The Haunting of My Family
I know now that a ghost haunted my family’s dinner table. Growing up, my mom prepared sumptuous Korean meals and in response, my siblings and I told her daily that the meal was masisseoyo (맛있어요). But otherwise, silence ruled our meals as if an invisible dinner guest bound our tongues. Or perhaps instead the silence provided for a vacuum that the ghost filled. Perhaps it was a bit of both. As a result, I have only bits and scraps of the life stories of my parents and family. This silence is apparently not uncommon in many immigrant Korean families as Grace Cho writes:
The second [Korean] generation, however, having grown up in the United States with neither their parents’ storytelling nor a public discourse about the Korean War, told a collective oral history in which they felt affected by some inarticulate presence that had left its imprint on what seemed to be their normal everyday lives. One man said that because of his parents’ refusal to talk about their life experiences, their past acted on his present. “For me,” he said, “it is not the past. It carries forward into my life. It carries forward into my sisters’ lives… as a hole.” This experience of the children of Korean War survivors – having been haunted by silences that take the form of an “unhappy wind,” “a hole,” or some other intangible or invisible force – reflects the notion that an unresolved trauma in unconsciously passed from one generation to the next.
The shattering window rips the air with a violent, high pitched crack, sounding almost like a shocked cry, perhaps maybe a desperate plea – “don’t shoot!”
The window is placed and designed to divide them and us. Through the window, we can see them and they can see us. But the window segregates us from them so that we become foreign, even a threat, because the window is also a looking glass of power and privilege. So they sit behind their windows waiting for us. Walking in the street, ringing a doorbell for help after a car accident, selling cigarettes and CDs, not speaking English, reaching in our pockets, standing around, sitting on a public bench, carrying a legal gun, and numerous other everyday actions become twisted and menacing through these glass walls crafted with fear. Through the looking glass, we who are poor, we who have brown skin, we who are homeless, we who are not able-bodied, we who were not born in America, and many others are seen by them as muddying their perfect white picket fences.
The gross distortion of our small everyday moments becomes the excuse by which many of us are marked as “bad” guys who must be punished. To punish requires contact and these windows between us and them have been constructed by our society to be broken only through violence. Thus the windows are broken with shocking thunder. In the moment of shattering glass, we finally come into deadly contact with them. And after the window is broken, all that remains are the shards of broken and all too often black and brown bodies on the ground. The broken glass strewn on the street is not a sign of immoral disorder, but is instead a stigma of system that terrorizes and breaks marginalized bodies.
When the window is shattered, the glass shards fly out to grievously slash all those around it – we who bear witness, our local and national communities, and even me sitting at my desk typing this in New York. As we tend to our wounds, we can let the shards be swept away and the window replaced just to be broken all over again. Or we can leave this window broken and begin instead to repair the contact between them and us.