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FFJD Guest Post: The Reason My Korean Family Is Actually Jewish On Paper

Koreans and Jews: what’s the difference really? Read More

By / March 31, 2011
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

Today’s guest post is from a writer named Patricia Park, a Korean-American and FFJD fan. She writes to us about the similarities between Korean families and Jewish families. All that’s missing is kugel, but the guilt is still there.

Kvetching mothers. Pressure to marry “one of the tribe.” Aunts and grandmothers offering backhanded compliments (“My, that skirt looks awfully snug—I guess it’s the fashion!”), before pressuring you to eat up.

Today, I’m here to talk about my Korean family, which bears a striking resemblance to the archetypal Jewish family. Both ethno-cultural groups trace their American roots back to New York City, and the similar trajectories of both are just uncanny. I grew up in New York City, and a hefty percentage of my friends are Jewish. So I feel uniquely positioned to make sweeping generalizations about both groups and take flak for it later.

For the sake of reader attention spans, I’ll limit my list to the Top Three Common Traits Found in Jewish and Korean Families:

Common Trait #1: Guilt-Tripping Mothers

Do you know what I sacrificed for you?…I was in labor with you for 8 hours, and for what, you treat your mother this way?…These are just some of the motherly kvetches I’ve heard my J friends recount.

Korean mothers take a less direct approach to their guilt-tripping, perfecting instead the martyr act. A Korean mother might be more apt to say something along the lines of: “If you don’t want to eat this steaming bowl of spicy kimchi stew I just made for you, that’s okay. It’s probably because my cooking skills are not so good, because I was not paying attention to my mother when she shared the recipe. But now it’s too late because she was shot by the Japanese soldiers during the War.”
…And lo and behold, you’re made to slurp piping hot soup on a ninety-degree summer day, plus humidity.

The moral is, much like with Jewish mothers, you can never win with the Korean mother, who can always pull the “filial duty” Confucian tenet card and will her child into submission.

#2: Success-Driven Fathers

“Abba” means “Father” in Hebrew and “Dad” in Korean. Coincidence? I think not.

My father came to America with a suitcase, $200 and a dream. He parlayed that $200 into two grocery stores in Brooklyn, which, in the Korean-American community, is tantamount to making partner at a white-shoe law firm.

A commonality I’ve seen among my Jewish girlfriends (whose fathers are lawyers, architects, dentists, entrepreneurs) and myself is that we are all trying to find versions of our father, for better or worse. A frequent roadblock I’ve come up against is comparing the invariable hipster guy I happened to be dating at that time to my father, and I couldn’t help but think: If Abba could come to this country as essentially an illegal alien who couldn’t speak word of English and still he managed to scrape a living for himself, then why can’t you at least get off the couch and pay your Time Warner cable bill on time? I mean, seriously!

#3: Pressure to Marry In-Group

You guys have J-Date; we have things like People Meeting the People: Korean Catholics from Queens Singles Weekend Retreat, like the one my parents had sent me to when I hit the ripe old age of 26, in an attempt to finally bring home a Nice Korean Boy. “You must sell your goods now!” my mother said. If you think I had a choice to say no, then please refer back to the aforementioned #1: Guilt-Inducing Mothers.

One last note: I just had drinks with two completely unrelated girls who were each the product of a Jewish father-Korean mother union. I’m told the term for this is a “Jewrean.” This just blows my mind.

Patricia Park was born and raised in NYC and is a writer and university lecturer based in Seoul. She blogs at newyorkerinseoul.com

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