“Why Now” Question

First of all, this is not another poetry entry but I mere rant because I’m ready to pull my hair out with this. I applaud everyone man and woman coming forward right now. I believe 99.9999% of them until proven otherwise. (The only one I’m not completely sure of is Menz and Franken. I like Franken and was glad Tweeden accepted his apology because that was the most important person to apologize to next to those of us, like myself, who admire him. I know women of prominent organizations who work with Franken in their offices and in his. He cares about women’s issues and has gone above to ensure women and men who are trafficked get help – mentally, medically, with homes, etc… I feel he cares about women and with Tweeden he was being a dumbass. But something doesn’t add up with Menz, sorry). Anyway, Franken aside, well not quite aside – I am seeing my liberal progressive feminist friends defending him and others who can be deemed as liberal or progressives. They are asking the stupidest question I can think of to these women (and men) coming forward – “Why now?” As if that erases their experiences. Now, when the right wing was facing heat, before Moore but with like O’Rielly and others at Fox News members, these liberal friends knew this was an inappropriate question to ask and applauded every woman that came forward (and keeps coming forward). Now there is obviously a difference between Franken and Moore – Franken did a dumbass “prank” and used Tweeden as a comedy prop (more to come on this) while Moore is dating girls as young, and younger, than my oldest niece. (And this is all weird because Trump is calling for Franken to resign – mainly because he’s a liberal but he’s endorsing a pedophile but yet not shocking since our POTUS is the “grab the by the pussy” “I’d date my daughter. We have sex in common” accusations by his ex-wife, multiple women, and 13 year old saying he raped and/or assaulted them. All disappeared when he “won”). I’m not one to be like “well this was so much worse than that,” I really am not… but pedophiles vs a dumb comedic move… c’mon.

Anyway, I keep losing track here and hopefully you’re still reading this. My point at this moment is both sides and the center of the Wings always ask “Why now?” when it’s the other side being accused. Just because you like or admire someone, like I do with Franken, doesn’t mean they are innocent or should be given a pass. Franken was wrong. He admitted it. He apologized. An apology a billion women across the globe do not get. He looked deeper into his past comedy and has condemned himself for it. He didn’t deflect like Spacey did when he suddenly decided to “come out” (though we all knew, didn’t we?) or try to blame the other party of conspiracy like Moore is doing. Franken apologized. Nevertheless, there are die hard supporters (Geez  I used to think I was one) that won’t let this go, although I think Tweeden and Franken are ready to move on. There’s all these “conspiracies” about Tweeden and again the question “Why now?” The same goes with Moore minus the apology. His die hard supporters will not see anything wrong with him and what he has done. They buy into the conspiracy that the democrats are setting him up. What are his supporters asking? “Why now?” See, who said liberals and conservatives don’t have anything in common?

I got into a huge argument with a die-hard Spacey fan who I thought knew better than to victim blame or shame a victim. To me, and I think others – at least those I’ve had this convo with – feel he admitted what he did and possibly insinuated there’s others. In the same breath he finally “came out” and said he has “decided to live as a gay man.” My friend did not hear this or at least did not want to hear this. Even though he apologized and did obviously try to deflect, he was speaking to the wall… now, as someone who is a victim herself, it blew my mind when she asked “Why now?” and blamed it on the victim’s not-so-very-successful-career.

My mom was one of the biggest Cosby fans EVER. I remember car trips across the states hearing his stand-up and listening to her favorite one over and over and over again until you pleaded with your life to just turn the radio on for ONE song. She watched his show religiously, even syndicated, she thought he was the greatest comedian, loved his movie (“Ghost Dad” was one of our weekly movies. I didn’t cry because the dad died, I cried because  I thought my mom was torturing us with Bill Cosby), and she hung onto everything she ever said, no matter how incorrect he was or even bigotry towards his own people. If you argued with mom about Cosby, you were not going to have the last word and you were lucky to leave with your head still on. So needless to say any further, my mom was a die hard fan.

When the first woman came forward against Cosby, my mom listened intently. She didn’t want to believe it yet she did. When the second, third, forth. etc… came out you could since she felt heartbroken and betrayed. This was a comedian she enjoyed and had the clean enough comedy that she could torture her kids with on road trips. She just loved his parenting jokes. But here she was looking at a man she deeply admired and in the past could do no wrong in her opinion. As we were driving one day she had the radio on, one of those popular radio stations that my niece torments me with (I understand now why dad did all he could to fool us that our radio station no longer existed). The DJ announced another woman came forward. My mom shook her head and said “To think, all these years these poor women were afraid to come forward. It breaks my heart for them. And if he was a predator, I worry about everyone who was on his show and movies.” My mom felt sympathy and concern for these women. When any mention of Cosby is brought up she emphasizes her concern for those on his show and movies that might still be afraid. She does not feel bad for him at all. She feels for his victims and has flat out said what he is – a predator. There was no “Why are these women coming out now?” It was sympathy for them. Empathy for all the years they lived in silence, scared, hurt, angry…

