Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics

My Immigrant Passover

Photo courtesy of ceramicartspace.com; manipulation by author.

Tonight, I'll be attending my first legitimately Jewish Seder -- let me explain.

I grew up in a Korean immigrant household, in the scrubby area of a comparatively affluent Seattle suburb. Our cul-de-sac was a TJ Maxx kind of place; across town lived the shiny, blonde Nordstrom kids.

All of us were crammed into the same junior high and high school, which made life difficult for Asians, Blacks, David Ramirez, the only Mexican, and John G. Kramer, the only homosexual the town had ever known.

It got even harder for people like us when, inexplicably, Mormons became the popular kids. To this day I don't understand how kids who'd sworn off alcohol and caffeine, didn't have premarital sex, and wore long dresses to prom managed to be cool in an Abercrombie-loving high school. In any case, it happened.

During junior year, my mom, concerned only with my ability to graduate as class president and receive at least five degrees from Harvard, noticed the trend of Mormon popularity and my exclusion from it.

"Why you no coorl?" she asked.

'Gee, Mom, maybe it has something to do with... everything about me,' I wanted to say.

"Hmmm, I herlp you," she said ominously.

One day, Mom came home from work with a bag full of foreign objects. It was around this time of year, early spring.

"You wear this," she said, pulling out a Jewish prayer shawl. "Mormon underwear."

"And here," she handed me a yarmulke.

"What the hell is this?" I asked in Korean.

"It Mormon accshesshory," she said.

She also pulled out -- but, to my knowledge, did not force upon me -- a small jar of red liquid, which I fear was the blood of a sheep a.k.a. "decaf Mormon juice."

Mom was an atheist, so all these religions were new to her. New and apparently really damn confusing.

I learned three important lessons that year:

1. Never underestimate what a Korean mom will do for the Ivy League;

2. Kimchi does not fit on the Seder plate; and

3. Popular Mormons are their most cruel toward nerdy Koreans chanting the Haggadah.

I anticipate no such trauma at tonight's gathering. There will be no liturgy, except perhaps the version by literary darlings Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander. And the shankbone will probably be made of tofu.

It's a sign of my own ascension, god's blessing upon me, to spend Passover with a bunch of arty, cynical, multiculti, vegetarian atheists.

Barukh atah... Amen.

* Some or all of this story may or may not be true. *

1 comment

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Jennifer Hong wrote 3 years 14 weeks ago


Tammy Hi, it's Jennifer Hong from Curtis...email me!

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About The Author

Tammy Kim

Tammy lives in Brooklyn, where she writes, works as a social-justice lawyer, and teaches. She grew up in Tacoma, WA and was educated at Yale and NYU.

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