I grew up listening to jokes about corner variety stores being run by Korean immigrant families. But that’s what my family did for 30 years in Canada. Now that many of us have grown up and left our family-run businesses to do other things, I felt compelled to share stories from behind the store counter. I wanted to write about the prostitutes, just barely older than me, who worked our street corner, and about the homeless man with the sparkling blue eyes but no teeth who came in regularly for day-old bread. I also wanted my daughter and future generations to know about the early struggles of Korean-Canadian immigrants – how we rarely ate meals together as a family since someone had to be in the store from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and how we lost count of the number of times we were robbed or harassed by customers.
It’s been incredible to connect with readers and to find out how universal the themes I explore in my writing are, from mother-daughter relationships to confronting personal demons. Sharing our stories, I’ve come to learn, is one of the best ways to foster empathy, increase cultural awareness, and to challenge clichéd portrayals of groups of people not in mainstream books and the media. I often will try to avoid writing, even though I write regularly now. It’s mentally and emotionally demanding work, but the process of writing provides me with the safest space to engage in creative and critical expression.