I can’t stop thinking about Randy and his younger brother. I found out about them because Randy launched a GoFundMe for him and his brother after his mother was murdered in Atlanta in the mass shooting two weeks ago.
Ever since hearing the news, I’ve been numb, weary, not knowing how to process what’s happened. But when I came across Randy’s story and read his words, it broke me.
The photo on the page is of him, his brother, and his mom. When I see Hyun Jung, I see my mom, my aunt, the deacons at my home church. When I see Randy and his brother, I see my brother Eric and me—brothers similar in age and faces. It brought me back to summer vacations when Eric and I were left to fend for ourselves while my parents worked at the cleaners.
Every day for lunch, I’d make these massive omelettes. It was the only thing we ate because it was the only thing I knew how to make. Eric never complained. He thought they were delicious.
I texted him the other day in tears, sharing the GoFundMe page, nostalgic and heartbroken thinking of those times together. I can’t imagine waiting for my mom, looking forward to a dinner that wasn’t an omelet, and then she never comes home.
“She was a single mother who dedicated her whole life to providing for my brother and I. It is only my brother and I in the United States. The rest of my family is in South Korea and are unable to come. She was one of my best friends and the strongest influence on who we are today.”
Even at such a young age, I can feel Randy’s han. Cathy Park Hong in her book “Minor Feelings” defines han as, “a combination of bitterness, wistfulness, shame, melancholy, and vengefulness, accumulated from years of brutal colonialism, war, and U.S.-supported dictatorships that have never been politically redressed.”
Han is layers of generational burden stacked on top of us. Up until a few weeks ago, it was Randy’s mother who held it up, on her own, keeping it safe from her sons. But now in her death, it’s crashing down onto their sons.
“Frankly, I have no time to grieve for long. I will need to figure out the living situation for my brother and I for the next few months, possibly year.”
Being the oldest child in an Asian home comes with responsibilities that you bear no matter how young you are. Self-sacrifice is instinctual. Grieving is a luxury. Han is a lifestyle. You have to take care of what’s left, however you can do it, even if it means facing the indignity of asking others for help.
Twelve hours after Randy’s GoFundMe went live, he raised $600,000. He quickly wrote an update thanking everyone for their donations. Towards the end, he expresses a feeling that was all too familiar to me:
“I can’t help but feel selfish for all the attention this has garnered.”
Shame and guilt. Even in the midst of such horrible loss, there is always room for those two emotions. The first thing I learned to embody from my parents was han, the next was shame. I reflexively point the finger at myself before thinking about speaking up and using my voice.
I can hear my mother telling my brother and me, “Don’t fight back. Don’t stick out. Keep your head down, work hard, and mind your business.”
It’s a twisted, self-centered way to live. And because I can’t see past my shame, I was never taught how to ask for help or receive it when it’s generously given. Underneath any feeling of gratitude is the sinking feeling of how will I ever pay this back?
As of this week, Randy’s raised more than $2.8 million for himself and his brother. They deserve it. They need it. I hope they can breathe, mourn, and rest.
Randy’s words could have easily been my words. His loss could have been mine. There’s nothing stopping an attack on my mother because she breathes the same fumes Hyun Jung once did—the air of white supremacy.
We all do.
This is what it means to live in America, as an Asian American, as a Korean, as an other.