At Catapult, Noah Cho ruminates on why his mother, a “symbol of America, the homecoming queen,” was attracted to his father, a “barely-bilingual” Korean immigrant who came to the U.S. to pursue a career in medicine.
I’ve been thinking about how my parents met, and how unlikely it was that my Korean father caught the eye of my stereotypically “all-American” mom. Even now, forty years after they met, a partnership like theirs is still rare. The cutting remarks they heard have not entirely disappeared; queries my mother fielded about my father’s manhood from the white people around them still flicker in shows like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and in films like The Hangover. Korean ahjussis still grunt in disapproval over their sons abandoning Korean blood quantum in favor of people Not Like Them, and therefore inferior.
I never got the full story from my father, who died when I was thirteen. Even before his death, he was a man of few words and seemingly fewer emotions. I have only ever been able to understand their courtship from the perspective of my mother, a white woman in love with an Asian man at a time when a war in Southeast Asia raged and the only knowledge the average American had of Korea were fleeting memories of newsreels, battles of a forgotten war.
Once upon a time, seeing my father in the hospital where they both worked brought her the greatest joy. As the whirring of machines tie him to what remains of his life, he is handsome to her even now—no matter that the chemo has taken his hair and the cancer has taken his weight, his voice, his lucidity. She looks at him, still in love, still seeing something wonderful in his face, but she also knows she has lost him. I see her sitting beside him after the ventilator is turned off, holding his hands the same way she used to during their smoke breaks, saying goodbye. Thinking, Hopely I’ll see you again.