Nichole Yim

Generation: 1.5 Generation
Location: Boston, MA
Interviewer: Contributed by Nichole Yim

Korean War Legacies

I think there is one lesson that my mother learned about herself during the war—that she is dispensable because of her gender and her age. She was in seventh grade when the war broke out. They had to evacuate the town. My mother was the fourth of seven children. The two oldest were girls and, of course, they had to be the first to be evacuated to preserve their virginity. The two sons had to go because they were sons, of course, even though one was younger than my mother. And, of course, the last had to go because she was a baby. My mother had to stay and help my grandmother while she decided if she was too old to evacuate. The decision wasn’t up to my mother, which at the time only meant, you know, death. It was OK for her to die, while the other children had to evacuate. I talked to my mother about this about six years ago. I still remember the expression on her face when she said, “It is OK that I die.” It was shame and resentment.

My mother was betrayed a second time after she was reunited with her family in the south. All she wanted to do was study but her mother pulled her out of college after one year to marry her off and ease the family’s hardships after the war. I think of these occasions as a mother betraying her daughter. Typically we say that men oppress women. This may be a part of it, but I think in a very traditional, sexist, patriarchal society like Korea, torn by war and situations that make you just the

barest person, my grandmother betrayed my mother. And I think to this day it is easier for my mother to betray me than my brother or anybody else. She kept telling me be a normal person, you know, “be a normal person.” And I think she always tried to make sure that I was. I don’t know what normal is but it’s something she certainly felt that she could or should have had, but didn’t. So, now I must achieve it in my life; but then what happens to my desires, my dreams. How do I understand this so it doesn’t disempower me?

Mama [Song written for her mother]

Take me to the place of cherry blossoms and the sea,
Dirt road and a book in your hand.
Perhaps I will meet the woman you were then.
In the line of strong women, you came third, the smartest,
But you gave in to your own mother,
But I felt your anger when you held me.

Oh mama, come hold my hand, see me for what I am
Oh mama, can’t you see, the circle must be broken with me,
Oh mama, is your fear bigger than your love.

I stand at the crossroads of your legacy, of choices, decisions,
I gave up trying to change the world,
But I see myself trading my passion for peace.
I want to sprout the seed you implanted in me, secretly,
(Though sometimes I wonder if you ever did.)
But your sighs burned a hole in my heart.

Oh mama, come hold my hand, see me for what I am.
Oh mama, can’t you see, the circle must be broken with me.
Oh mama, we can soar through the sky.
Oh mama, I won’t give up on you, I’ll swim half the world to
meet you,

Oh mama, wait for me on your shore.