45 Comments
Jan 24Liked by Jenna Park

I am so curious about this middle school grad photo with the big hair.

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Oh yeah, that is never gonna see the light of day haha

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I am writing my piece on race and I thought, I wonder if Jenna wrote hers yet? Then BAM, your story was first in my list of newsletters. I would love to hear your kids' perspectives on this, too, although I'm sure they are very busy people! I just love that they embraced their Korean background and want to hear how your 2nd chose to study about it.

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Haha yes, that notes thread was very timely. My younger kid's artwork is very much about her mixed identity. She's posted some of them on her IG - https://www.instagram.com/cldne.s/ and she's written a bit about it on her college essays too. So I'm sure they don't want to talk about it anymore 😂. It's my older kid (the white passing one) who is minoring in Korean. I hope the summer abroad thing works out!

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Jenna - great article and one that hit home for me. I was born and raised here in the U.S., about as white mid-western farm boy as they come. I married a sassy Peruvian girl who immigrated to this country because she couldn't resist me. Or at least, that is what I tell myself! Our children are biracial obviously. Our son, who is in college, looks Hispanic. Black hair, brown skin, etc... easily gets mistaken as Mexican on a regular basis. Our daughter, who is in high school, has lighter brown hair and ivory skin. She more normally passes for white but it depends on the group she is in. Growing up in the U.S. they had mostly American tendencies a kids even though we frequently visited my wife's family in Lima. As they have gotten older they have embraced their multi-cultural heritage which is beautiful to me. I think that having a biracial, multi-cultural home gives our kids a world view that many don't get to experience. Thanks for sharing your family's story.

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Matthew, love hearing a bit more about you and your family - thanks for sharing! I always forget that multiracial marriage only became legal in all states in 1967. Isn't that wild? But I know so many mixed raced families. I did a photo documentary project about 10 years ago where I photographed around 14 mixed raced families in their homes around the country. I love hearing everyone's story.

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I feel so much joy reading that your kids embrace their Korean heritage! Sadly it’s not a universal experience for many mixed people growing up in the US, especially in white dominant spaces. It’s been a joy for me as a mixed person to grow into my Taiwanese-ness. Hope that in a world where diversity is increasingly celebrated, this becomes more the norm!

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Yes, absolutely right. It's a very individual experience! ❤️

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I can relate to this feeling, Rebecca! For me, it’s growing in my Japanese-ness. 😊

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Wonderful essay! My kids are 1/4 Japanese, 1/4 Lebanese, 1/2 white. Thanks for openly talking about this subject, it’s still hard for me to write about it publicly. Race is such a touchy issue in this country but some of us have to think about it all the time and it’s stifling when you’re afraid to offend people by bringing it up.

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Thank you for leaving a comment here maya. Yes, it is a touchy issue! Race is so contentious in this country, but as you said, I look at everything through this lens.

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Snap! My kids are 1/4 Japanese, 3/4 New Zealander(British)/Maori/Scandanavian. We’ve just ordered DNA kits for the kids. Mine told me I had Inuit and Native American from my Japanese side. 👀

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omg that's so COOL! one of my kids did a DNA test for a college class and we joked that maybe something really weird would pop up in the Japanese sphere, but it was "just" 25% Japanese, although I keep thinking maybe those tests have gotten more specific as more people take them? I still haven't taken one but I should!

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I'm really afraid of taking one of those DNA tests! I'm not sure I want to know or if I did, would not know what to do with this information??

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I’ll let you know how we get on. My siblings and I got it as a Christmas from my dad one year and then we got it as a Christmas present this year for our kids! Highly recommend!! (We did My Heritage. But the Ancestry might be more accurate, I heard, because it has the biggest DNA database - so might be accurate with the probability.

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Loved this essay, Jenna! I’m half Japanese and half white. Growing up, I was always very proud of being biracial, but never understood why others didn’t seem to get this concept. I remember a cousin telling me people didn’t know how they could have an “Asian cousin”—they thought they only could be white. 🫣 I was “too Asian” for my peers in the states but considered “gaijin” at my mom’s old Japanese school. (They wanted pictures with me!)

I recently wrote a post about keeping up with my Japanese grandparents and the funny mistranslations that have come up. I’m still sorting out a lot in terms of racial identity, but happy to be who I am and embracing it.

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I love that you were so proud of identity so early on. Like a comment upthread, not always the case. I knew a few biracial kids growing up, but we never talked about it. In fact, I don't really ever remember talking about race with my friends at all! It wasn't until I transferred colleges and moved to the west coast that I met a bunch of half Asian students exploring their Asian side. It was steeped in identity politics - and this was a new experience for me!