I grew up in a family of intergenerational trauma when it comes to sex abuse and assault. I grew up in a family that was hyper-vigilant about “good touch” and “bad touch,” “you can always tell mom and dad if something bad happens to you… if you’re playing somewhere and a stranger approaches you saying they were sent to get you” there had to be a code word. If I got a bladder infection I was, first taken to the doctor, the questioned long and hard if anyone had touched me. As sexist as my dad was (preferring the boy over the girl) and at time neglectful (unless we were drinking) and physically abusive or took off for weeks, he was still very much in us knowing the difference and to always feel safe coming to him or mom about if anyone hurts us.  I can remember this one time I I was walking home with the patrol and they weren’t watching me. This old man gave me candy. I knew not to take candy from strangers so I showed it to a patrol who ignored me and I thought I just picked it up somewhere (I think I was 6). When I got home and told my parents what happened they were on the phone with the school and made a police report. The police report was made after much debate between them and their friends – it was decided to be made in case this man was stalking children.

When I told my mom at age 11 I was molested by a family member, when I was 3, she did something I NEVER expected – she swore me to secrecy and for almost a week made it seem like it was my fault that this happened to me. She also revealed to me that multiple relatives of hers molested and raped her, her sister, brother, and cousins – one of them being my grandpa. When I was 13 I was raped by my brother’s friend. After how my mom reacted when I was 11 I didn’t feel I could tell anybody that I had to act like nothing happened, which meant hanging out with the guy and trying to have fun. When I distanced myself from him and my brother (I was that tag-a-long little sister) my parents figured I was just at “that age.” When in fact, I missed hanging out with my brother and his other friends, who I called my brothers. But this friend of his , I just couldn’t be around anymore. I was raped again at 21 by a neighbor. The only person I ever told was my best friend. She encouraged me to make a police report but I said I couldn’t because it would ruin my parents’ friendship with him. I was protecting everyone else but myself.

When I finally started to deal with my mental illness PTSD was one of them. I didn’t realize how much it had really affected my life. From age 11 and up I didn’t feel I could turn to my parents. Mom made it seem like it was my fault and I must’ve triggered her. Dad was violent, drunk a lot, tired from working 4 jobs, and would take off for weeks (how he maintained those jobs during those weeks he took off I’ll never know. Maybe he just gave them warning and not us). In fact my brother’s friend, the one who raped me, my mom swore for years I had feelings for him. She even accused me of bringing him home while she was gone with my dad for a weekend. I was so angry and disgusted by that but again I had that fear in me. I didn’t realize how much I distanced myself from my parents, especially my mom. As I’ve stated on her I went through years of being racially harassed and attacked for being mixed race, I never trusted my parents to believe me on that and I felt everything they said meant they didn’t believe me. This is why Gabe was so important to me. I could tell him anything and he was there for me. I never told him what happened to me when I was 3 and 13, but I know he could tell I was holding something back. He tried hard to teach me not to trust men when I’m drunk and to always have a sober friend around to pull me out of jams I might get in because of my drunken ass. I should’ve heeded what he said. I often wonder what would’ve happened had I opened up to him precisely what happened, would he have stood up for me? Would he have said “I believe you”? Would had talked to my parents? Or would he ask “Why now” am I saying anything? I don’t think the latter would’ve happened, I hope not at least. But I know I was always scared somebody would find out and shit would hit the fan.

I had just moved back down to the Cities from up north on a Rez when I had a very emotional session with my therapist about what happened to me at 13. I went to my parents house to get something and my dad could see something was wrong with me. My dad and I have been trying to make amends for years now but he said to me “Honey, if you have something to tell me, tell me. You look pale and dark. I know that look all too well.” It went like that for a week then one day I went over and my mom was outside. She said my dad wanted to talk to me. My dad revealed to me that one of the orphanages he was in was in fact a sex ring for pedophiles. He told me that only I and my mother knew. He also said “I know what it’s like to be scared to tell or ashamed you did something wrong to deserve it.” My dad was in his 50s. I was beyond shocked and felt sick. That meant his mother, him, and I were all victims of sexual abuse, rape, assault, etc… My dad witnessed his mother being raped and beaten (he was in and out of orphanages until he was 13). Who knows what his grandmother went through? You don’t talk about those things in Korea (more on that in a moment). After my dad and I had talked about his childhood, the parts I didn’t already know, (I know A LOT about my dad’s childhood thanks to being his drinking buddy), my mom walked me out to the car. I hadn’t said I thing the entire time I was over there. She opened my car door for me and asked me if I remember what I told her what happened when I was 3 by a relative and how she reacted. This felt like a trap so I just stared ahead. She apologized for how she responded and said she wanted to know what was going on with me. I still didn’t feel I could trust her or my dad with what happened at 3 and 13. Gabe had been deceased for almost a decade so I didn’t have him to talk to. I just had my therapist.  I was able to work through what happened to me 21 and what happened to me at 3 was so painful, I would vomit in her office and on my way back home. But I worked through it. 13 right now is the one that is the hardest to process… there’s a reason to it.

