Lost heritage

Written by Michael Lee on July 26, 2016

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time now, but never got around to writing it. It’s a subject that I’ve been mulling over in my head for a while now.

What I’m talking about is heritage — the traditions passed down from one generation to another.

My grandmother was the first of my family to come to the states, I believe back in the late 60s or early 70s. I don’t know any details of what life was like for her when she first arrived, but I do know my father and his brother joined a little after when they were about in high school.

Due to the difference in culture, language, environment, I think Koreans of those days had no choice but to draw close to each other in order to live out their communities, preserving traditions that they brought over from Korea.

My younger sister and I were the first generation from my family to be born in the states. I was born in Los Angeles, California while my sister was born in North Carolina.

We grew up most of our lives in North Carolina. Our family belonged to a growing community of Koreans, mainly met through church and Korean owned businesses like groceries and restaurants. It was interesting growing up with a blend of cultures.

While on one-side we had our parents speaking a language foreign to our schoolmates and eating foods that are now starting to see more mainstream acceptance. The other-side we had families like the Tanners, from Full House subliminally ingraining in us what the ideal family should look like.

My parents did their best to expose us to as much of their culture as possible, but at the same time, allowed us to transform into what our surroundings was influencing us to become. At home we spoke a hybrid of Korean and English. We would eat cake for birthdays, but also eat the traditional bowl of seaweed soup for dinner. While friends would get sandwiches and lunchables, I’d have fried rice or gimbap for my lunches.

As a father of two now, I have been pondering what sort of traditions to pass on to my kids.

Although I have a fairly decent Korean vocabulary, my wife and I primarily speak in English. We eat mostly Korean dishes, but often the dishes aren’t original recipes we grew up with. The place of community for our parents’ generation — the Korean church — isn’t our place of community.

I’ve realized now, that the passing down of heritage from my parents to us, was lost in translation and also met with resistance as we had a desire to fit into the environment we grew up in. As a result I faced identity crisis a few times throughout my life.

As I look forward to raising my kids with my wife, I can only wonder what remnants of heritage they will pick up passed along from their grandparents’ generation. As a parent of the first generation born in the US, I think I’ll be mostly passing along the traditions that strongly made an impression on me as a child ‐ foods and a respect for your grandparents.

But I’m left to wonder about the non-tangible traditions of my parents’ generation as well. Like their work-ethic; often working for 12+ hours a day, running their own business. Or their ability to even run a business; my father has run many businesses in his lifetime but he was never called an entrepreneur, he was just a small-business owner. At 60, he still makes sales for his business and I am in awe of how smooth his talk is and his ability to simply relate with people of different cultures — a skill that doesn’t come so naturally for me.

I’m looking forward to making new traditions with my family to pass on but also interested to see as the traditions from my parents’ generation make impressions on my children’s lives. To see what remnants of tradition will remain and which of them will be lost. Hoping that their lives will still be rich with the culture and traditions of what I grew up with.

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