꽃은 바람에 흔들리며 핀다 / 김정원

꽃은 바람에 흔들리며 핀다 / 김정원

마음에 담아두지 마라

흐르는 것은 흘러 가게 놔둬라
바람도 담아두면 나를 흔들때가 있고
햇살도 담아두면
마음을 새까맣게 태울때가 있다

아무리 영롱한 이슬도
마음에 담으면 눈물이 되고
아무리 이쁜 사랑도
지나가고 나면 상처가 되니
그냥 흘러가게 놔둬라

마음에 가두지 마라
출렁이는 것은 반짝이면서 흐르게 놔둬라
물도 가두면 넘칠 때가 있고
빗물도 가두면
소리내어 넘칠 때가 있다

아무리 즐거운 노래도
혼자서 부르면 눈물이 되고
아무리 향기로운 꽃밭도
시들고 나면 아픔이 되니

출렁이면서 피게 놔둬라
꽃은 바람에 흔들리면서 핀다

___

Flowers bloom swaying in the wind / by Kim Jung Won

Do not carry it in your heart

with the things that flow
let them flow on by
Carrying the wind will sway you at times
Holding onto to the sunlight
will scorch your heart black at times

Even the clearest dew
becomes tears held onto in the heart
Even the most precious love
hardens into scars when it passes on
Just let it flow on by

Do not lock it up in your heart
What is coursing, leave it to glisten along
Even water will overflow when it is confined
Rain will splash over when it is caged
Even the most pleasant song
becomes tears when you sing it alone
Even the most fragrant flowers
leaves pain when they wilt

So leave them be, to surge and to blossom
For flowers bloom swaying in the wind

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On Black Lives Matter

Note: Both English and Korean subtitles available

I made a video last week in Korean about my perspectives on Black Lives Matter work and how I think it connects to my parents’ Korean immigration stories. It’s based on conversations with my parents and other Korean elders about police violence. It’s not perfect, and it’s not a video of the most “radical” political speech. And I still believe that it’s the most important to tailor the message to each person and that no video can actually have the conversation for others.

But I still went ahead with it. The video stems from a place of trying to establish connections and gentler forms of understanding with Korean families/relatives/friends, rather trying to push a political agenda on others. Often times, the intimate sphere (where Korean may be spoken more frequently) can feel separate from the political sphere (where protests/vigils/political action takes place and English is the dominant language).

My intentions for the video are: 1) to provide another tool for organizers (esp. monolingual English-speaking) to bring their political work closer to their Korean-speaking intimate circles and 2) share my thoughts and experiences as an organizer, as to make political movement work less intimidating or distant to viewers. I hope that the video is something you can share with Korean-speaking folks in your life.

_____________________________

[Korean Transcript]

지난 주, 연달아 두 명의 흑인 남성들이 경찰에 의해 살해 당했습니다. 그들의 이름은 알톤 스털링 (Alton Sterling)과 필란도 카스틸 (Philando Castile)입니다. 뉴스나 인터넷을 통해서 사건을 이미 접하신 분들도 많겠지만 그 두 사건들에 대해 간단하게 설명드리겠습니다.Read More »

For the Queereans

I’ve compiled a short list of queer Korean (“queerean”) resources that I’ve collected over time and wanted to share, in both Korean and English. You can scroll down for Korean language resources. The post will be regularly updated over time.

***

N A R R A T I V E S  /  우 리 들 의   이 야 기

Personal Stories / 개인적 경험담

For Parents of Queer Children / 성소수자 자녀를 둔 부모님들을 위해서

***

I N F O R M A T I O N A L  /  정 보 마 당

Organizations in the U.S. / 미국 한인 성소수자 시민단체

Organizations in Korea / 한국 성소수자 시민단체

Media / 미디어

Writing / 잡지 + 책 + 에세이

Coming Out

Back in the bay, an organizer asked me to tell my coming out story (family ver.) at a queer gathering that night. I thought about it all day at work, tugging at different moments to find the beginning tip of thread that could unravel the rest of the story, or perhaps the tail end for a perfect wrap-up, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. In the end, I had only written down one line in my notes — I was straight until I wasn’t — and I told her I couldn’t do it.

The reality is that there is no real story to tell.

There is no beginning, rising action, climax, and the resolving conclusion. I feel like coming out stories are ongoing, always evolving, repeating, and folding back onto itself over and over like kneaded dough. Sometimes we only hear of the explosive fight that drove the person out of the house or the all-embracing stories, where devoutly Christian parents decide to forsake their church that would not accept their child.