My brother’s friend is in prison for molesting a relative who was about the age I was when he raped me. Everyday I feel this sickness inside wondering if I had said something if I could’ve helped her not be in such a dangerous situation.  So I live with this guilt. There’s more to this though. My mother has never trusted my brother’s friend and has made it clear he will not be around her granddaughter – the one she is raising, and has warned my brother’s girlfriend about not letting him around their kids once the friend is out. My brother believes his friend is innocent. I know he’s not.

Having worked with my therapist I was finally able to tell my mom what happened, age 3-21. I told her how sick she made me feel when she accused me of having him over or having feelings for him. My mother’s response, my mother who had been a victim herself and had kept what happened to her from her mother for almost 20 years, asked me “Why are you telling me this now?” I told her I knew what would’ve happened – dad would’ve killed him, she would’ve put some blame on me, and my brother would go against me. She said that wasn’t trust. Two sentences later she said “I think I need to tell you brother.” Moments before I had even told my mother what happened I swore her to secrecy. I begged her to not tell my brother but her excuse was “Well, it will make him know _____ can’t be around children. I should tell him.” Although I see her point, I honestly do,, this confirmed to me that I couldn’t trust her. She keeps telling me she’s “still thinking about it.” So honestly, everyday I feel sick and reminded of not only what happened, what happened to his niece, but more guilt of what will happen if I don’t get her the “okay” to tell my brother (which btw she doesn’t need from me. If she wants to tell him she will), but I feel betrayed all over again and like my instincts to not tell were right, We have gone back and forth about how my brother will react – I firmly believe he will not believe me and this will rip my family apart. My dad will find a way to hurt this guy even though he’s in prison and he might get angry that I waited “until now” to say anything.

So I’m in this nightmare. A nightmare that almost all of these men and women came out to tell their stories. And frankly, everyone in Hollywood who knew about these things happening, and did nothing because it wasn’t their problem, should be ashamed of themselves, especially those who say they care about women and women’s rights (this is not a liberal vs conservative issue btw). Actors who still continue to work with Roman Polanski should REALLY be ashamed of themselves and get over this “It’s an honor.” Would it be an honor if it had be their 13 year old daughter raped? I didn’t realize that a couple of my favorite actors worked for him yet champion themselves as caring for children and women. But this right here is another example of what happens when a victim comes forward, even right away – they are put on trial by everyone, the police, investigators, media, and the Polish and French gov’t, (seriously, how can they defend this guy? And why is Hollywood still working with him?) The victim has since begged for things to be dropped so she can stop being traumatized. So is there ever a “good time” for a victim to come forward?

While Korea was occupied/annexed by Japan (which started way before 1910 btw) women were raped almost openly. Women, girls – girls, were coerced or abducted to be military sex slaves. They were sent to rape camps. They were brutalized. They lived in terror. It wasn’t just one, two, or even “just five” men who raped them a day, but tens of them. Many committed suicide. When Japan lost many committed suicide or refused to go home because they were ashamed. The Japanese, in some areas, knew they were losing so they burned places down, systematically killed the women, and tried to put them in mass graves (a grandmother I knew in Korea was actually saved by Kim Il-sung’s gurella fighters from the mass gave). My grandmother, who could not read or write, managed to make it back to her family in a small village. Her family was happy to have her back, she sacrificed herself basically for them. As grateful as they were that she was back and sacrificed for them, they referred to her as “damaged goods” basically (Idk how you would express it in Korean and don’t want to know). She was never going to be able to get married they told her. They were very impoverished so they told her to go to Seoul and be a prostitute – don’t turn down any soldier that’ll pay you money, American or Korean and don’t worry the Japanese are gone. Although, I would say at least, majority of Korea knew what happened these survivors were shamed and still are.

My dad witnessed his mother being beaten and raped. He witnessed her black outs even flashbacks that didn’t make sense to him as a boy. When he reunited with her he demanded to know what was happening to her. Why did she say certain things? Why would she scream in the middle of the night when it would just be the two of them, no “clients” around. My grandmother did not want to tell him but he wouldn’t back down. So she told him all that happened. He didn’t believe her. Not a single word. He left forgiving her and keeping in touch as much as they could (I still have blankets and robes she sent to me) but he did not believe a word she said in regards to what happened to her.

When an organization of Korean women uncovered the history of the “Comfort Women” (the military sex slave to Japan) they begged for any survivors to come forward. One finally did and after that more followed. I don’t know if my grandmother would’ve been one of them because she died as all this happened. When my dad heard about these women though he felt horrible that he didn’t believe his mother. In my view, the “Comfort Women” especially the Korean ones (there are thousands across Asia) are used as political props against Japan. North Korea insults women by calling them “Comfort Women” but are one of the first to shove down Japan’s throat what they did to Korean women. I remember in Korea they were trying to open a museum dedicated to the women and women across the globe who were made into military sex slaves. “Korean martyrs” stopped the groundbreaking of the museum because it was in “martyrs park.” The women were called disgraces and horrible horrible horrible names – yet I know beyond doubt that in an argument over Japanese atrocities they would bring up these brave women and talk positively of them, and the inevitable questions of “then why now” would be asked on why they have come forward.

