‘History isn't one story.’ What my Korean family's immigration story taught me about my biracial identity
My great-aunt Sue immigrated to Seattle from Seoul, South Korea when she was 16, about a year older than I am now. She even graduated from Rainier Beach High School, where I'm currently a sophomore.
I talked to my great-aunt about her immigration story, and what it can teach me about my own racial identity.
I am Korean and Irish, which makes me biracial. My Irish family came to the U.S. a long time ago, but for my Korean side, coming to America is more recent history.
My great-aunt Sue Lim immigrated to the U.S. from Seoul when she was a teenager. “I didn't have a friend,” she remembers. “When you move to a new country, you don't have a friend.”
Sue enrolled at Rainier Beach High School, where I'm now a sophomore.
“Moving to a completely new culture like I did at my age, sweet 16, you're at the height of the emotional hormones,” Sue says. “And here you are dealing with all these social pressures. I think that was the worst time.”
Sue is the second youngest of seven sisters, and my grandma is the oldest. They all came to the U.S. at different times, so they grew up separately. And they all had different experiences immigrating to the U.S.
“It is a very disconnected, very strange family relationship,” Sue says.
Talking to my great-aunt Sue made me realize how little I actually know about my family’s history. And it made me realize that “history” isn't always one collective story. Instead, it's a messy combination of memories and perspectives.
“But you do know, deep in your heart, that we’re related,” Sue says. “So you just kind of move on from there.”
While talking with my great-aunt, she told me a story about going on camping trips with my grandma when they were younger. “We’d eat a lot and then we’d just laugh a lot,” Sue says. “We’d have a campfire and I would play guitar and we would sing along.”
When I was younger, our whole family would go on camping trips. I didn't know about these earlier trips my great-aunt talked about. It was nice to see how the tradition had continued on.
I think it is our responsibility as young people to collect as many of these memories and stories as we can from our relatives both near and distant. If we don't, the beauty and pride of our heritage will be lost and gone forever.
I asked Sue if she had any advice for me about school and life. “Make the most out of your situation, whatever that is,” she says. “Look for opportunities to further yourself, and follow your passion.”
At the end of the day, it's about taking all those stories and all that history and running with it. Because no matter what race I am or where I come from, I know who I am and what I’m passionate about.
All audio for this story was collected following CDC safety guidelines during Covid-19.
This story was created in KUOW's RadioActive Online Radio Journalism Workshop for 15- to 18-year-olds, with production support from Kyle Norris. Edited by Kelsey Kupferer.
Support for KUOW's RadioActive comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center.