But there are also the untold stories of pauses, comas, and the indefinite white space that follows the period at the end of a sentence — coming out stories that play like black-and-white silent movies each holiday season. Running their hands through the itchy bristles of their new military cut, in preparation for the trip back home. A bitterness that fills their mouths at the mention of family. A polite smile etched onto their face during the talk about a husband, withering egg cells, and marriage. An out-of-the-blue reminder of “don’t bring a girl home next time.” The words wrapping itself around their throat and suppressing the instinct to scream over the otherwise peaceful family dinner table.

For me, there was an underestimation of how much my mother’s words would sting. And following it was a frantic desire to explain my humanity to my mother. I found myself helpless in the face of language barriers and reaching for the only thing I knew — academic English jargon that was never meant to hold people like us in the first place. There were moments where I had to swallow my words whole because I didn’t know what to do with it all.

There were friends, who had known me as a straight girl, asking if I was struggling with my sexuality and wanted to talk about it. But I told them I was okay. Because I was. Everything felt so natural and easy. It felt right. I guess I had always imagined queerness to be a hard thing — a life threatening thing, a heavy thing, a sad thing — but this, this was so beautiful and warm.

There were moments when quick understanding of my own newfound queerness felt like a requirement to be a decent partner to them, rather than something I could go about freely. This was perhaps a burden that I placed on myself. I bought up the entire queer literature and perused every blog. We still broke up, and I still didn’t know what it meant to be queer.

There were days when I wish I wanted suburbia, 2.5 kids, and a nice salary man husband. I wished I wanted those things. I wished I hadn’t fated myself into a constant state of wanting.

There was a time I was sitting through a workshop, counting how many times I had been misgendered in the last hour, when a random text message arrived from one of my queer friends: “Yo so like are you gay I’m confused.” I left the room and cried.

There were emails in my inbox, citing studies arguing that gay behaviors were signs of a civilization’s demise. Calls where my mother bawled continuously and kept repeating that she had raised me wrong. Tantrums refusing to come to graduation. Threats of outing me to the rest of my family. Sudden cries of extreme Korean patriotism and framing me as a traitor for dating a Japanese partner. Accusatory questioning of why I was not dating a guy, and if it was because of all the struggles that she had as a woman in our overly traditional family because she assured me that being a woman was still worth it.

There was a night when I randomly emailed a NYC PFLAG member out of complete desperation, begging her to speak to my mother as a fellow Korean parent of a queer child. I was a complete stranger to her. She generously agreed to do it, but then my mother refused and that communication ended. Years later, I met her at a Trans Day of Liberation march and stood around awkwardly to thank her.

There was us sitting in my tiny apartment living room, among a multicolored slew of items that I had somehow accumulated during my four years in college and packing for the flight back home. My mother softly folding in her words between the creases of my rose-colored shirt. “왜 좋아하는지 알겠다 / I can see why you would like them.” And me looking up bewildered, as if newly awakened, only to be met by the steady rhythm of her hands folding down the layers of the next shirt.

***

Even days like this, where I am not constantly warring with myself and those around me in regards to my queerness, my body can instantly call back that feeling of helplessness and self-disgust, as if it had been set aside on a well-dusted shelf that is always within reach. It looms over me in moments where the world calls on me to be vulnerable yet again with strangers I have just met. I try to avoid talking about queerness with my family as much as possible, because of those fears that I’m not quite sure that I would be able to hold up in that conversation, even now.

Over the years, in meeting queer/trans Korean Americans all across the country, I have slowly learn how to soothe my own wounds and unravel a long-held guilt around my queerness and its associated secrecy. There are a lot of us out there (surprise), and there are folks steadily building out different ways to connect to “koreanness” than the ones assigned to them by their families or their church, which have been often homophobic and hurtful. It makes me realize that my Korean identity is not contingent upon my family accepting my queerness and that I can have a relationship with the land, language, and people that does not require carving out a large portion of myself to offer up in sacrifice. And I can’t tell you how freeing that is for a diasporic kid like me.

Update (7/9): I also want to share a post for queer Korean people with resources in both Korean & English. Hope it’s helpful.

