Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Here are a couple of onesies I made for the little guy. This sewing business is pretty addictive.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Emory Douglas Article

Emory Douglas Article


A couple of weeks ago, I had some spotting, so Jeff and I drove straight to the emergency room. The comfort of being this far along is that on our way, I felt the baby moving and I knew he was ok. We still went in though, just to make sure everything was really ok.

The ob-gyn emergency room at CPMC was practically empty when we walked in.

After a nurse set us up in a room, a second one walked in. She must have been in her 60's, rather large, with red blotches all over her skin.

She said, "You've been in here a couple of times for this already."

"I've been here once," I said. "In my first trimester."

"Yes, week 11," she replied.

I looked at Jeff, who looked back at me with raised eyebrows.

I had been told that having intercourse can cause spotting, so I dutifully told the nurse, "We had sex this morning."

She pivoted her eyes to Jeff. As she glared at him, she said, "Well, maybe you shouldn't."

Jeff sat straighter in his chair and said, "We've been told it's safe to have sex during pregnancy."

She replied, "Like I said, maybe you shouldn't."

She had me lie down on my back, even though I told her that I'd read that I shouldn't lie on my back after week 20. She just pushed me back on the bed and told me not to worry. I was still worried. She hooked up a heartbeat monitor to my belly and left the room. As soon as she left, I shifted my torso to remove the pressure from my back.

When the doctor examined me almost an hour later, she warmly reassured me that I was fine and said that spotting can be caused by anything, even the hour-long walk Jeff and I took that afternoon. When we asked if it was a problem to have sex, she said it may be prudent to stop for two weeks, but that's just an arbitrary guideline that has no scientific basis.

As soon as the doctor left and Jeff stepped out to use the restroom, the nurse put her hand on my arm and leaned in closer, tête-à-tête.

"Put him out to pasture, honey," she said. "Aren't men something?"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Emory Douglas article

For the City College of San Francisco magazine, I wrote an article about ex-Black Panther artist Emory Douglas. The article has been posted on the official Black Panther alumni website. Here is the link. I can't post a direct link to the article, but it's posted (in pdf format) under the link "New Article on Emory Douglas" about a fifth of the way down the page. If I can figure out how to post pdf's directly onto blogger, I'll try to post the article later.

(I posted the Emory Douglas article on Sunday, July 19th through Scribd. The font is very small on blogger, but you can click on the article and it will enlarge the article. If you find that frustrating, you can click on the link at the very top of the article, and it will take you to the article posted on Scribd.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

All in a Name

The summer after I finished fifth grade, my family moved from Flushing, Queens to the suburbs of Houston. For the past three years, I had attended P.S. 20 just two blocks from our high-rise apartment building. We played in the asphalt-covered playground at P.S. 20 and sometimes hit tennis balls against the handball court wall. By this age, I had done enough research to know that this was not the childhood I was meant to have.

One or two Judy Blume books would have been enough to teach anyone about the proper American childhood. I had read them all. For starters, we were supposed to live in a house. Our own house. Not in some apartment building where the downstairs neighbor came charging up the minute you ran from the bedroom to the kitchen. And this house, our house, was supposed to be in the suburbs. And everyone was supposed to have a lawn. With sprinklers. And the house was supposed to come with at least one pet, preferably a quadruped.

When my parents announced that we were moving to Houston, I knew this was it. To set it all right. To start the childhood I was supposed to have. I pictured the houses with pools, the school buses, the sprinklers, the lawns, the whole schbang. I imagined myself riding my bicycle down the tree-lined blocks, waving at neighbors and friends across the street.

And there was one other thing. To go with my new life, I decided that I needed a new name. One that fit my new life, my new beginning. No one would butcher my new name trying to pronounce it. And no one in Houston would call me “Shin,” as my teachers always did. I remember coming home and crying to my mom that I’m not a shoe (a homonym for shin in Korean).

I thought about it incessantly. What name would go with my last name? Would it roll off the tongue easily? Would it present me as I was meant to be presented? As I walked around, I sounded out different names to myself. Catherine Oh? Connie Oh? Michelle Oh? I told myself that it didn’t matter that I already knew a Connie. We were moving and she would never find out that I stole her name.

After much deliberation, I decided to go with Christine. It had just enough syllables to balance out the exclamatory Oh. And while I knew a couple of Christina’s, I knew no Christine. I was relieved that I would not have to defend taking another’s name to my sister and brother.

When I announced it over dinner to my mom and dad, they were startled.

“Shinyung is a perfectly good name. Why would you change it? Don’t you like it?”

I still remember the hurt look on my mother’s face. But it didn’t prevent me from changing my name.

