How my multicultural parents made me proud of who I am
With Mother’s Day fast approaching, I found myself contemplating what I wanted to do to celebrate and thank my mom for all that she has done for me. Somehow, a trip to the Cheesecake Factory just doesn’t seem to cut it. (Though trust me, the lady likes to eat. She’s bestowed that trait on to me, too.) My dad will also be included in the planning, and while his “day” is following a month after, I felt that I needed to include him in this equation. It’s hard to figure out a way to effectively express my gratitude to both of them for shaping who I am. Flowers just can’t carry that kind of weight.
I am a child of mixed ethnic backgrounds. My mother came to America from Korea in her early twenties, following her heart and my father back to his home country. My dad is a hodgepodge of Irish, Dutch and a sprinkling of Native American. As a result, acquaintances and strangers often ask my about my ethnicity. In fact, the question I get asked most frequently is “What are you?”
When I was a child, and a classmate would ask me, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of self-doubt. When you’re young, (and pretty much forever) you question who you are, but in this case I was also grappling with what am I? I would come home and ask my mom: “How do I answer this question? What do I say when the little boy across from me with a constant runny nose wants to know what I am?” She would simply say, “You’re mine and your dad’s daughter. You be proud and you say that. My father was a Kim. Your father is a Quinn. You’re a Quinn.”
So this is what I would say. This may have gone over some of the heads of those eight-year-olds at the time, but it worked for me. It gave me a sense of strength.
When I contemplate it now, it makes me think of my mother as a young woman in the ’60s. She came to America after meeting and falling in love with my father who was stationed for the Air Force in Seoul. She was actually a tour guide and he was on one of her tours. (How adorable is that?)
They faced some opposition when they decided to get married, and no small amount of personal trepidation. She was a young woman in a foreign country, learning a new language, oceans away from her family and her friends. It takes a strong person and a strong heart to do something like that.
My parents have always portrayed an unwavering sense of self in who they are. My mom has a lovely accent and she doesn’t hesitate to ever let her voice be heard. My father instilled in me a strong work ethic. Coming from humble beginnings, he was able to work his way up. He taught me that you should be measured as a person by what you do, not where you’re from or what you look like or if you’re a female. Either one of them could have coined the phrase “You do you.”
Their strength is something that I inherited. So now, at age 33, when someone asks “What are you?” I have a better answer for them, because I know exactly who I am and where I came from. And those, really, are much more interesting questions.
(Photo of author’s parents, courtesy of the author)