They’re political props. Tweeden was a comedy prop. Women are props. Props are quiet and usually put back in their places once they are done being used or useful.

“Why now?” should be rephrased to “How?” What has given these men and women the strength to stand up? How are they able to? I couldn’t do it without 2 decades behind me. My dad couldn’t do it with over 5 decades behind him. I wake up in fear thinking I told the wrong person about what happened – how have these women been able to say “Fuck what they say or do, this is my truth, this is what happened to me! I am now in control!”

I’m sure this has jumped all over the place. Forgive me. I’ve been manic and the whole racing thought shit and concentration level, but I hope my point has come across. Asking these victims “Why now?” Is the wrong question and frankly the questions shouldn’t be aimed at them but at the perpetrators. And this she not be a democrat vs republican, liberal vs conservative shit. Clearly sexual assault, abuse, harassment, goes beyond party lines. It goes beyond race. And instead of blaming people we politically disagree with for all these brave men and women coming forward now, let’s work together to protect them, ask the right people the right question, listen to the victims, and hold people accountable regardless of their party alliance.

It’s never easy to talk about sexual abuse that has happened to you. Whether you talk about it right away or you wait 7 decades. It is not easy. So this “Why Now?” bullshit needs to stop. Just because you’re a fan of Kevin Spacey doesn’t mean what he did wasn’t wrong and that his victim wants something. My mom is no longer a Cosby fan. As she has said “he’s a predator.” We need to hold EVERYBODY accountable.

There’s so many reasons “Why now” people are stepping forward. “Why now” doesn’t erase or fix what happened to them. It’s a play into global rape culture.


Coming From II


My father’s land divided

A grandmother used in sexual slavery 

Beginning alocohlism & family violence

But a woman of great sacrifice & bravery

Who was made to be the sole provider

by the use of her body ordered by her family sent to Seoul 

with a broken soul 

to make money & send it back home. 

A father adopted at 12 

put through Hell 

until he could speak English good… Or well. 

The rest of his life misunderstood so throwing himself into work. 

Work 4 jobs drink away a lifetime of hurt 

so he doesn’t have to think of the pain caused by both his families. 

A Korean American tragedy. 

I come from a mother with no clue on her identity 

her dad becoming an enemy 

therefore is no friend to me though I long for some sort of grandfather-granddaughter memories. 

More stories of Napi & the Blackfeet 

but Native Grandpa don’t like Koreans even halfbreeds. 

I come from a mom tenacious at times audacious never took a vacation. 

I come from a childhood at the farmers markets. 

Only able to afford clarence K-mart never any jeans from Target. 

Eating ramen noodles on a daily

different flavors maybe. 

Embarrassed by how this look made me. 

Friends with nice clothes 


Grandma’s wisdom inevitable 

“Child at least you got clothes. Food too is all you need to know”

I was Grandma’s girl. 

She was my world 

So what Grandma says GOES

but still the shame my shoes aren’t the same 

I don’t have an authentic jersey with anyone’s name. 

I think back – was I really that vain?

I guess in a way you can see it. 

As much as my dad didn’t seem it

He had to have the nice stereos and CDs. 

Impulsive purchases of TVs. 

Made fights between my mom and him easy. 

I stand back looking at the people I hail from. 

Sometimes wanting to say “ah hell no”

but despite the chronic fights 

we did have some fun

and everything was years ago. 

We’re doing all right

Despite all the generations and trauma we’ve come from. 

Facing my Father’s Childhood


This is definitely a change from my poetry. I wanted to share my dad’s story somewhere, someway, somehow… I know my dad’s life story better than anybody, including my mother. I started drinking with my father when I was 9 years and at age 24 I became sober. In my sobriety I confronted the domestic violence I grew up in. The emotional and verbal abuse I received from my father. In order to move on and forgive I have to understand my father’s life and it has never been easy. My dad had to understand his mother’s life like I’ve had to understand his. I meant for this to be shorter than what it is but I found the more I wrote the more I was healing. I can’t excuse my dad’s alcoholism and the domestic violence but I can forgive him because today he is trying to be a better husband and father. He is an amazing and loving grandfather. None of his grandchildren have ever heard him raise his voice or seen him drunk.

Appa, Saranghayo.


Facing My Father’s Childhood

I grew up glued to my father’s “stories of Korea.” My dad laughs at these stories. When he tells them everyone laughs and misses the details of child abuse. One of his favorite stories is when his mother, my Halmoni, caught him in a lie and blacked out in a drunken rage. She beat him mercilessly until her arm got tired. She rested then found a belt to beat him with until her arm, again, got tired. In hindsight, he knows she was experiencing flashbacks and that for half a day he was in fetal position being beaten by her because of the demons she had to fight.

