This piece is reposted from http://dhall47.wordpress.com/
Growing up in a mixed race family has many challenges. Like many interracial couples, my white, all-American father met my Korean mother while he was in the military. She spoke minimal English at best and knew nothing about the American lifestyle. Considering that I never learned how to speak or understand Korean and had a predominantly white upbringing, I understood remarkably little about her. This would be the cause of the turmoil I faced throughout most of my life.
From an early age, I had to translate her terribly broken English to everyone she spoke to. Whenever we pulled into a drive-thru restaurant, my mom would place the order and I would wait for the employee’s inevitable confusion. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” “Ma’am, I can’t understand you.” “You said you wanted a…what?” Back and forth until both parties started to get frustrated. Finally, embarrassed, I would lean over my mother and shout out the order. Never the one to be phased, my mother would go on as if nothing ever happened. I, on the other hand, would press my palms to my face and hide.
As I got a bit older, I realized that it wasn’t the end of the world to have to translate for my mother. The end of the world was actually the fact that I had to excuse her boorish manners or lack thereof. My mom was a prime example of the post Korean War attitude: hurry, hurry, hurry. She never had time to wait to hold doors open for other people. There wasn’t enough time in a day to remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’? And who had the time to slowly and quietly chew their food? Smack. Smack. Smack. With each wet smack, my spine would crawl. Fortunately for her, I, overflowing with good manners, was always right behind her to make up for her brutish ways.
In the end, however, I learned that the hardest thing about being my mother’s daughter is the language barrier between us. Our inability to properly communicate with each other lead to much discord. We fought constantly; very few conversations ended civilly. Neither one of us knew how to stop because neither one of us knew what the other person was actually saying. The confusion lead to anger and that anger lead to resentment. After I moved out, we rarely spoke. Fortunately, the desire to bridge the gap that lay between us grew as I slowly matured. I reached out to her, and she readily accepted the olive branch. We continue to work on rebuilding our relationship today, ironing out the kinks left behind by the language barrier.