Pounding Hearts

Its cold and smooth surface felt oddly alive against her skin. She hadn’t touched a 장구 / janggu in years. Rubbing her right palm against the smooth face of the drum, she leaned in to take a closer look at its wooden body. A thick hourglass figure, the 장구 / janggu’s chestnut center lay horizontally against her crisscrossed legs. Her right hand grabbed the straps connecting the two faces of the drum on either end and swiftly pulled to tighten. She then slowly rotated her drum like a water wheel to tighten each of the straps around its center and sat silently, thinking about other things while the instructor chattered on.

drums_2

The last time she had been face-to-face with a 장구 / janggu was in first grade, when she had been sent off to weekend Korean school with the rest of her Korean church kids. She learned how to tighten the drum that day, as well as stories about how farmers had used these drums to bring in the harvest. She had tried to imagine her grandmother drumming, perhaps not in her usually baggy floral pants and plastic visor, but nevertheless standing with a drum tied tight to her hips, drumming out sporadically accented staccato beats like the way she spoke her 경상도 / Gyungsangdo-region Korean. Her grandparents had been farmers, she recalled, somewhere on the southern tip of the peninsula. But neither her Korean nor her memory was good enough to remember exactly where. She had never been able to visit her grandmother’s village while she had been alive. But there were so many memories that held her grandmother’s stories of the village 사천 / Sachon, that sometimes they felt like her own. The lines around them could get quite fuzzy sometimes. She remembered the open gravel roads that always snuck a couple rocks into your shoes, the hills spotted with a deep orange from the persimmon trees, and the loud speakerphone peeking out over the blue- and orange-roofed houses, shrilly blaring the news of everyone in town for their daily 마을방송 / village news. She had imagined her grandmother somewhere there, drumming with her townspeople against the backdrop of their golden rice fields.

Here she was now, somehow in the basement of her old church with a handful of Korean American highschoolers like her, all sitting in front of a drum they didn’t know how to play. They had been mercilessly forced to sit on these cold tile floors with their drums for the last half hour or so. She had been listening on and off to the instructor talk about the garak. Garak? Like jutgarak / chopstick?… Occasionally, he would wave the drum mallet in the air and point at someone to tell them to focus. Maybe he’s talking about how to hold the stick. She leaned in, but couldn’t quite catch all the words. He named too many things in that spit-fire uppity Seoul Korean. Her mother spoke much slower than he did and spoke with a different regional dialect, like her grandmother. She grew bored, and as others fiddled over their grip and drum positioning like the instructor told them to, she just gripped the mallet whichever way and brought it down with a loud thump.

.

The instructor stopped talking and swirled around, trying pinpoint the rogue player. But as her sound began to fade, others around her stepped in to fill in the void and took off with their own thumping and ringing. She liked how their drums sounded together, echoing chaotically in the cold interior of their church.

The instructor seemed to be yelling something to the group. Probably to stop playing, she assumed. She looked around, but no one could seem mind him. Hitting down with the mallet in her left hand and then the thin stick on the right, she played the drum in sync with the opening and closing his mouth.

“자, 여러분—”
쿵.
Close.
.
“모두, 플리즈—”
쿵.
Close.
.

He tried for a couple more times, but soon he seemed to give up fighting against the thunderous roar of the drums. Instead, he took his spot back at the center of the room. With his drum tied tight up against his body, he faced the group circled around him.

Everyone was still furiously pounding away at their drums. No one saw him hold his mallet up high with his left hand and the stick with his right. No one saw the way his entire body seemed to be pulled up into the air — weightless — then in a sudden movement, brought down both stick and mallet in perfect sync.

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.

She looked up. His arms jolted back up to their positions, like a maestro, then pounded down again. . Other students’ eyes flickered up. He drummed out slow, regular beats at first, then gradually it began to grow louder and faster. She was still staring, but some of the older students began to join in. 덩    덩   덩  덩 덩덩덩덩. Even those who had initially dropped their own mallets to silently watch, now took up their sticks, and the entire room pulsated in rhythm. Bodies rocked back and forth with each beat. Everyone’s arms lifting high into the air, then down hard against the drum. Faster and faster, they went; everyone’s arms flapping up and down, as if about to take flight. She felt out of breath chasing the beat around the circle until it just turned into a flurry of pounding, pounding, pounding. Then, during a sliver of a pause, the instructor’s body arched back and his arms opened broad to hover in the air for the slightest second, before he brought down a final beat along with everyone else.

.

His arms fell limp against his sides. Warm and pulsating.

He slightly loosened the drum strapped to his body, and in between his ragged breaths, he began to describe the sound they had just made together: “The 장구 / janggu that we just played is the sound of rain. It goes along with the thunder, wind, and moving clouds of other instruments in 풍물 / korean drumming.” He brought down the mallet on the left face of the drum. . Rain. Her eyes shot over to the still vibrating skin of the 장구 / janggu.

She wondered if this is what rain sounded like this in her grandmother’s village in Korea — a heavy and low rumbling against her chest that exaggerated her hollowness yet left her feeling full. And as she absentmindedly rubbed the left face of her drum, feeling a warmth radiating against her palm, she wondered why the drum sounded so similar and familiar. Like the sound of her own heartbeat.

