: they kept telling me sticks and stones may break by bones but words will never harm me. But they did, words broke my heart.” Though Beudeker eventually finds a meaningful career working with mentally challenged children, she still finds as an adult, “Even the slightest thing can trigger that old, familiar feeling of not being part of the herd.”
A common theme that runs through the personal narratives is a feeling of not belonging. Many of the authors who suffer from racism growing up in the U.S. and Europe confront racism based on their mixed identity from Koreans as well. In “The Yellow Bus,” Kim Einhorn writes, “From a time when I can first remember, I have been somewhat isolated by my skin color not accepted by full-blooded Koreans (who I was told thought mixed-race babies were no better than dogs), and bullied by American kids who poked and prodded at anything new and anyone who did not look like them. I am half Korean, half not native to this land I live in.”
Many of the narratives touch on the post-war years in South Korea, when “camptowns” sprung up around U.S. military bases. Racism, combined with bleak economic conditions force many of the authors’ families to leave Korea or relinquish their mixed-race children for adoption. Judge Judy Preddy Draper, a Mixed African American Korean born near camptown in Seoul says in her interview with Eugenie Kim, “Being a mixed-race child of a Korean mother and an African American soldier, of course I didn’t look like the kids whose parents were both Korean. Early on, during wartime, it was reported that the Korean police were looking for babies born to American soldiers. Because of the nationalist and populist view toward no mixing of the races, the police were “displacing” the babies, taking the newborns from their mothers to place in orphanages.”
Despite exploring painful issues of racism, poverty, lost families, and the challenges of identity, Mixed Korean is also filled with moments of joy and connection. For many of the authors, it is the connection to Korean culture—particularly Korean food— that provides a meaningful bridge. In “Mother Tongues,” Sora Kim Russell eulogizes her Korean mother with a story of an all-meat Thanksgiving meal she once cooked for her children: “There was so much meat that we resorted to eating in shifts, ensuring that there was always someone at the table with a plate in front of them, since few things made her happier than to watch people enjoy her food…” In “Growing up in Korea,” Lily Lee Lu recalls rural life in Biin, where, “On washing day the village girls and I would bring barley tea in the kettle, boiled sweet potatoes in a basket, and laundry in a big washing bowl…Oftentimes on the way home, we would collect some malva plants, which taste like spinach, to put in soybean soup.”
Perhaps the only theme that recurs more than sustenance is resilience—a personal quality which provides the backdrop for all of the pieces. In “Thursday’s Child,” Katherine Kim writes, “It’s the resilience of my ancestors, the ability to overcome, to bear and endure hardship…I know it resides within me as well.” At the end of “Mixed, But Whole,” Michelle Hussey says, “The “other,” that mixed kid, is me. I’ve learned and struggled and worked hard. It has culminated in this person I am now. This fully aware whole and mixed, and happy person that I am, is me. This is “what I am.”
Mixed Korean: Our Stories is available from truepenny.com All proceeds from the anthology will be donated to 325Kamra.org and KoreanAmericanStory.Org
Leah Griesmann has received grants and residencies for her fiction from the MacDowell Colony, the Elizabeth George Foundation, the Virginia Quarterly Review Writers’ Conference, the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, the Studios of Key West, and a Steinbeck Fellowship in Fiction. Her short fiction is appearing in the anthology This Side of the Divide: Stories of the American West, forthcoming from Baobab Press in 2019, and has been performed at the Center for Literary Arts, the Shanghai American Center, and the New Short Fiction Series in North Hollywood. She currently teaches writing at Seoul National University.
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