Category Archives: kimchee

Mi Papi

My name reminds me of my heritage. There are palms and beaches. I hear the constant beat of the rhythm of the island. Adobo Pollochon fills my kitchen with smells from my childhood. I am Puertorriqueña. It all began in August of 1968.

Prompted by my introduction letter, my father, recovering from surgery, took early medical leave to fly to Korea to meet me. He would forever wear a long scar, one that started small but stretched upon carrying all the bags for the trip.

Our meeting included several days of me becoming accustom to my parents. I think I was pretty comfortable.

I was instantly “Daddy’s Girl.” I followed my father wherever he went. I was his shadow.

His time in Korea, at the end of the Korean War, helped him acquire a taste for Korean food. When we are together, he often asks if there’s a Korean restaurant, and when he visits our favorite Korean restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee, he texts me to let me know. He cannot have his kimchi without thinking of me.

Tucked away, I have his 1950s Korean/English dictionary. He tried to teach me Korean greetings, but I was more interested in the fun Spanish rhymes he would say.

Of course he had to cuddle me and our dog. She wasn’t going to be replaced by this new walking being.

I was introduced at the age of two to my Puerto Rican relatives. The island welcomed me, and I met mi Abuelita, mi Bisabuelita Ita and mi tio y las titis. The smells of the island kitchens still infiltrate my Wisconsin kitchen … especially in the cold months when I need the comfort of arroz y tostones.

My father’s family has committed the same unconditional love that forgets my biological race. In 2000, I brought my infant son to Puerto Rico to introduce him to the island, a land of abrazos y besos. My cousin, Richie, took us to the City Hall of Guayama and found my great grandfather’s portrait. He was the first Enrique. Richie proudly held my son against the portrait and proclaimed that my son looked just like his great-great grandfather, a former mayor of the town.

Quite a resemblance? ¿Verdad?

Enrique … that name has been passed on to every male in the family, but I broke the tradition. My stubborn will missed the subtle cues from my father in phrases like “What do you think about ‘Enrique’ or ‘Fernando’?” I realized my mistake when all the relatives asked how I came to my son’s name. Luckily, I have gotten some redemption now that my son is taking Spanish in school and has taken on the name “Enrique” for his class.

I speak of my mother often since I cannot see or speak with her, but my father is a constant presence in my life. I feel blessed for every day I have him to cuddle my children.

They are proud to have their Latino names and their Papito. They laugh when he uses his fart machine, they enjoy fishing with him as I did, and they admire his oil painting skills.

I am often reminded of the old audio reels from my father’s years in Vietnam. We were separated. I turned three in Tennessee, but I missed him. I cannot imagine now the pain my mother felt being so far away from her husband, or his pain at leaving us and not knowing if he would return. He tells me that he would often listen to the reel of me saying over and over, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!  I want my daddy!”

He returned safely to later share one of the most treasured days of my adulthood.

I will forever be Daddy’s Girl.

Who are you?

Today, at my dental check-up I was surprised that my hygienist had changed. My name was called by a young Asian woman with highlights like mine.

As we walked back, we made casual exchanges, and I asked her where she had her hair colored. (Since moving to Wisconsin, I have yet to find a stylist to color my hair as I like it.) She obliged with a name. She noticed and asked about my accent. I commented that hers wasn’t the typical Wisconsin accent.

She also continued to tell me a bit more about herself … her background living in Massachusetts and Long Island, then moving to Wisconsin as a sophomore in high school. After a very pleasant visit, I got up to leave.

As I put on my coat, she suddenly mentioned that she was Korean and adopted! I let her know that I, too, was adopted and Korean. This prompted her to reveal even more.

She was adopted in the 1980s at one-and-a-half years of age with her biological sister, who was three at the time. Their birth mother had died of cancer, and her father could not care for them. They were moved several times to different homes, her aunt’s, a parish, and finally the orphanage. Adopted by a family that had two natural sons but wanted two daughters, she spoke of her childhood in a Caucasian community.

Recently, a letter had arrived for her and her sister. It stated that there had been a “development” in her and her sister’s adoption case. While she said she was curious and ambivalent, she said she was allowing her sister to take the lead on it. She revealed her sister’s sense of abandonment growing up and her struggles with their adoption and heritage.

I explained how her differences with her sister mirrored mine with my adoptee friend. I mentioned that I consider myself American first, while my contemporary adoptee friend, Miya, sees herself as Korean. This young woman said she felt the only thing she kept of her ethnicity was her love for kimchee, a pickled Korean cabbage. “I eat it every day!!” she said.

Like this young woman, I don’t feel those feelings of abandonment. That will need to be the subject of another post. After the visit, I went to my car and called Miya. In the past, I would have called my husband, but she does feel like family now.

“I’ve spent my entire life explaining who I am,” I said to Miya. “Now, I don’t have to explain. She just recognized me as adopted!”

Miya replied, “You’re still in your adoptive infancy, and I can’t wait to see you grow.”