My Halmoni’s life is literally fought over in history books. She was a survivor of military sexual slavery during World War Two, or better known as a “Comfort Woman.” Much of her story is lost in translation and, at the time, in my father’s refusal to believe an outlandish story. My Halmoni died in 1992, the same year other survivors came forward with their stories. My father still feels guilty about not believing her when she disclosed to him and his friend/translator what happened. When World War Two ended she made her way back to Korea. Her parents accepted her back so long as she worked in Seoul as a prostitute – she was “damaged goods” and the least she could do for the family was sale herself. My father maintains that his family was very close and that my Halmoni “took pride” as their only source of income.

With sincere pride I say that my Halmoni was a prostitute because she was a survivor and fighter all her life. Her blood and spirit flow through me and now my nieces. There is only speculation of the paternity of my father. To further speculation, my Halmoni “served” Korean and American soldiers; rare for prostitutes to do. Most of the time she knew who his father was and could point him out; other times she would shrug her shoulders and stop any speculation. For what it is worth my father identifies as Korean American.

My father was born in Seoul, South Korea during the final years of Syngnam Rhee. In 2009, I visited my father’s final orphanage, Pearl S. Buck Foundation. They were kind enough to give me pictures of my father and copies of documents they had on him. His year of birth was listed as 1959, 1960, and 1961 on different documents. When I returned to my apartment I called my father immediately. I was very excited with all the documents and pictures I was given. I thought my father would chuckle with me about the three different years he was supposedly born. It was my father who taught me to laugh at painful memories, or just pain in general. My father always knew he was born in either 1959 or 1960 – he didn’t know 1961 was ever a possibility. During our Skype conversation he did not laugh, chuckle, or smile. It confused me. There were other painful memories I uncovered while at the orphanage that he laughed at or shrugged off but the three different birth years were somehow more painful. I soon realized it was because he never had a real birth certificate. He was the son of a prostitute and was not worthy enough to be given a real Korean birth certificate – the year 1961 reminded him what Korea thought about him at the time.

By the time my father was born my Halmoni was more than a prostitute. She sold American products on the black market. She had her own home in Seoul and a farm in her village, Gim-je, (southwest Korea). Her parents were provided for, her siblings were in school, and she was a feared by her neighbors because of her drunken temper. My Halmoni lived right next to the military bases –my father can recall hearing propaganda from North Korea. They moved around but never too far from the base and never below northern Seoul. When they visited Gim-je his family doted on him – his grandfather would carry him on his shoulders. His mother’s only sister was very affectionate toward him. He played with his cousins all over Gim-je. When his grandparents, aunts, and cousins visited Seoul they were still a loving family. My dad remembers being in Namdaemoon with his grandparents and his feet had gotten tired. His grandfather put him on his shoulders the rest of the trip – his grandfather was tall and slender and very affectionate as well. My father clearly had a special place in his family’s hearts. Nobody shamed or denied him. His grandfather was the only male in his life and the fact he was not ashamed of my father meant a lot. Even today he says he wishes he was not adopted because of this extended family he had and the affection he received from them.

My father was born with a deformed left hand and crooked eyes. The first orphanage deemed my dad “unadoptable” because of his deformities. He was about three or four at the time. The second orphanage paid for my dad to have his hand fixed and later did the best they could for his eyes. Even in the orphanage, where there were surely other children of prostitutes, my father was ostracized. He was always by himself and the orphanage’s teachers were cruel to him. One day his mother came to visit him and he begged to go back home. She brought him candy, which helped him make friends. She gave him toys that were taken away from him by his teachers. She brought him clothes. She visited throughout the week. Despite sharing his American candy my dad quickly was ostracize again. Eventually my Halmoni took him out of the orphanage and thought she could keep him.

As I said, my father had surgery on his deformed hand. Two of his fingers were clubbed together. The surgery left him with a thumb and three fingers. When my father went to his new school he was tormented because of his hand. My father admits to crying all the time because of it. He tried to hide his tears from my Halmoni because he was scared of how she’d react… she could’ve beaten him for crying or she could’ve caused a fight between the teachers and parents. My Halmoni beat up several people for mistreating my father. He didn’t like that, (though he laughs very mightily about it today). One day, she did discover him crying after being roughed up by other children. He can’t recall if she was intoxicated or not but her reaction surprised him. She listened to him cry about his hand and how unfair life was to him – he thinks he was 5 or 6 at the time. She held my father’s hand and rubbed it gently. She assured him there was a reason his hand was different than others. My father vividly tells this story and it is my favorite story.

Daily life with my Halmoni meant watching men, of all races, beat and rape her. My father witnessed it. He tried to intervene but would always get hurt. Still he tried. When my Halmoni could no longer bare that her only child was witnessing the attacks she would take him to a new or old orphanage. Only recently have I learned my father was raped by American soldiers at an orphanage he frequently went back to. Orphanage staff provided him and other children to paying American pedophiles. When I asked if his mother knew about it he was adamant she could never had known because he never told her. In hindsight she probably would have been the only person to believe and protect him. Witnessing his mother raped and beaten regularly made his sexual abuse “normal.” Being ostracized by everyone made it impossible for him to tell any adult that could have helped him. He was the perfect victim.

