I am Kelsay Elizabeth Myers.
My name, Kelsay, means from the sea.
My mother and father were going to name me Kelly,
after my father’s dead brother,
but when my mother went to look it up in a name book,
she saw Kelsey and thought of Pusan,
the port city I was born in,
and the ocean I would travel across
to get to her waiting arms,
and changed the “e” to an “a”
to be different.
Elizabeth was my father’s mother’s name.
A woman I had a strong disliking for —
the stench of her house,
her racist remarks about black people,
the hardness of her body
when she hugged me.
I feel guilty for my hateful thoughts though,
now that she too is dead.
Funny that all these names come from my father,
except my first,
which is a representation of my mother and me.
My mother and me —
the two grasping for more love,
more of each other to hold on to
in my matriarchal household.
But that wasn’t always my name.
If I didn’t check the Asian Pacific Islander or Korean
boxes on standard forms,
you’d think I was white.
Growing up I wanted an even whiter name,
like Kimberly or Sara,
something that would fit the blonde highlights
that would make me more beautiful
than the dark brown,
almost black hair,
that was my natural color.
If my parents had kept even a part of the name Korea
my “home” country had given me,
Jin Jung Mee,
you’d know I wasn’t white,
at least not on the outside.
I can walk into a room of white
business women and men
and be stared at.
I don’t need an “a” in my name to be seen as different.
I can walk back into that room
with my white mother and be legitimized.
And I can walk into a room full of Asians
and Asian American men and women
with my white mother
and be labeled an outsider.
Everyone can see me as foreign,
Because I’m not really one of them either,
I’m a twinkie, a banana, a pencil —
yellow on the outside,
white on the inside.
Inside I am a battleground
of sensory experience.
I was raised on mac & cheese,
McDonalds, apple pie,
and William Jefferson Clinton.
I threw tantrums in the store aisle until I got the new baby doll
that actually pees,
or my parents stopped going to church.
I never respected my elders. I never bothered to learn
very much about Pusan or South Korea.
But I know sarang means love.
Uma means mother and Apa means father.
Kong is a river.
But I don’t know how to pronounce my name.
Jin Jung Mee.
My mother told me that in Korea
they pronounce their “j’s” like “y’s.”
What does she know about Korea?
We all say Kim Jong Il with a “j.”
A hapa woman who grew up in Japan
told me that wasn’t true. I didn’t know the sensei spoke Korean.
I am at an impasse.
Note: Linked to Grown In My Heart's Carnival about names for the month of October 2009. Check out the other entries here.