Korean, American, Feminist

Rachel Cheong

1. The day my dad moves out, I sit on the floor next to him as he packs his suitcase, numb. That night we have dinner without him for the first time. My mom picks up fajitas from the local Taco Cabana. “I don’t actually like to cook,” she says.

2. I’m eleven years old. My mom and I fight more than we ever have, but we talk more, too. “I’m trying to remember who I was before I married,” she says, during one of our fleeting truces. The sky outside the car window is grey, blooming with clouds. “I feel like I lost too many parts of myself.”

3. Before her marriage, I learn, my mom was a young radical enmeshed in the protest movement against dictator Chun Doo-Hwan. She was a college student, working to support her family. She was a feminist and a writer. She liked Korean poetry and Tarantino films.

4. At the end of eighth grade, our English teacher asks all of our parents to write us a letter saying something important. Mine explains why my parents stayed in America. It was because my mom cried when she found out I was a girl. It was because she wanted me to have a different life.

5. My mom gives me the sex talk once in elementary school, once more in middle school, and then repeatedly in high school. “It’s your body. I’ll put you on the shot when you think you’re ready.” The first time I hear this, my first kiss is four years away. “Mom! Please!” “I just want you to be safe.”

6. My grandmother thinks I should learn how to cook and clean. My mom intentionally avoids teaching me. Knowledge is a kind of destiny. Afraid that we become what we learn, her grandmother, a seamstress, refused to let her touch needles. My grandmother wants me to cook, but also wants me to study hard. “Your mom was always the best student in her class.” Decades later, this still makes her proud.

7. My mom trades in the sedan for a pickup truck, loads up the back with paint and used furniture. Forty-something with three kids, she’s starting a new career as a house flipper. “It would be great if nothing happened to your father,” she says, hands steady on the wheel. “But I can take care of you guys if something does.”

8. Middle school: a late bloomer with bad skin, I’m at once deeply unsure of myself and certain that I’m more right than anyone around me. I’m ranting in class one day, when someone interrupts to accuse me of being a feminist. Startled, I don’t deny it. How could I be otherwise? Of course that’s what I am.

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