If my Halmoni did not visit my father in the orphanage he would runaway back to her. He started to figure out how to get back home after he was 5 years old. If he did not see her in a week he would runaway from the orphanage. My Halmoni taking him from the orphanage or my father running away to her went on until he was nine years old. One day when she returned home she found my father outside her house; for hours he had waited for her. He had been missing from the orphanage for a week. Intoxicated, she looked at him and said, “I guess you have to live with me.”

At age 9 hardly an orphanage would work with my Halmoni and father – he was “too old.” However, Pearl S. Buck Foundation decided to help. They mostly worked with mixed race Koreans but occasionally made exceptions. My father was an exceptional case. They wanted to help him get adopted as much as they could – they even marked him as having sandy blonde hair, (my father’s hair is very black), they said he had white skin, (my dad has bronze skin), and that he was in perfect health, (they left out his missing finger, deformed hand, and crooked eyes). Despite their omissions, embellishments, and lies the foundation was still certain my father would not be adopted. My Halmoni and them agreed my father could live with her while they waited to see if anyone would adopt him.

My father can remember every belt and shoe he was beaten with by his mother. He can remember every man’s face that raped and beat her. Still, he was happiest when he lived with her. When I first started to cook Korean food he started to tell me new stories about my Halmoni packing him lunches. My cooking, though very delicious, was not as good as hers but the closest he’s ever had. While concocting different recipes in the kitchen to impress him, I learned that at age five my father started hopping trains and paths all throughout South Korea. It started off as running away from the orphanage to get back to his mother but when he was home he wanted to be adventurous. He was a lonely child and wandering throughout Korea kept him out of his mother’s wrath for a little bit. A relative caught him once riding the trains instead of going to school. He was beaten badly by my Halmoni but it never stopped him from traveling.

I have had to come to understand my Halmoni’s love for my father. When I started realizing the hilarious stories my father told were actually stories of horrible child abuse I had to really question the woman. My father has always told me I am a lot like his mother. Realizing the abuse my father endured I could not find it to be a compliment. I made the mistake of blaming her for a heart condition I had since birth and for my own violent temper. My father will never admit my Halmoni did anything wrong or was there ever anything wrong with her. The ugliest fights between the two of us involved my Halmoni – whether it was my blaming her for my poor health or pointing out the child abuse. In light of her flaws I have come to realize it is a compliment to be like her. Despite the horrors she endured she was a survivor. I cannot even begin to imagine what she went through. I cannot judge how she coped or turned out. When I look at the only picture we have of her I see a beautiful survivor who did her best.

Other than happy stories of food my father loves to talk about my Halmoni terrorizing men and women in her neighborhood for mistreating him. After a boy twice his size attacked my father and made fun of his hand, my Halmoni went to his house and dragged his mother outside. She then waited for his father to get home and beat him with a heavy stick she found while waiting. She did the same thing when a girl in my father’s grade beat him up. However, when she found out it was a girl who beat my father up so badly, she went back home and beat him.

In fifth grade my father stopped going to school. My Halmoni stopped forcing him. He spent his time adventuring Korea by day and stealing his mother’s Malokki at night, (my dad started drinking at age five on accident. My Halmoni sent him to refill her bottles. On his way back home he got thirsty and indulged. By the time he arrived home he very intoxicated and was beaten when he sobered up. It didn’t prevent him from drinking again). Shortly after my father dropped out of school my Halmoni was shocked by the Pearl S. Buck Foundation – they found a family in Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA to adopt him. According to my father, my Halmoni stayed intoxicated for days before she told him. The only thing she wanted most for him was the most painful event in her life, I believe. It is just a hunch though. For weeks his entire family stayed in Seoul while all the paperwork was completed. My Halmoni never received any education, she could barely write her name. On different documents her name is written as “Kwee-sun, Kyu-sun, Kee-sun, Kwee-soon” and so forth. Her sister had to help her.

August 1971 my Halmoni and her sister took my father to the airport. A Pearl S. Buck Foundation caseworker met her there. She held my father’s hands in hers and kissed him goodbye. Before she could turn to leave he made a vow that he would return to her like he always did. When my Halmoni did turn around she did not look back despite how my father hollered for her. He held onto that hurt for a long time.

In high school I was very obsessed with Korea and tried very hard to understand my father. I decided for a school history project to do a documentary on him. My father grew up in Korea under Park Chung-hee and while the country’s GNP was lower than Ghana’s. During this time I was still wrapping my mind around the fact that my Halmoni was a sex slave to Japan. For the documentary I pushed my father hard on his stories and even harder on what he knew of his mother’s life. Up until I was sixteen all I was told by him was she was a slave to Japan. In my mind I pictured my Halmoni working on a Japanese plantation – similar to African slaves in America. The truth horrified me.

