I was young when I first realized that my biracial existence inhabits liminal space.
We piled into the sticky church van, and left the Californian mountains where I’d spent a week at an Asian American Christian summer camp. It was my first experience at a summer camp, my first experience with a large group of Christians, and my first time exclusively surrounded by other Asian Americans. As we drove down the mountain, away from late night campfire worship songs and Bible stories I’d heard for the first time in my life, a friend in the van turned towards me and announced, “You should’ve heard how some of the boys talked about you in our cabin last night. They are obsessed with mixed girls like you.” I could tell he thought the comment was something I should be happy about, but all I felt was the heat rising between my skin and cheekbones.
Years later, thinking about that comment would make me feel small and shriveled up inside. It weaved itself into everything. It was clear that being obsessed with “mixed girls like me” meant being obsessed with the power of whiteness more than anything. I tell a friend about it, but she asks why I’m upset and making things about race, and claims she would be happy to have the attention—however it comes.
Even before I knew his name, white supremacy was waging a war around me and within me.
Without any formal training, I learned to resist my Koreanness like I was on a strict diet. I cut things out, hid what felt most like home, brushed and beat the wild out of my mixed hair, and said no to things I’d always loved. I tried to starve the Imago Dei in me.
It took many long years before I began to realize that my biracial body was a beautiful bridge of existence.
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She scurried over to the rice cooker and opened it. Using a rice paddle to scoop out a few grains of day-old rice with her right hand, she then picked them off of the paddle with her left, squishing them together between her slender thumb and forefinger. I watched her move quickly and silently, her dark eyes focused and on task.
I am the daughter who was ever seeing but never understanding. I listened to stories and yearned for more answers. The barrier between us has been hard, at times as unyielding as concrete. It’s thick middle fortified by cultural misunderstanding, language lost in translation, hidden stories, the grief of lives stolen and the gift of lives given.
Moments before she had shifted her focus towards the rice cooker, I had rolled my eyes and declared we couldn’t go to the event we’d been invited to. The gift that had been carefully picked out months before couldn’t be wrapped because we couldn’t find tape anywhere in the house. Why was there always some needed item missing? We were already going to be late as it was, and at the time, I couldn’t fathom attending the event without a proper gift, wrapped like all the others would be. I didn’t want to be the one who stood out again, who didn’t know the protocol again, who might have to explain not having something as simple as a roll of extra tape on hand, because so much of life was busy trying to figure out how to fit in as the multicultural family we were.
It was cold and overcast on our daughter’s Gotcha Day. We drove away from the adoption agency in a small, navy blue van with another adoptive family. Our little girl rode on my lap, still unaware of what was happening. She went from playing with the new toys we’d given her to looking up at the other little boy who was with his new family with curiosity and concern as his cries filled the vehicle. It took her a few more hours before she began her own tears.
I remember watching our daughter’s foster mother as we drove away and how my heart ached imagining how hers must’ve been. As we drove away from the building where so many people knew our daughter by name, and from the woman who had lovingly cared for her every need since she was an infant, I wondered when our little girl might want to return. I pictured her years older, standing on that sidewalk again, reaching for her past self.
In my own search for and struggles of identity, I’ve often believed returning to a physical place would solve everything. Having moved multiple times throughout my formative years, I lived in a constant state of adjusting to a new normal while reaching back for the past. In high school, after a move to the Midwest, I spent almost every day vowing to return to California. I believed it was the one place I belonged most of all. And yet with time and many short return visits in-between, new places became home.
I remember the first time I read it. I was in college and at a friend’s house. She and some other friends and I went to get something out of her room and covering the walnut brown door a poster said this:
“Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.” —Zelda Fitzgerald.
As everyone else entered the room, I stayed in the hallway, reading and re-reading Zelda’s words.
I knew little about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife or the context of the quote. Reading it that day, however, allowed my spirit a sigh of relief. The words were like what I can only imagine the light of a lighthouse is to weary travelers in a dark sea. This was the beginning of my understanding that I wasn’t alone and my hunch that, perhaps our hearts were made to hold the immeasurable.
I remember riding a train in Germany, looking out the window and watching the countryside while listening to Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Tears streamed down my face. The beauty of the countryside, the music, and me now living in a foreign country—doing what I had previously wondered if I was brave enough to do—well, the never ending too much of my dreamer’s heart couldn’t be contained.
I wondered then: would there ever be a place or use for all of this feeling? Would the too much feeling, the too much fear, the too much dreaming be too much of a burden to bear?