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Jan 28Liked by Jenna Park

I’m “ha-fu” too. I really regret answering back in English when my mum spoke to me in Japanese. But so grateful that we had Japanese in our home. So many Asian and Pacifika (I live in New Zealand) families made the choice to not speak their language at home to help with schooling and integrating etc. As Jenna eloquently says, it creates a disconnect with family and our heritage. But it was a decision made from the desire for immigrants to see their children fit in and thrive in the new country they now call their home.

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I was bilingual at first, then gradually used less of it at home and also answered back in English. I regret that now and have been trying to delve back into Japanese to deepen my fluency again. It’s hard work!

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Jan 28Liked by Jenna Park

It’s so hard work! I found an amazing Japanese “tutor” and we have online “kaiwa” conversations every week. It forces me to use it and now I can have pretty fluent conversations with my mum. I am absolute rubbish at kanji and writing tho. 😬

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That’s amazing, Mika! (by the way, Mika is on my future baby name list 🤗) I don’t think I’ll ever be able to prioritize kanji and have just sort of accepted that. haha!

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Jan 28Liked by Jenna Park

Awww I feel so honoured! It’s a great name! Our daughters all have “Mi” (beautiful) in their middle names...Emi, Miya and Kimi - they are names that can easily said by gaijin, because my brothers had names like Nobutake, Masaki, Kazushi - my dad is a Kiwi, but loves kanji and chose names with really strong meanings in kanji. Mika is easily pronounced and people ask where the origin is and I love telling them about my Japanese roots because I don’t really look Asian on first glance.

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That’s beautiful, thanks for sharing! My sister’s name is Monika and my brother’s middle name is Kentaro. 🤩 He’s shy about his middle name because it’s hard for folks to pronounce correctly. Whereas most people wouldn’t even know us girls have Japanese names!

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Jan 24Liked by Jenna Park

Thank you for sharing this and being so open about it.

My wife was adopted and born in Korea. So, my kids are half Korean and half white, with no Korean family but their mother.

One of our three has experienced racism, while the others have not.

When my wife died, I immediately panicked because I would never be able to relate to the experiences my kids will have growing up as it relates to their ethnicity. And now they have no one to share that aspect of their lives with.

I ask them as much as I can how they feel about being biracial and what side they identify with more. I have no idea if that is even a good thing to do, but I want to have the conversation.

At best, I can be a safe space for them to share. At worst I’m making their life harder.

But, I found they tend to want to dive into their Korean side more to connect to their mother.

Anyway, thanks for helping me see more perspective.

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CJ, the more I learn more about your family story, the more my heart breaks. You are doing such a good job raising your kids!! I have also asked my kids how they feel and if they identify with one over the other, and have also wondered if this is something I should be asking. Is it ok if I email you? There's another aspect of my family story that resonates a bit with yours.

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Yea, absolutely. Thanks so much!

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It’s heartwarming that your kids are embracing their heritage. It’s a constant struggle here with a Canadian dad and no Korean-speaking relatives around. We do Korean school and I try to take them to Korea every couple of years.

Funnily enough my brother and I found out the hard way that we were both Korean citizens, despite him being born in Canada, and me in Bahrain.

The first time my brother entered Korea after age 18 was when he was 20 to work/spend the summer there. To my dad’s surprise (he lives in Korea), the army called him a week later to tell him my brother was to report to duty. Needless to say this was huge shock, which led to months of calls, paperwork, and dad not telling us about the call but waking my hungover brother up at 5am to hike in swamps for 10 hrs just to see if his Canadian-born soft son would be prepared to handle the army if the matter couldn’t be resolved (it was eventually, and in true Korean dad form, he didn’t tell us about the whole situation until years later!).

We both renounced our citizenship after that!!

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Wait wait wait, your story just blew my mind!! We always thought my dad was nuts for saying that!! And tragically, because he wanted to wait til after my brother was 30, we never got a chance to take that family trip together while my brother was alive.

Also, lol at your dad not telling you until years later. Why are they like this?

So...do I need to renounce my citizenship still?? And is it weird that I kind of don't want to? I only just went back to Korea last year for the first time since I was 10, and I kind of didn't want to leave!

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I’m sorry that you didn’t get that experience with your brother 😢. I don’t know the ins and outs of the how it works but, yes, that is what happened to us. After he was exempted, he was told he couldn’t work (come back?) to Korea until he was 30. So your dad maybe knew what was up. My younger younger Canadian born brother has lived and worked in Korea since his early 20s and if I understand correctly, not only did he have to give it up to avoid military service, but I believe my father had to too 😭.

