Growing up Korean-American: I was born in Chicago. My mom was born in South Korea, as was my father, and I just remember growing up with two languages and always kind of being that mediator. My mom still doesn't speak English as well as she would like. My father was fairly fluent; he translated at our church. But I always just remember being a mediator or, like, a translator. And so when mail came, like credit cards or whatever came, or something came, and my mom couldn't understand, she would give it to me, and I would read through it and translate for her. And I don't remember being burdened by it; it was just something that we did. Or that I did, and my sisters did it, too. But because I was older, I was always the one who got asked to do it first.

And then my mom started losing her hearing when I was in high school. And she became almost completely deaf, probably by the time I graduated high school. So we had that language barrier of me always translating in English to her, and then, now all of a sudden, there was this other barrier, this sound barrier. And so, like, I had always acted as a mediator growing up, but now it was very, like, it was my job—like, every time I would come home from college, my mom would have a stack of bills or whatever, and she would ask, she would be waiting for me, asking me, "OK, can you call this company, can you call this doctor?"

And so I would have to communicate and call these people, and she would be sitting next to me, communicating in Korean. So it was not only the sound barrier, but it was also the language barrier. And so I just remember always getting frustrated, wondering "Why is it that my entire life, I've just had to be this mediator or this translator?" And when I look at other people who communicate with their parents, I just marvel, 'cause they can speak in a common language, and they understand each other perfectly. And it just amazes me. It's just such a foreign thing, when I see that. And I remember maybe sometimes feeling a little bit bitter. Like, "Why do I have to struggle so much in trying to communicate with my mom?" But then at the same time I think it helps me to have more empathy and to understand people better.

It’s pretty entertaining when you see me communicating with my mom, and also my sister and my brother. ’Cause we've invented a kind of language that we speak amongst each other. And I didn't even realize it until someone pointed it out to me that I gesture a lot. I try not to do it in public. But I gesture a lot, with, when I communicate or when I talk. And especially when I talk with my mom, I make sure—and she also lip-reads, so I make sure that I distill, if she gives me a piece of paper to translate, I make sure to distill everything on that piece of paper into words that she'll understand, in Korean that's easy to recognize when you lip-read. And if I have to translate into English, I also translate using words that are easy to lip-read. If she doesn't understand that, then I'll write it down for her—and all the while I'm gesturing. And we've invented a kind of sign language that we only use in the family, that’s just kind of regular gestures, but amplified so that she understands. And so in a sense, we've created this language just so that we can communicate with each other. And I didn't really think about how unique that is until someone pointed it out to us, ’cause it's just normal, it's just something that I've grown up with.