Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Bi-racial = 'belonging to two races' 

My parents and I at the Botanic Gardens, way back in the 80's. Sporting red sweaters. Dad, cool camera. That's some vintage for you---check out the strollers and eye wear. 
It was so surprising, that an entry which sprang out of nowhere received so much response. Thank you for the emails, comments, and messages. I hope that it was as cathartic for others as it was for me.
If you missed it, you can read about it here

Well, there were a few things that I forgot to mention. 

#1: Whenever an official form requests that you designate your ethnicity, I always have to fill in the blank provided by the option of "Other". Either that, or check of "Caucasian" and "Asian". Usually, there isn't a box for Korean anyway. Although there's often Chinese, Japanese, Pacific Islander, and the like. The "Other" box is like a slap in the face. I would like to have my own box, thank you very much. I do not want to be some left over sub-category that can't be defined because it just 'isn't done'. It just doesn't seem right that Caucasians that are a mix of many ethnic backgrounds (spread across Europe or whatnot) get their own box. If I were half Irish and half Norwegian, I could fill that box in. Okay, being a little dramatic because the little background checks annoy me. Deal with it. 

#2: I have such a great heritage! I might not be able to work at Williamsburg as a re-enactor (there just weren't any Korean or half-Koreans running around Colonial America), but I have some pretty neat stories in my own history. I'd probably ruin the stories if I tried to record them. But I'll still include a bit. 


My paternal grandparents were born, raised, and educated in Korea. Then there was a terrible war that devastated the peninsula. My grandmother was a refugee, and my grandfather fought as a soldier for the entire war. For a time, he was with the Communists, but escaped before it was too late. He fought with the South Koreans, wielding a flame thrower. It's a miracle that he even survived. He never talks about it, so we know very little about the horrors that must follow him still. I'm not sure how my grandparents met. That's something they don't talk about as well. In any case, they had three kids (my dad being the youngest). When my dad was very young, my grandfather traveled to America. He stayed 'illegally'. He worked many jobs and started at the very lowest of existences. He worked so hard--harder than I've ever worked--and saved as much as possible. He paid for his wife and children to join him in America one at a time. Every time someone left the country, the extended family would join the departing people at the airport for a goodbye picture. We have a few of those now, and it's sad. It's the kind of picture that says, "I might never see you again. Good luck." They're dressed up; in their nice clothes to meet America. 

My grandparents worked like slaves. They worked in factories and shops, and eventually became land owners. They started in apartments, but eventually were home owners. They fought in court to stay in the US legally. They put their kids through the Chicago public school system. They worked and worked, and became dry cleaners, gas station owners, and landlords. Koreans can work hard. And that's what they did. My dad's first job was in a restaurant. He was a little kid--working illegally, as it were. 

My dad's parents: handsome Young Hee, and pretty Ji Soon, with my chubby father. Dad, your face has not changed in nearly 50 years. 
They assimilated as much as possible. My grandfather insisted on only purchasing American made cars. They learned English as best they could. But they have never been able to give up their food. They still eat a Korean menu every day. It is their last connection to 'home'---felt directly through the taste buds. It warms their bellies and comforts their minds. 
Photo Credit: Justin Oakman (my cousin's husband!)
Kimbop made at my grandmother's house 
My dad, as the second son and youngest child was given the opportunity to attend college. Much like primogeniture of old, the eldest son is expected to take over the family matters. My dad could pursue what he was interested in. The joining of creativity and mathematics is called architecture, and that's what my dad studied. Dad, I wish you would write about your experiences so that future generations can know what you went through. From my understanding, he wasn't a Christian, had had a difficult childhood and adolescence which lead to conversion while in college. He started attending a Baptist church, where he met my mom. 

My mom was in Chicago to continue her education. She wasn't looking for a husband, and was focused on her career. She stumbled upon a piece of scratch paper, literally blowing in the wind, that advertised the same Baptist church my dad was going to. They had mutual friends, and eventually my dad worked up the courage to as my mom out. She told him to ask the pastor for permission. lol. Eventually, my dad tricked her on a date. It wasn't too long before they were married. My dad was still finishing up school, and my mom was working to right social injustices. I guess it makes sense that she married an immigrant who had had a rough life. She made my dad become a citizen so that he could get a credit card. Today, my dad has many credit cards. haha. 

