With their crisp white tennis shoes stuck out in front of them, the girls in Mrs. Daley’s kindergarten class set out to conquer that morning’s task: tying their shoelaces. Chloe, the only little girl in the room with jet-black hair and warm yellow undertones to her skin, struggled to keep hold of her bunny ears. Each time she attempted to create a knot between the two, they would slip out of her hands and fall apart. In frustration she abandoned both her sneakers and the entire project, retreating to the other side of the classroom to doodle on the giant easel.
Upon reaching the easel, Chloe saw that there was a prompt written in bold letters across the top: “What are your initials? Write them below.” In the space below the prompt, all of the little girls had written their initials in their best D’Nealian cursive. Chloe chose a colored pen, carefully checking to make sure that it was not red, for her mother had always taught her that writing your name in red ink brought bad luck. Drawing a pen the color of the seaweed sheets her grandma bought at the Korean grocery store in Fort Lee, she carefully transcribed the letters C, I, and K onto the easel.
Suddenly Mrs. Daley announced, “Today we will be using our initials to practice our spelling and handwriting skills. Everyone will write down their name for me to read out to the class, and then we will collectively work together as a class to spell it out on the chalkboard.” Slowly spelling out both her full name and her initials, Mrs. Daley explained, “My initials are RKD for Robin Katherine Daley, R-o-b-i-n K-a-t-h-e-r-i-n-e D-a-l-e-y.” After a series of Elizabeth Karen Smiths, Sarah Harper Jaspers, and Isabella Brooke Browns, it was finally Chloe’s turn to have her name spelled out by the class.
Chloe rose, quickly grabbing her abandoned tennis shoes and placing them on her feet, making sure to carefully tuck the untied laces into the inside of the sneaker. She walked to the front of the chalkboard and carefully wrote down her name on a slip of paper and handed it to Mrs. Daley.
A puzzled expression appeared on Mrs. Daley’s face that had not appeared after reading any of the other girls’ slips of papers. Pulling Chloe aside, Mrs. Daley asked, “Chloe, could you please pronounce your middle name for me, I have never encountered anything like it before.” “Of course, Mrs. Daley,” Chloe responded politely, as her parents had always taught her to have the utmost respect for her elders. “My middle name is Ingkyung, Ing-kyung.”
“Ikoong?” Mrs. Daley repeated hesitantly.
“That’s a funny sounding name!” called out a girl from the carpet.
“No, Ingkyung, Ing-kyung,” Chloe repeated again slightly deterred by the rude comment made by the girl on the carpet.
“Inkyang?” Mrs. Daley attempted for the second time.
Terribly embarrassed and eager to retreat back to the carpet, Chloe merely nodded at the mispronounced pronunciation of her middle name, and in that moment vowed to never share her middle name again.
I am now sixteen years old and I could not be any more secure and proud of my heritage and identity, laughing with my Korean relatives over all of my favorite Korean dishes, duk mandoo guk, kalbi chim, and ja-jang-myun.
I, Chloe Ingkyung Kim, may outwardly resemble that little girl in the class with jet-black hair and warm skin tone. However, internally could not feel more differently. Visiting Korea for the first time at the age of thirteen, the age that some may deem as the most awkward when insecurities are raging inside, made a deep and important impact on me. Surrounded by loads of my Korean cousins, aunts, and uncles around a long table, I began to realize it was the first time that I felt like I truly belonged. It was as if some aspect of my identity that had always been tucked away had finally been awakened.
When I returned to Manhattan from my trip to Seoul, I found myself engaging with my Korean culture in ways that I had never experienced before. Korean TV series replaced my Netflix binges, the lively beats of Big Bang were queued up on my Apple playlist alongside Beyonce tracks and Adele ballads.
My transfer to a different high school when I turned fourteen also represented a turning point in the road to embracing my heritage. My new high school was much larger and much more diverse — I was able to interact with people of all different backgrounds on a daily basis. My elementary and middle school had been small and homogenous. Because of this, any differences or “outliers” were quite prominent in the student body. My high school, on the other hand, is composed of a large hodgepodge of individuals allowed me to explore the uniqueness of my own heritage to share with others. In an effort to learn more about my roots, I reached out to my paternal grandfather to learn more about the country he was from. My middle name given to me by my North-Korean born grandfather is a testament to his hard work and a living embodiment of his legacy. Both a proud recipient of my middle name and representative of the country my grandfather came from, I now prominently declare my middle name when asked about it, always inviting discussion and questions.
My name is Chloe Ingkyung Kim, not Ikoong or Ingkyang, Inkgyung, and I am half-Korean and the proud granddaughter of Syungsoo Kim, Sy-ung-soo Kim.