Teaching My Daughter What It Means to Be Korean

BlogHer Original Post

I grew up in a pretty white-bread neighborhood. You're practically handed a loaf of Wonder Bread when you enter the city. OK, so maybe I exaggerate, but until I was in junior high, I thought my brother and I were the only Asian kids in town, and we were certainly the only ones in our school.

When my parents adopted us, they were told the best way to raise us was total assimilation. To their credit, they tried to make us aware of our Korean heritage as best as they could. We had a picture book on Korea that I occasionally flipped through. We attended culture parties thrown by the adoption agency's local chapter. I remember being surrounded by other kids who looked like me, yet as I sat there eating my pizza and drinking red Kool-Aid with them, I felt no real connection.

So I don't have a hanbok like most Korean kids receive when they're born. I never had a Baek-Il (100 day celebration), and not only do I not know a single word of my native language, but I have only eaten authentic Korean food twice in my life: once at a restaurant and the other at an unforgettable meal at my friend Min Jung's home.

Just call me a Twinkie: white on the inside, yellow on the outside.

I now live in a part of the country that is even less ethnically diverse than where I grew up, as impossible as that may seem. And the only reason there are any brown-skinned people here is because of the university. It doesn't seem that much different from Livonia, except there's more flannel, a helluva lot more snow, and most people end their sentences with the word "hey," which drives me crazy.

I really would like Sophia to learn about her heritage and understand that she is part Korean. And true, this is like the blind leading the blind, but I figure it's a learning experience for both of us.

August 29, 2009 marked Sophia's 100th day of life. We decided to have a Baek-Il party. From what I've gathered from the Internet and from friends, the first 100 days were traditionally a difficult period for an infant, and mortality rates were high. To survive the first 100 days was a milestone that was to be celebrated. So they did, with special food and dress and rituals. Ours wasn't going to be completely traditional, since fresh rice cakes weren't available and I am by no means an artist of Korean cuisine. But we had a party anyway, and made some of our favorite dishes, trying a few new ones.

Sophia's Baek-Il

Sophia's Baek-Il

It seemed fitting for Sophie to wear it, too. Coincidentally, I came to the United States when I was about three months old, just short of 100 days.

Sophia's Baek-Il

Dessert? Strawberry cream Cake. Again, not traditional, but Sophie seemed satisfied.

Sophia's Baek-Il

Sophie did not choose anything from the table (pen, money, book, string). We'll try it again next year. She seemed way more into her fingers and the Vikings logo on her dad's sweatshirt.

Though it wasn't expected, Sophie also got some very nice gifts from everyone, including some vintage chopsticks/spoons from her friend Deric, who spent 20 years in Korea in the Peace Corps. There may have been tears by mom, who was particularly touched.

I did find a recipe for Kalbi that ended up being awesome, so I suppose we did eat some Korean food. Hey, we took the day and made it our own. We feasted on great food, had our closest friends with us, and had a great time.

Sophia's Baek-Il

All special days should be just like this.

Amy blogs over at This Northern Life.

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