The night I learned of Jinil's death, I spoke with my uncle who I hadn't spoken to in a long time. As he heard me sobbing, he said to me repeatedly, 울지마 (ool ji mah), which is Korean for "don't cry." Ironically, as my uncle said to me 울지마, 울지마, 울지마 ... I felt close to him because I knew that's what he was going to say as my uncle who is still more Korean than American. "Try to forget" is another sentence that I've been hearing. But it's a sentence that doesn't make me feel close to anyone. It's a sentence that makes me mad. Me. The girl who was born in Korea and moved with her two older brothers and parents to America. A family whose landscape changed from Seoul to Bakersfield.
Today during my session with Therapist, toward the end, I said "OK, I'm ready for the answers." To which Therapist said,
"What's the question?"
"The question is, 'Now what?'"
"Now what, what?"
"Why are you answering my question with a question?"
"Because your question is too general. So what's the question?"
"Now what do I do?"
"Well, what you do now, is what you have been doing and are doing now, which is grieving, crying, talking, remembering, and letting out the sorrow."
If I were to paint the answer to "Now what do I do" from the Korean culture next to the answer from the American culture, they would be as opposite as opposite can be.
North Pole. South Pole.
Don't cry. Let it out.
Try to forget. Remember.
When cultures were more homogenius, I suppose a little girl could have grown up to live a life into adulthood and into her final days believing that the absolute right thing to do when a family member dies is to not cry and to try and forget. And vice versa. But sometimes little girls with big brothers change cultures and assimilate into new ones.
I used to think that immigration and assimilation are boring topics that have been talked about ad nauseum but now these are the things on my mind a lot. Just how that process of moving and assimilating affects a human being and that human being's relationship with family and friends. And how that person decides whether the right way is up or down, north or south, to hold it in, or to let it out.
(photo by Jinil Doh)