My mother’s memories

Ronald Lewis (L) and 14-year-old Insooni.

Ronald Lewis (L) and 14-year-old Insooni.

By Jae-Ha Kim
March 8, 2013

My mother remembers being a young bride in Korea in the late 1950’s. She and my father were raising their first child — my sister —  who was doted on by the entire extended family. During that time, she saw a lot of mixed race babies. My mother remembers babies (mixed and not) being left outside of wealthy people’s homes.

The hope was that the rich would raise the children that the impoverished couldn’t. But often, the children were raised to be servants. Sometimes, if the couple was infertile, the wife would go away for nine months and return home with the baby.

My mom used to tell me about a cute little girl, whose mother was Korean and whose father was an African-American soldier. When he left Korea, he promised he would send for them. They never heard from him again. They moved in with her elderly mother. For five years, my mother watched the grandmother and baby go everywhere together. And then, one day, the little girl was gone.

“Where’s the baby?” my mother asked.

“We sent her to an orphanage,” the grandmother said. “It was our only choice.”

Because of the prejudice against mixed race children, and the single women who bore them, the only chance of survival they had was for the daughter to marry a man who would take care of them. No Korean man would welcome a child who was half black (or white) into his family.

This happened half a century ago. Is it much different now?

This memory made me think about Korean singer Insooni and Ronald Lewis, an American GI who befriended the biracial teenager when she was ostracized by Korean society. There was never anything romantic between the two. Lewis said he had experienced racism in the U.S., but hadn’t expected it in other countries. When he saw it happening to Insooni, he and his friends took her under their wings.

They bought her food. They didn’t assume they could buy her. Are there men today who would still be this kind to a child?

Anyhow, there’s a nice article about their reunion a couple years ago. Read about their friendship in Stars and Stripes.

And not for nothing, but Insooni’s daughter is a student at Stanford now.

© 2013 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved


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