During my third year of college, I took a class called American Lives. In the class, we read biographies and autobiographies of famous Americans. While reading Harriet Wilson’s “Our Nig,” we discussed the significance of naming in American culture. What it meant, as Americans, to be able to name ourselves, to take ownership of our identities.

In the course of that class, I started thinking about my own name. Why I had, as a 12-year-old child, shed my Korean name and picked an American one out of the blue. Suddenly, I started feeling like a phony. Even though I had named myself, I felt like it had been for the wrong reasons, as if I had given up a part of myself. Instead of making others pronounce my name correctly, I had sought an escape.

I reverted to my Korean name then. As I had done to my parents almost eleven years earlier, I forced my friends to adjust to what was to them my new name.

Now that I am expecting our baby, with the due date just three months away, I’m wondering about this naming business all over again. What kind of name should he have? Should he have a Korean name and an American name to reflect his mixed heritage? Would he be embarrassed of his Korean name as I was as a child? Could I find a name that fits in America as well as in Korea?

I raised this topic with my mom on the phone the other day. We’re thinking of giving the baby a Korean middle name, I told her.

“What do you need a Korean name for?” she said. “We live in America now. Keep it simple. Just give him a name that’s easy to pronounce, that sounds good. Why not name him Jeff Jr.?”

It wasn’t the reaction I had expected. I thought she would be proud that I wanted to retain some connection to Korea for our baby. But maybe it was just sentimental jibberish to her.

But for me, the thought of handing my baby over completely to America, the culture in which I had to learn to make my home as a child, feels like cheating in some ways. Learning to live here, while treading the disparity between our origin in Korea and our present lives, has defined me in more ways than I can articulate. Many of the strands of life that have shaped me – and still remain flapping in various directions – stem from this disparity. Finding ways to interpret and accept our family’s differences. Negotiating my need to fit in with my peers with my parents’ values. Accepting that our family was here alone, with no extended relatives to help us in times of need. Appreciating the loneliness that seemed to hover over us at times.

I find these aspects of my life – my identity – hard to leave behind. I want to give them due credit, instead of moving on as if they never existed. And I want them to be acknowledged and remembered somehow. To account for our history – and our family’s struggles.

So I find myself walking around, sounding out names in my head, as I did as a 12-year-old child. Trying to come up with the right sounds, the right syllables, the right identity. And hoping that this time, it is for keeps.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

End of Phase II

This is the final week of my second trimester. Next week, I enter the final stretch. I can't believe I've made it this far, and the little guy is kicking and well. I am so happy every time I feel him move. Jeff has also felt him move several times, and each time it happens, he looks at me as if it is the most incredible thing on earth. It is.

The second trimester has been incredibly easy. Besides the kicking, I barely feel pregnant, even though that is I what I think about every waking moment. I've been full of energy, and I have to restrain myself from working on baby stuff 24/7. Not that there is that much to do, but all I want to do is get ready for this guy and read up on parenting. I have to force myself to pick up non-baby books, and I finally started reading my bookclub book for this Sunday.

A friend recently told me, "It's great being pregnant. You're never alone."

I love that thought.

Now that I'm not alone, I treat myself better than I ever did. Eating has been the main difference. I thought I ate relatively healthy before, but I never went out of my way to eat a balanced meal. I assumed somewhere along the line, it would balance out. Nowadays, I rarely eat a meal without a mound of vegetables. And at least two glasses of milk a day. And tons of fruit. Nurturing a little guy is a big responsibility.

Despite my initial anxiety about the weight gain, I am so proud of my protruding belly these days. A couple of days ago, a stranger finally noticed my belly and asked how far along I was. I started beaming. I find myself walking around with my hands rubbing my belly, as if to call attention to it, as if to remind myself that he's in there, as if to let him know that I'm protecting him.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hot Dog Nuggets

One of my most memorable fights with my mom featured Nathan's hot dog nuggets. Sixteen of them. You know, those that look like miniature corndogs, but without the sticks. They came in a green and yellow paper box with a flimsy cut-out latch, the kind that never kept the box properly closed.

I picked them up at Nathan's in the Long Island Railroad terminal in Penn Station on my way home from work. I was in my early 20s, living with my parents in Long Island, and working as a paralegal at a law firm in midtown Manhattan. On the nights I worked late, the firm allowed me a $15 stipend for dinner. On this night, instead of buying dinner while I was working, I waited until I got to the train station to get the hot dog nuggets.

I remember thinking that it would a nice treat for my mom. Just a little something to change her daily routine. My parents worked late hours at their dry cleaners and never ate out. Every other weekend, my mom cooked a vat of chicken wings in hot sauce and packed six at a time in foil. She piled them in the top shelf of the freezer, and every morning on their way out to work, she threw one into her bag. That and rice was their lunch, day in and day out. Three chicken wings and a small tubberware of rice.