Park Chung-hee has always been a worthy opponent to study. His building of the Korean economy while severely oppressing the people under a military dictatorship represented both my father and Halmoni. My Halmoni hustled hard to feed her family as did my father. While they provided and hustled they were oppressive forces in the household. In college I used my father as a primary source for numerous papers I did on Korea. At this point I had fully accepted my Halmoni’s life and understood the trauma she went through battling PTSD alone. I “moved on” not wanting to know any more of the horrors, (it was far too much to process), so I obsessed over North Korea and Park Chung-hee. I believe my father was relieved that I did not want to hear about the screams that made no sense to him as a child or her later disclosure. One thing that bothered me was the allegations Park Chung-hee supported the Japanese Occupation of Korea. I asked my father once if his family ever mentioned Park Chung-hee while sharing their hatred for Japan between each other. His response made me realize how low in society my family was:

“We did not ask questions. We did as told. My mom sold American crap on the black market and my aunt was more scared of her doing that than being a prostitute. I don’t think she fully understood anything about laws and government. She couldn’t read anyway. Our only focus was surviving. As long as we had food and shelter we were happy. Who cared about that man?”[1]


A Caucasian family adopted my father in August 1971. For the first time my father had a father. It was very new to him. He had a new mother, an older brother, and an older sister. For some reason, my grandfather absolutely wanted to adopt a Korean child – an older Korean child. He was a World War Two Veteran stationed in Finland, France, and Germany working as a medical technician. Prior to my father’s adoption my grandfather drank quite a bit. He sobered up during my father’s adoption process.

Upon arrival my father’s new family put teaching him English as their top priority. He sustained more abuse by his new sister and mother when he spoke any Korean word. My aunt’s husband once told me he suspects my father knows a lot of Korean but the “old school way of teaching English” has left him scarred. When I started learning the language I was disheartened by my father not wanting anything to do with it and his discouragement when teaching my nieces and nephews small words. When we have gone out to eat at Korean restaurants or to our favorite Korean store he gets embarrassed his mixed race daughter has to translate for him. He keeps face as the Korean speaker obviously looks at him with pity. There is one word in Korean my father has never forgotten “Omma” – mom.

Although my grandfather changed his life for my father his wife was angry about the adoption. She did not support it and made it clear to my father that he was not her child. My father blames himself that she felt that way – he had a lot of behavioral problems. He never spoke to his new family about what Korea was like – they didn’t ask and he was scared to mention anything Korean. My dad did find comfort and refuge in one place- next door at his paternal grandparent’s home. His new grandmother and him became very close. She wiped his tears and was where he went to hide from his family’s wrath. When she passed away my father didn’t cry. We went to her funeral and he looked at her with a smile. He explained to me, “When you have no regrets and know how much someone loved you, you don’t cry because they died. You’re happy for them.”

Despite the love he received from his father and grandmother my dad was still very troubled. At his private Lutheran school he embarrassed my grandmother with his atrocious behavior while my grandfather showed him the greatest amount of patience – neither parent was afraid to use physical abuse to punish him. My mother and I have wondered how much of my father’s anger has come from his adoptive mother and how much from his biological mother. It is clear his adoptive mother never wanted him. After my grandfather died she wrote my father out of the will. Each child was supposed to inherit $250,000 but she felt her “real children” deserved it. My very few memories of her are dull and there was never a connection to her. My father has never cared or been bothered by the disinheritance or the lack of affection she showed us. He still blames his behavior on why she was bitter towards him.

My father dropped out of high school the moment he was old enough to. While in school he met my mother’s sister. When he visited her apartment he found a picture of my mother and predicted she would be his wife. My aunt vowed they would never meet. Instead of trying to meet my mother through my aunt he befriended her brother. My mother is Native American and Caucasian. When I go in depth about my heritage my audience is disappointed to learn my parents met in high school instead of a great exotic story. After manipulating my uncle my dad met my mom. Shortly afterward he joined the Navy and straightened up. The Navy spoke to my father’s love of adventure. In the Navy my father discovered his love for cooking and his lifelong career.

They Navy provided structure for my father. He was able to achieve his dream of starting his own family and later his own business. My biological brother was born in 1983. I discovered in my brother’s baby book my father attempted to write in Korean his birth name “Oh Jin-soo.” Instead he wrote “Oh Jin-soon.” It was enough proof for me that my father remembers a lot of Korean but still fears speaking it. I was born in 1986. Despite the violence at home my father was still proud to have a family and carried tons of pictures of us.

In 1988 Seoul held the Olympics. My father was still in the Navy. He was deployed to different countries throughout Asia. While in Japan a Korean colleague took my dad on a three week excursion to Seoul. In the Navy my father finally met other Korean Americans. They swapped stories and he revealed his vow to my Halmoni. His friend tracked her down, (she was still a prostitute). He surprised my father on board a Navy ship they were given access to. My father and Halmoni looked at each other unsure they were truly reunited. My Halmoni saw my father’s hand and knew it was her Jin-soo. She walked to him and took his deformed hand into hers and kissed it. She told him she was right many years ago when she explained his hand was deformed for a reason. With the help of his friend my father explained she had grandchildren and he emptied his wallet. My picture struck her. For the first time my father saw her giddy and at peace – his friend told him she said her life was complete now that she had a granddaughter to live through.