War Stories

My grandmother tells war stories
over the dinner table
or sometimes alongside the evening news,
chatting away with the news anchor on the screen
drowning out his monotone drawl
and filling his mouth with her own words.
She keeps her gaze steady at the fast-flashing clips
the latest bombing, carnage, and wreckage
while her fingers feel out
the easy curves of the persimmon
ripened by the autumn wind,
deftly peel over each layer to expose
its inner skin, sticky and raw.
The knife slices clean into the center
defenseless
vulnerable,
the carnage drops onto the plate
in sync with the flashes on the screen
she strikes
a small fruit fork into the flesh
victorious.

chocolate simply rained from those military tanks,
soldiers threw them out to watch us
flock like a herd of sparrows
for that sweet piece of humiliation.
but I never ate that chocolate, no, couldn’t
them watching our frenzy with those lit up blue eyes,
and rubbing their stomachs
as if they felt full on their good deed.

My grandmother’s war stories
they’re never about the war.
but how she thought that
meegook must be a rich country
if their pieces of dirt tasted so sweet.
The war is when she learned
how democracy worked,
that voting 17 times for the U.S.-backed president
would feed her family 17 times over.

The war is the way
her mind has been sharpened,
her heart has learned to ache.
The war is in the fact of her survival.

Going Home

A year after college, I quit my job and accepted a fellowship. I was placed me at an organization in NYC to work with Korean tenants in public housing, so here I am in the city. I have been spending my summer in the steaming hot hallways of public housing, knocking on Korean tenants’ doors to talk about issues they face. Come inside, they say. “밥묵었나?” I nod, but they still feed me steamed potatoes dipped in brown sugar. I’ve come to realize this summer that my usual awkwardness melts away when I am with older folks. We dip into their ridiculously pro-America politics, frown-squint up at the kitchen ceiling that’s been leaking for the last year, and chat about how the stream of family and visitors have slowed over the years.

I eventually go into my organizing piece, and we get to talking about privatization: private companies buying up public housing land all over the city to turn into unaffordable luxury towers. Many just nod, knowing that it means that they will be pushed out eventually. Public housing is the last frontier of affordable housing in NYC, and for many, there would be nowhere else to go.

Organizing is 120% legwork. And I would add, 200% emotional labor. I meet with tenants twice a week to hear their struggles with language, mobility, and repairs in public housing. Then the next day, I walk into our Chinatown office to news about another building of Chinese residents moving out en masse after taking buyouts from the landlord. Another step in this terrifying sprint towards Chinatown decimation nationwide. K tells me that housing organizing is always being in “crisis mode” — and I see the emotional toll that it takes on us. Homelessness, evictions, tenant harassment, threats, lawsuits, buyouts, gentrification. My heart aches every time I see snapback white boys drinking coffee on wood plank benches on Ludlow Street. And the Wyndam Gardens hotel standing tall where the Chinese theater and Chinatown community mural once stood. And don’t get me started on those damn white photographers who come to take photos of elderly Chinese folks at Hester Park, as if they are on display, as if folks are all part of their cultural tour experience. There is a lot of protective anger, pain, and fear in this work. I wonder how we can keep going and if anything will be left in a couple of years.

In the quieter moments of this summer, I also think a lot about what it means to go “home.” I notice myself asking tenants about their faded Virgin Mary statue wrapped in a thick, green rosary, identical to the one that stands on my mother’s bedroom dresser. I catch glimpses of my grandmother in softly aged creases of our members. Traversing the trapped staircases of public housing, my body has developed an eerie ache for the stifling heat of Seoul summers, and I wonder if anything will ease my diasporic tug quite as much their repeated questions of if I’ve eaten dinner that day. As I ride the train back to Brooklyn, I wonder when this restlessness cease and allow me to find what I am even looking for.

It’s unclear what I am leaving this summer with, because at times, it feels as though I am left with more gaping questions in my vision for social justice. Who do I do this work for? How do I build a political home? How do you articulate something you do not know, that does not yet exist? How do you go home when it no longer exists?

I trod up the darkness, unlock the door to breathe in the hot silence of the apartment. A thud and a clank as my bags fall to the ground, and keys onto the desk. I lie on the futon with only the phone glowing in the room. My fingers count out the hour differences before my thumbs drum out the number that my mother used to ingrain in me as a child. 여보세요?

She replies with the thick kyungsang namdo accent from memories of my childhood. 응, 그래. 밥묵었나?