I felt guilty that I could go out and eat whatever I wanted for lunch. Sometimes I went down to the corner deli and picked up a corned beef sandwich. Or to the gourmet pizzeria down on Lexington for a slice of pizza. Or some giant sized California rolls from the Korean fruit stand/buffet counter on 52nd and 3rd. Many times, the attorneys I worked with took me out with them when they grabbed sushi or udon. They treated me like their little sister and generously picked up the bill whenever we ate together.

My mom’s life was very different from mine. Once in a while, she wondered what it would be like to have a normal life.

"Wouldn't it be nice to grab a cup of coffee and walk around the neighborhood – or on the beach?" she would say. The first time I heard her say it, I was shocked by the modesty of her wish. I encouraged her to get her cup of coffee whenever she wished, even though I knew that she and my dad saved every quarter they earned and hardly had time to roam around the neighborhood when they worked the long hours they did.

Because they didn't have time to explore the world as I did, I often found myself trying to bring as much of the outside world into our home as I could. To my mom who loved to eat, food was the proxy for the outside world – encapsulating cultures and histories and human differences in bite sized portions. I brought them Thai takeout so that they could try pad thai and coconut curry. On another occasion, I picked up some brioche by Macy's in Herald Square. Or an extra order of linguine when I met with a friend at an Italian restaurant. Just watching her eat my offerings appeased some of my guilt.

So on this night, I happily brought the hot dog nuggets home through the 45 minute train ride to Port Washington and the ten minute drive from the train station to my parents’ home. When I arrived, my parents were already in bed, so I stuck them in the fridge for my mom to find them in the morning.

When I woke up around 5:30 in the morning, I heard my parents rustling in the kitchen. I rushed up the stairs to point out the bag of nuggets so that my mom could pack them with her lunch. As I entered the kitchen, I saw her putting the nuggets into a Ziploc plastic bag.

“Hi, Mom,” I said. “I got those last night so you could take them as a snack.”

She nodded and said, “I figured you must have gotten them.”

“You can have it as a snack today,” I said.

Without raising her head, she said, “I’ll just give them to your brother so that he eats something for breakfast.”

As soon as she said that, I felt myself boiling up, and the $11 and change that I had spent for these hot dog nuggets suddenly seemed like a huge sacrifice.

“What are you talking about? I got them for you!” I said.

She just brushed me aside and said, “Your brother never eats breakfast. He should eat something.”

I felt tears coming into my eyes, even as foolish as it appeared even to myself. They were just hot dog nuggets. Why did I care so much? But I did care. I cared that I had not eaten my own dinner the night before to bring this little snack for my mom. I cared that I had bought them for my mom, not my brother. I cared that my brother, who also worked in Midtown, could stop by Nathan’s anytime he wanted to, and my mom couldn’t. And I cared that my mom thought nothing of taking my little gift to her and passing it onto her son.

I don’t remember what happened next. I think I screamed and stomped down the stairs. And I distinctly remember my brother eating my hot dog nuggets innocently as we took the train together into work that morning.

A few years after that, I was shopping at King Kullen with my mom and my sister. It must have been during a summer when I was visiting from law school. I don’t remember how the conversation came up, but I remember my sister and I accusing our mom of treating us differently from our brother.

“You’ve always treated us differently, just because he’s a boy,” I said.

We gave her examples of the disparity we faced as we were growing up. How our brother always got a whole portion of whatever we were eating while the two girls had to share one – after being told that we had to share “because we were girls” – and how our brother always got to stay out late when we weren’t even allowed to go out in the first place.

My mom looked at us with a surprised look on her face and said, “I don’t do that. I treat all of you the same. I don’t think boys are any more special than girls. You know how happy I am that I have daughters.”

I listened to my mother and could not believe that she did not see the bias in her own behavior. How could she not see it, when it was so blatant, and how could she deny it with a straight face? And then I thought of her upbringing in a family of four daughters and one son. The one son who received all of the numerous parcels of family land after the parents passed away. The precious one.

After pausing for a few seconds, she continued, “If I ever treat you differently, you should just tell me right then so that I stop doing it.”

When I called them about a month ago to let them know that the baby we are expecting is a boy, I listened carefully to their reactions. My dad, as I expected, was delighted with the news.

“A boy! Oh, my. Good job. Job well done…”

My mom, on the other hand, just said, “Oh, ok. As long as he’s healthy…”

I was relieved that she didn’t betray any bias.

And I wondered what kind of bias I would bring with me into the next generation. What would my children see that I don’t see? And would I be defending myself against my children, trying to explain how the world differed when I was growing up? Would they understand if I try to explain that it’s the world that changed around me?