For three weeks my Halmoni would not let my father out of her sight. She only allowed his friend to join them during the day. At night he stayed with her and they were able to communicate through gestures and facial expressions. For three weeks my Halmoni spoiled my father with affection – going as far as bathing him and picking out his clothes. It scared my Americanized father but he finally accepted that she was making up for the guilt she felt. My father and his friend tried hard to explain she had no reason to feel guilty but to feel good that she acted in his best interest. He always knew, despite the violence, that she loved him.

The violence though… the more affection she showed him the more it brought back the memories of being abused. He questioned her about things she said during her black outs and things she would relive in front of his eyes. He remembered her saying she was a slave to Japan but he now knew not every Korean person her age expressed they were enslaved. During a very intense lunch my father grilled her. His friend tried to ease the intensity that was in the air. Eventually, his friend heard the abuse my father experienced and felt for him. My Halmoni cracked and told her story. Japanese soldiers were in her village demanding either daughters or sons to “serve” in their army – My Halmoni was sacrificed. She spent time in a “brothel” where a Korean “mama” groomed her then sent her to a country she never learned. She was repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers for roughly a year. My father and his friend accused her of lying. My father felt she was making excuses – extreme excuses – to justify the violence and “whatever it was” she was dealing with. He resolved she would never tell him the truth. When other survivors came forward it was too late for my father to apologize to my Halmoni but he was able to forgive her.

Despite at the time not believing her, my father and her kept in contact up until her death in 1992. In between the time of their reunification to her death she sent me clothes, shoes, robes, and blankets – my brother got a jacket and candy. My Halmoni tried to learn English and was able to speak very broken English over the phone. The last conversation she had with my father she told him she was having heart problems. Where my Halmoni rests is still unknown to us. I never had the chance to meet her. I understand my significance to her being able to die in peace despite all her life suffering as a woman who spent her entire life as a sex slave. I witnessed my father cry after their final conversation. My mother explained to me that my father’s “mommy” had gone to Heaven and it saddened him. Shortly after this conversation, that I didn’t understand, I started to feel the presence of my Halmoni. My father told me more often that I was my grandmother’s granddaughter – short tempered, stubborn, and I scared him because of my similarities to her.

My father has struggled with alcoholism all his life. Until I was 26 my father was still violent. We have had our problems healing but today I see him making an effort for the first time. It took cutting him out of my life completely and my mother finally kicking him out for him to “wake up” to what he made us endure. He gave up drinking for three weeks to show he did care to have me a part of his life. He still struggles but he has respected my sobriety and my request to never contact me while drinking. We’re still healing and building a relationship. It has surprised us both how much we have in common and do know each other. Last year we had an intense confrontation with each other. Not over our past but I had fallen into a severe depression and started to have flashbacks to the times I was raped. I never disclosed to my parents what had happened to me. Somehow my father figured it out. He tried very hard to get me to discuss it with him and it was when he disclosed to me what happened to him in the orphanage. He then confided in me that no one knew him better than me, especially now that he had officially told me everything – he never thought he would tell his children what happened to him. For the first time, since my studying abroad in Korea, we talk on the phone regularly. He still laughs at his childhood and painful periods of life. The shoe his mother beat him with, the belt, her resting – it’s still funny to him. I have a hard time laughing with him anymore because I understand now he was a victim. Like his mother though, he is a survivor.


[1] Oh, Jin-soo. Interview taken from a college paper I wrote on the Korean economy during the 1960s. 2006.

For Garrett

Dedicated to my adoptive Dakota Grandfather (Garret Wilson) who tried so hard to make me sober and I failed him each time. I always loved you Garret and can feel our hands shake every Sunday and see your face in the crowd when you came to my college storytelling event just to see me. I didn’t get sober until months after you passed to the next life but it was for your love and faith in me that I did finally find myself on the Road to Wellbrierty. Thank you for your love and constant inspiration. I’m glad we got to share stories of Korea and that you fought for us that fateful day.  

A smile makes an appearance
as the nearest of the spirits
says the name of the dearest
there is: Garret.

Peace & serenity as tears for all memories
steadily turn to heavenly –
just the thought of you weighs heavily
because of what you meant to me.

A beautiful example of all to follow.
It helps as my heart beats away the sorrow.
I think of your handshake & smile as I turn down the bottle:
it’s your example I want to follow –
not the brand on the bottle.

Stories on the edge of seats,
increase heartbeats,
laughing so hard we stomp our feet.
Touched so deep we can hardly breathe.
Relieved any time it’s your face we see.

Our elder and treasure: in our minds your physical form will be remembered but your spirit in our hearts forever.

We love you Garrett