Born to a single-mother in a patriarchal society in Seoul, Korea, raised in a small town in South Florida as the only Asian, I knew firsthand what it meant to be a minority. Not quite fitting-in being casted as a “haole” (white-skin) mainlander attending high school and university in the Hawaiian Islands, I caught rock-fever and dreamt of a bigger world.
An opportunity with Japan’s Ministry of Education to teach English in the countryside put my freshly obtained journalism degree on pause. Sitting on a shinkansen bullet-train, uncertain what awaits, I sped through a long, long dark tunnel finally thrusting out onto Nobel Laureate Kawabata Yasunari’s “Snow Country” of Niigata in Northern Japan. There, an unexpected meeting in the port city famous for its glistening white rice and soothing hot-spring unlocked a treasure box.
From a dusty, torn cardboard-box surfaced black and white vintage photos that gave witness to voices that narrated first-hand accounts of the history of colonial oppression, patriarchal domination, wars, migration, sojourn, division of a nation, and displacement of Koreans living in Japan referred to as Zainchi. Seeking out these forgotten, discarded voices put me on a path of research and writing that has become my life’s work – documenting voices from the margins.
Discovering a similar history, common language, familiar culture, and a shared fate and destiny as migrants and as women, I began a more than 25 year journey of recounting memorable encounters and recording lives of multiple generations of Zainichi Koreans. In the process I too have become a “Zainichi” Korean-American living in Japan, researching, writing, and teaching about minorities and search for identity; gender, patriotism, and provocative speech; and aging migrants and their space of belonging in multicultural, multi-ethnic Japan.
- University of Hawaii at Mānoa: Journalism, B.A.
- Sophia University, Tokyo: Comparative Cultures, M.A.
- The University of Tokyo: Post-Graduate Researcher
- University of Tübingen, Germany: Japanese Studies, Ph.D.