At seven

jae-at-7By Jae-Ha Kim
June 4, 2013

This photo was taken of me when I was about seven years old. I was at a friend’s birthday party, and her parents sent each guest home with a Polaroid from the soiree. This was a big deal back then, because Polaroid film was expensive. And, unlike today, kids didn’t go to parties expecting to receive goodie bags.

The funny thing about this photo is that … I recently got my hair cut at a fancy salon. And it looks pretty much the same as it does in this picture. I can’t remember if it was my sister or mother who cut my hair back then. I’m pretty sure it was my sis.

Around this same time, I was invited to go to a swimming pool with a friend and her family. I remember being really excited about getting to play in a real pool. Per the admittance requirements, we all rinsed off in the locker room and waited in line.

One by one, we stuck our arms out so that a park district employee could rub his or her fingers on our forearm to ensure our cleanliness. The whole thing sounds crazy now. But those were the rules, I guess.

My friend and her family were admitted. I was not.

I was told to go back and shower again. So, I did. And then I was sent back again. And again. By this time, my forearm was red from being rubbed so much.

Finally, she let me in.

No one questioned why I had to shower repeatedly, or why she thought I would be dirty. I remember being embarrassed, but I was also happy to finally get to go swimming in the big pool.

I did an interview with African-American musician Kevin Olusola of Pentatonix. I mention his race to lend context. He remembered visiting a remote village in China where some of the younger children thought he was made of chocolate.

I wonder if the pool guard thought I was made of dirt.

© 2013 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (21)

  1. 1) that’s a really bizarre rule, 2) what that guard did was awful and rascist, and 3) you were so adorable!

  2. admiralmackbar says:

    that’s messed up. did your friend notice anything weird about it?

  3. KC says:

  4. clandestinejoys says:

    That’s awful.

  5. Harriet Fancott says:

    Like but dislike 🙁

  6. amijangbaresherseoul says:

    My heart aches thinking of your hurt feelings as a little girl 🙁

  7. sequinedstrawberries says:

    You were and still are adorable <3

  8. accidentalajumma says:

    What littlegoldseoul said!

  9. Mike Kessler says:

    I’m baffled, I grew up on the NW side in a 98% white area, but my parents never gave me any racist attitudes…I can’t even process what happened here.

  10. Mike Kessler says:

    Hi Jae-Ha – I see you as a reporter, not an Asian reporter or female reporter, but you might be the only one who can elaborate on something DJ Rick O’Dell recently said: when he was a kid in LaGrange in the 60s, his neighbors were given a letter that “a Japanese family was moving into the area, but don’t be alarmed.”(?!) You can ask Rick and tell him I sent you…I’m baffled by his – and your – life experiences.

  11. Morris says:

    Baffling, especially for such an adorable little cutey!

  12. Amy B says:

    Your blogging is beautiful, Jae.

  13. Natasha N says:

    Sweet the hair cut! As for the rest.. I think He was made of dirt!

  14. John Harrold says:

    So this would have been in the 70s, right? The concept is bizarre to begin with. I think that the first time I swam in a swimming pool was in 1959, for swimming lessons, at Proviso East. I was about seven. We had to take a shower prior to swimming, but there was nobody doing that to us. I picture Danny Ackroyd’s Irwin Mainway SNL character doing the checking.

  15. Peggy says:

    Great picture! Horrible guard!!!

  16. Diana says:

    You were soooo cute, Jae!!! I am so sorry for the way you were treated. Makes my heart break. If it’s any comfort to you, David tells me the coolest kids in school are the Asian kids!!! He has said several times he wishes he was Asian I trust Kyle’s experiences will be much different than what you went through.

  17. Jimin Han says:

  18. Jessie Cruz says:

    Teaching your toddlers swimming has to be done using mainly learning games until he/she can learn more advanced practices. A first practice could be to see how close your child can put their face to the water. If your child is fearful of this then use some encouragement like putting a floating object close to the water and see if he/she can blow the object across the pool. This could be a ping pong ball, a small duck, foam animals your imagination is the limit.

  19. I hope that pool guard had a bad life. Back then he didnt know what he was doing …he was a stupid brat. Back then they didnt know the pain their stupidy caused to others. He is probly long gone for being so ignorant. Things that happened to me i still think of but they wete wrong not me so i have a way of putting it far up in my memory and it cant hurt me anymore. You have the artisric flare of you great writins…and great artists have felt deep pain thats how tje energy is channelled…to beauty in you.!???????

  20. Kimberly Garlock says:

    I wish racism was in the past, but it isn’t. I had a friend in college who’s parents had escaped from persecution in China. They were both highly educated, multiple degree holders. They couldn’t immigrate legally, so they spent years working menial jobs. PhDs scrubbing toilets.

  21. “They rubbed my skin raw, telling me I needed to be clean to use the pool. I was 7”

    that happened to me at the public pool at Holstein Park. Life Guards are dicks.

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