Tuesday, February 3, 2009


My obaachan fell from the stairs in her house on Dec 27, so she's staying with my family right now. She's my mom's mom, so she's Japanese. I think she's around 88. She hit her butt when she fell, but I heard she's recovered. She didn't break any bones, which is amazing for her age.

She's the only reason why I go back to Japan every year. Every time I leave her house after the last visit before flying back here, I cry on the way to the bus stop. Thinking that I may not be able to see her next year, I just can't hold back my tears.

She's the only grandparent left for me. I never met my grandfathers in person. My Korean harumoni passed away when I was 16. I had less opportunities to talk with her while she was alive because we would visit her only once a year. Now that I began my journey of exploring my zainichi Korean identity, I regret that she's not around anymore.

"Community" is a popular word in English. I didn't have any so-called community to belong to when I lived in Japan. My Korean relatives lived far away, and there was no collective consciousness about being zainichi Korean in the area I lived in. The only thing that would make me feel Korean was my dad, uncles, aunt, and maybe cousins, who all centered around my harumoni. I didn't even call her harumoni because I didn't know any Korean at that time.

My "community" was very small. My "people" was only handful. I don't see my full Japanese friends truly as my people. There are actually only two Japanese people who I consider as my people: my mom and obaachan. After all, they struggled together with my dad's family, directly or indirectly. And I'm so proud of them because there are still people who voice that they wouldn't let their kids marry a zainichi for whatever reasons they fail to sugarcoat. My mom and obaachan (plus my grandpa) were more open-minded 30 years ago than those people today. I am so proud.

I'm not close to my immediate and extended family after all, but they're still what made me who I am. I am proud to be Japanese because of my obaachan, and I'm proud to be Korean because of my harumoni. I'm also proud of who I am because of the people I love today. Just because I'm Korean, I won't speak for or side with Korean people without thinking hard enough. Nor with Japanese people. I'll support my family no matter what, but it cannot extend to the entire people.

Sometimes it's not as easy to say that I'm proud to be Japanese because we have so many privileges and a history of wrongdoing. Only recently have I started to negotiate my Japanese identity so that I don't have to negate any part of who I am. I'd never be able to be proud of Japanese society, but when I think of what I've learned and inherited from my obaachan, I just feel extremely proud.

People depart. Our grandparents become our children's ancestors. They make me grateful and proud, but would they be proud of me? Maybe. Maybe not. They live in the past after all. But there's one thing I know: I will be an ancestor of our great great grandchildren (whether or not I have kids), and I'd better make them fucking proud of me.

I'm not interested in passing down my gene or sustaining my blood lineage. Instead, I want to create a world where our younger generation can feel safer and more empowering. I want to pass down this heritage of pride. I want to make something that will be recalled by my great great grandchildren as a revolution, so that they can feel proud enough to make another revolution.

My obaachan writes to me rather frequently. I always for get to reply. My gratitude and pride for her are too huge to be squeezed into words. I will never forget what she recently wrote to me:

You can never make too much effort.


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