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Because my dad lives there, I used to go almost every year until I had kids. I can go on forever about the issues there and I have so many complaints 🤪, but like my dad says, “you are Korean in your bones”, and I feel that everytime I’m there. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

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Seriously my mind is blown. I don't even know how that makes sense that the son of a former Korean citizen can be made to do military service. My dad used to go back every year because his family is there. My mom has only gone back 4 times and last year's trip with me is her last time. I've written quite a bit about all of this. I'm not sure why it took me 40 years to go back. My mom seems to think that my brother had visited at some point, but I know he never went to Korea. I have some relatives who are moving back and repatriating. I know there are a lot of issues over there, especially for women, but I want to somehow devise a plan to visit more often for longer periods when I get older.

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I have been thinking about this post all day. On the one hand, it really does a great job of bringing me into a life experience I can barely comprehend as a US-born white guy. On the other hand (at the risk of straying out of my lane), it also really helps me think about the liminal class experiences of my mother (who grew up working class but married a lawyer/law professor) and my kids (who grew up with plenty of cultural capital and material security, but in a working-class neighborhood with a working-class income and who were scholarship kids at fancy colleges). Thanks for writing and sharing!

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Thanks Jonathan. One can hope that our writing provokes some thinking in others :)

I think about social mobility a lot. Probably another newsletter for another week!

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Jan 25Liked by Jenna Park

Did you see the WaPo article about Siavash Sobhani, a 61 year old doctor who found out he was not actually a citizen when we went to renew his US passport?! Brutal shock and bureaucratic oversight. 😵‍💫

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Hmmm, I haven't, but now I can see how this stuff happens!

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Wow this is so interesting! Thank you for sharing this very personal experience of yours, Jenna. And yes, I've also found out that various US governmental agencies don't talk to each other. I am on a work visa and yet I received a jury duty letter from my county last year... apparently they just don't know the citizenships of their residents..

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So I guess this is normal! I didn't realize that it is our responsibility to let our governments know. Maybe I was naive to think there was some shared database where stuff like this was updated but apparently not.

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Jan 28Liked by Jenna Park

Thank you for sharing your experience. I am half Japanese, half white living in New Zealand. I probably “passed” at being white. So I was really really happy that I had a Japanese name, so I could hold onto my identity of being Japanese in a different country.

There was some racism growing up in primary. “Jap crap” and the typical kids making their eyes slanted in my face etc.

My three brothers and I are all tall and my mum is an adorable short Japanese woman. When we returned to Japan, I loved being affectionate to my mum (which isn’t something you do in Japan) to freak people out on the trains (why is this “gaijin” (foreigner) linking arms with this Japanese woman?!?!)

I really regret not speaking Japanese growing up. English was definitely my first language. I can understand my mum perfectly (thank goodness), but I was lazy and answered in English. So consequently, I’m not good enough to integrate it into our kid’s lives.

We have 4 kids now and they are proud of their Japanese heritage. I’m so glad that we have my mum around to expose them to the food, culture and all things Japanese. It’s a reminder to me that I need to record all her recipes because they are all in her head!! 🍛🥟🍜🍚🍙🍢

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I've always been interested in the experiences of other multiracial people in other countries, so thank you for sharing here. Sounds like no matter what geographic area, there are so many shared experiences. I've written quite a bit about language—and responding in English when spoken to in Korean by my parents. And same about the recipes! They are all in my mom's head as well. Nothing is written down! Let's both get on it!

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Thank you for this, Jenna. So much of it resonates and it warms my heart to see how much it resonates with others too. My father was Japanese and my mom is South African and I spent so much of my childhood desperately wanting to be blond haired and blue eyed like my cousins. Some of my earliest memories are my white grandmother telling me to stop squinting so much and open my eyes more. I was a child of the 90s and didn't have a lot of biracial friends so that didn't help either and although I can pass for white, I'm also the most Asian looking of my three siblings so when I was with my mom I remember so many people, absolute strangers thinking I was adopted which both confused, incensed and embarrassed me depending on how old I was. Now I'm proud of my Japanese heritage, although I will say that because we live out in the middle of nowhere Virginia I still get plenty of comments about how exotic I look or someone asks where I'm from. But I've finally learned to laugh these things off. Anyways, thank you for sharing. I always enjoy your thoughts.

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Natalie, we all travel our personal journeys to accept who we are (doesn't always happen for some, unfortunately as you know). I really value reading the stories of adult biracial folks because it's a peek into understanding what my children may feel. I really appreciate you sharing your story, and I loved learning more about you. 🥰

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So many thoughts came up reading this. I weirdly related as a mix culture (albeit English Irish not Asian American) and how I resemble the English side but not the Irish (though I don’t want to belittle Asian experience, just a connection I felt). The complexity of mix heritage and how we connect with the world.

I recently watched the film Past Life and had similar feelings. Have you seen it? I really enjoyed it.

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