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Daily Archives: January 11th, 2009

Song Yoo Kwon Orphanage

Song Yoo Kwon Orphanage - Seoul, Korea

In order to create an environment in my classroom that embraces diversity – a place where students can learn to appreciate other cultures – I must revisit the events of my own childhood and analyze the formative experiences that shaped the way I view myself and others.  I hope this self-reflection will help me to become more sensitive in my interactions with my own students and force me question my own belief system as we are all guilty of holding biases about others at one point in our lives.

To start at the beginning, I was born in a Korean Seventh-Day Adventist orphanage.  The photo above resembles a concentration camp, no?  My parents were in-house professionals so we lived here.  Keep in mind that for post-war digs, this was better than most places.  My father was a teacher at the orphanage and my mother worked as the resident nurse.  For many orphans, my folks were their only parent figures. My family (father, mother, older sister and me) lived in the quarters facing the living barracks where you can see part of the tile roof on the lower right hand corner of the photo.  Shortly after, the church built a larger, more comfortable building for the orphans and that is the place I remember most.  Here is a view of the perimeter fence and mountains.  How rural the city looks in those days!

View of mountains from the newer orphanage building

View of mountains from the newer orphanage building

Although we left the orphanage to make our journey to America when I was four, I still remember many of the children I grew up with and feel fortunate to have had so many little companions growing up.  Many of the orphans were love children fathered by American soldiers stationed in Korea.  There were half African-American Asian and Caucasian-Asian children at the orphanage and a few kids with special needs.  But aside from their physical differences, it is their personalities or situations I recall..like the chubby, dark-skinned orphan boy who always passed gas during prayer, a pretty girl named Tiffany who had uncharacteristically curly hair, sharp chin and alway wore a shirt with a checkered giraffe.  There was a boy named Timmy who always sang a Korean airplane song, “Ta Ta Ta Ta Bee En Gi!”

My sister (front row left) with a diverse bunch of children at the orphanage

My sister (front row left) with a diverse bunch of children at the orphanage

I also remember two older girls who babysat my sister and I when my parents had to work.  One was named Eun Hee who had glasses and was very kind to us.  Somehow I always got stuck with the other girl, Baik Sul Hee who always scowled under her bangs and was not very nice to me.  Recently, Eun Hee visited my parents around the Christmas holidays.  When I held her hands and looked at pictures from the orphanage, I got a little choked up.  It was as if I had been reunited with my long-lost sister.  She was still the kind girl who took such good care of us.  I wondered what had happened to Baik Sul Hee.  I wanted to tell her that I didn’t hate her so much now for the mean things she did like pinching me super hard when I was four.  It couldn’t have been a picnic walking in her shoes.

second from left is my sister and I am seated 5th from left.

Sitting with orphan brothers and sisters. I am seated bottom second row, 4th from left and my sister is 2nd from left. Eun Hee is top, 2nd from right and Baik Sul Hee is seated to her left.

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Do we still need Black History Month?
I once taught at a school that served a predominately African American, middle class population. At the time, the minority count among faculty members numbered 6 White and 1 Asian (me).  During Black History Month, I was on the Multicultural Committee and was asked to do a MLK poster contest. I turned it down, citing reasons based on National Art Educators Association’s stance about how poster contests promote the wrong message about creativity and art.  One of the members said, “If your child was Black then you would do this contest.” This passionate response led me to think about the stages that might occur before an oppressed group can achieve feelings of empowerment. There must be healing and a sense of conciliation, where one must feel vindicated for all the wrong-doings of the past. I understand this in a similar context because my parents survived the Korean War and lived through Japanese annexation.  Under colonization, they had to give up their birth names and were given Japanese ones. The defensiveness and suspicion that all is not equal is hard to shake in one generation. I should mention there were many teachers at that school who WERE empowered and considered Black History Month as a celebration of an important part of American history – an opportunity to reflect on Dr. King’s message that segregation and racism must be avoided regardless of the color of our skin. Before I continue, I want to state that I do not personally know what the Black experience is like and cannot say I know what Black people went through, but I think in general terms, when people experience oppression, they must go through these stages of grief, anger and identification before moving on to equal footing and a sense of empowerment.  I think our country is still a works in progress on the equality front.  Just consider the recent Democratic elections and the media blitz regarding a Black man and White woman running for office.  Although Obama won, our conversations reflect a nation that is still grappling with racial and gender biases.

I want to add that I did the poster contest after all.   When I presented the winner of the “best” poster, I took this opportunity to highlight Dr. King’s message of hope and peace for all children.  I pointed out how our hero found inspiration from an Indian man across the globe, named Mahatma Gandhi.  And that oppression, racism and discrimination is found everywhere, not just in Selma Alabama or the US.  When you consider the Gay Rights Movement, People with Disabilities Movement,  Roe vs. Wade, Youth Rights Movement, Women’s Movement, Tiananmen Square protests and so many other important events, many have ridden on the coattails of the African American Civil Rights Movement and continue to do so. Until Social Studies textbooks in our schools provide an inclusive view and pervasive model of American history that is not specific to White history and until there is equality and a recognition that discrimination still exists today whether socioeconomic or based on how recently you immigrated here, we must continue to highlight the achievements of Black History and the Civil Rights Movement.  If it were up to me, Native American History Month would be on the calendar as well.  This is necessary to present the true facts and voices of all people involved in the history of America.