Friday, April 1, 2011

You belong here--April Fools!

"There's something on your shirt!"

"April Fool!"

"There's something coming out of your nose!"

"April Fool!"

"Your shoe's untied!"

"Mom! I'm not wearing shoes!"


It is a minor Western holiday, perhaps underpinning a Western belief that the gullible deserve to be duped--the regard in which that belief is held revealed in the severity of the pranks generally practiced.

It was similar here on St. Patrick's Day when the leprechauns visited us with green pancakes and green milk. There were even green flowers to be shared. Even though the boys didn't see any gold or rainbows, they certainly basked in the luck of the Irish, and the little one tries to recall it about once a week with a request for "green pancakes and sauce!" Again, the Western belief in the fickleness of fate and the importance of luck permeates the minor holiday and helps color the population that celebrates it.

It's these minor holidays and the lack thereof that set me off as both non-Korean, and now, do to this new awareness, not quite American either (or perhaps reluctantly a majority American watching painfully through the life of a minority American and realizing belatedly the pain that I have caused those who didn't walk this same path).

You can forget you're part of the majority. You never quite forget you're part of the minority.

You see, the big holidays are easy--they are well marked on the calendars in both countries. You can't miss Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Easter. Similarly, Chuseok and Seolnal are well-advertised. I know they are coming.

And they are not hard to celebrate--there are countless books on the holidays in both languages (believe it or not, even the Plum Library carries a book on what it is like to celebrate Chinese New Year in Korea!). Ditto in Korea. Several of my students were very proud of their Christmas cookies.

The only problem with contacting the families on these holidays is getting through the busy phonelines and catching the ever-moving relatives at home.

But the little holidays somehow reveal more about the culture or what I don't know about it, and I seem to have lost the little Korean holidays here--the day the little fish are released at the beginning of spring, the day we eat peanuts to frighten evil spirits, the day the traditional dancers beat drums and cymbals through your home to chase out malevolent spirits. I don't know how to find these days, and, without the reinforcement of the culture around us, some important lessons are missing, namely that life is precious and needs to be fostered and protected.

We return to Korea in two and a half months to see our relative. Two and a half months--76 days. Seventy-six days of limbo, a place we are becoming accustomed to dwelling in.

Part of my name means "house," and since moving so much during my marriage, it often feels like a cruel joke. I am longing for a family, friends, and a home that doesn't change so much, for a security that is elusive (or, perhaps, "illusive" might be a better word since such security probably does not exist). I feel that we are making progress here, just as I felt we were in Korea before we left. And I fear that the transition will wipe it all away once again. I fear that we will once again, no, not once, make that twice again in a single summer, remember that we are neither Korean nor American--that, to mangle Leonard Bernstein's fine work, the somewhere that is a place for us is not in this time for us.

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