Ok, mom and dad. I slaughtered your story. And now it's on the web. Sorry.
I will say this, my birth certificate is cool. My father's birth place isn't some boring county in the US. It's South Korea. 
My mom graduated with her Master's in Social Work from the U of I.
My parents are looking particularly young in this picture. 
My grandparents were horrified.
How could their pure Korean son marry a white girl?
It was unheard of. Shameful. Infuriating.
The culture that they had worked so hard to maintain......
So, they said that they wouldn't attend the wedding.
Especially when they heard the best man was African American.
Well, it's a good thing my Aunt knows how to wield the best weapon against her culture. It's fatal indeed! Shame and potential guilt can push a Korean into any situation, whether they are willing or not. My parent's wedding went from having no Korean presence/involvement, to having many Korean guests, Korean garments, Korean traditional wedding ceremonies, Korean food, and even gifts of money....
I know it was hard for my mom at first. Becoming part of any family is difficult, but add the culture differences, and the effort required to make the relationships work is multiplied.
My mom, with her new Korean family 
The birth of me
I liked growing up with two cultures. It didn't seem weird to me at all. I understood that it was different, but with the faith of a child, I accepted it unconditionally. I used to think to myself, "I'm not bi-racial, I'm bi-cultural". I liked that both felt natural and both felt good. Not many people get to feel at home in two different cultures. Usually you belong to one, and are a foreigner in all others. What a privilege! 

As you can plainly see, traditional garments are extremely itchy. Especially when you have strict loyalties to 100% cotton textiles at such a young age. 
My mom, brother, and myself visiting with my great grandfather, who was German.
We knew him as, "Great Uncle Bauler". Obviously, we were confused. 

My brother and me--this was the year we learned to drive ATV's. Shhh.....don't tell the authorities. It was the 90's!
My Norwegian grandmother visiting us at my Korean grandparents' property in Wisconsin

My siblings and I:
1/2 Korean, 3/8 Norwegian, and 1/8 German

My brothers and dad at my grandfather's property in Wisconsin----oh, yes, my Grandfather is standing there too. 

Now I have my own little family. I wonder what Willow will think about her life. About my life. About her grandparents and great grandparents. I wonder what she will tell her children, and their children. I wonder if they'll be able to read this blog, or if the internet will be outdated at that point. 

She's a Third Culture Kid. She's American, but might identify more with how things are done in China. America will seem foreign to her. She is not Chinese. But she is. She is not American. But she is. She is not Korean. But she is. How confusing for a child!

I wonder how being a TCK has affected her life already. 

Eating Korean Barbecue in China with my bi-racial sister and my Third Culture Kid. 
Willow has been to the Great Wall of China twice in her short life.
Her experiences are so unique. 

The hardest thing about being in China is the family that we are so far from. They are part of our past, and undoubtedly part of our future. Thank goodness for the internet, which keeps us together in the present. 
Christmas 2011 in Momence, with Adam's family. Nearly opposite of my mom's experience.
Full assimilation = Packers attire. Thanks for the shirts! Haha! 
Christmas 2011 in Lake Villa.
I have cousins that are completely Korean. Others that are bi-racial, like myself. And still more that are various combinations of Caucasian. Kind of cool, huh. My mom's family will be getting together for Thanksgiving this week--I haven't been in 4 years! Not since this picture was taken. 

All the Bauler-Deer-Kang cousins in 2008 

It just occurred to me, if Willow marries someone that is 1/4 Korean, their kids will also be 1/4 Korean. 


  1. We have a "couple friend" over here that are also mixed the exact same way we are (the husband is Chinese and the wife is Caucasian) and they have a little girl just a few months older than Jameson.
    We figured out that if the two of them got married and had kids, their kids would also be 1/2 Chinese and 1/2 Caucasian.

  2. Julie, it's funny that you mention those froms with ethnicity question. I technically am bi-racial as well but I always check caucasian. However it has always bothered me when my dad fills them out. He checks caucasian but he is Italian! He says "well what am I?" Italian-American really, but there isn't a box for that either! It doesn't bother him at all though. haha I never had the bi-racial questions though, until they hear my last name that is! I guess because it's still European and the features are similar. In college I could always tell when my name was coming up in the "roll call" the teacher would pause, then say "Bethany" and pause agin. I would usually cut in by saying my last name out loud and "here" saving the teacher from butchering it! haha Anyway its an interesting topic ;) Hope y'all are doing well!

    Bethany Basirico