EDITOR’S COLUMN: Creating my own traditions

I am very proudly Korean American.

But I am, admittedly, more American than Korean when it comes to culture and my everyday life. This is because my father and his two siblings were adopted as children and raised by white parents. Disclaimer: I love my grandparents endlessly and this is not anything against them at all.

What that resulted in, however, was my dad, aunt and uncle growing up without cultural or family traditions or knowing the language. I remember my parents sent me and my brother to a Korean camp one time, where we learned about Korean culture and traditions with a bunch of other Korean American kids—but we were kids, and not a lot of that stuck. When I was young, probably five or six, my brother, dad and I took Korean lessons for a time. But that didn’t really stick either. 

As time went on, there was less effort to connect with my dad’s heritage. I don’t think we even noticed as kids. Really, the only part of our identity that was Korean was our appearance and eating kimchi and rice with most meals.

That all changed in 2015, when my uncle took a trip to South Korea with a program for adults who were adopted from South Korea as children. In a long, wild story he found their birth mom. It’s too long to explain here, but maybe one day you’ll see a documentary on it.

The following year, my dad, aunt and uncle flew back to South Korea together to meet their birth mom. They spent almost a month there, and I think it was one of the most impactful trips of their lives. They met cousins, aunts and uncles they didn’t know existed. They got to see their home country through the eyes of their mother, and I hope to do the same one day soon.

In 2019, my grandmother—Misong—came to visit us in the states for about a month. She switched between staying with my aunt and uncle, who had room to host her. This was, again, a transformative experience for my dad and his siblings. She taught them how to make Korean dishes and got to know her 14 grandchildren. Our family made up for a lot of lost time, but it still never feels enough. As soon as it’s humanly possible, you can bet the house that I’ll be booking a flight to South Korea.

Over the past six years, there was a reconnection to Korean culture for my dad and, consequently, the rest of us. And to be honest, I have loved every part of it. I beg my dad to make bulgogi and japchae every time I come home and helping him make it is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve actually grown to love kimchi and I have an endless number of recipes I want to try.

This past weekend it was the Lunar New Year, one of the biggest celebrations of the year in Korean culture. I saw some of my friends post about it, or meals they were having in

honor of it. Each post I saw, I felt a twinge of sadness that I did not have traditions to fall back on for the holiday. 

But I came to the realization that traditions were all created by someone, at some point. Their meaning is not connected to their longevity, either. Why not create my own? I cannot change the fact that I didn’t grow up celebrating the Lunar New Year, but I can certainly start.

So I’ve decided to do my research and create my own traditions, whatever they may look like. And I will pass them on to my kids, and hopefully, they’ll continue to pass them onto theirs. Feeling connected to or belonging to a culture is a powerful feeling and I hope everyone can find that in their lives. It’s called going back to your roots for a reason—it keeps you grounded and gives you a foundation for finding your place in the world.