Courtesy of Jane Park


AAPI Heritage Month falls on the glorious month of May. But this month of festivities is always eclipsed by a more seriously celebrated holiday, at least in my household: my mom’s birthday.

May 8 marks Juhyun Kim’s 30th birthday. And it’ll always be her 30th birthday. Of course, like the rest of us, she ages with every passing year. But still, she insists she’s thirty. “Never let them know your real age,” she tells me with a wink. 

Though more than a week has passed since her birthday, I have yet to write her a birthday card. To her persistent questioning, I have responded rather evasively. “I didn’t have any time.” “I’m waiting for Eugene (my twin brother) to write his half of the letter.” “I couldn’t find a card.” 

Well Mom, to my defense, some of these elusive answers are true. But the most honest answer is that I just haven’t found the words to say to you. With my fingers, sometimes flying, but mostly hesitating, as they hover over the laptop keyboard, maybe I’ll figure out some of my words right now. 


May 12, four days after my mother’s birthday, is Mother’s Day. Jokingly, the rest of our family tells her that our “Happy Birthday” present doubles as our “Happy Mother’s Day” gift. But over the years, a fear has crept up on me. I wonder now if that joke has become a reality. Is our celebration of her birth merely a celebration of her motherhood? 

If a glimpse into someone’s life should be compared to looking into a kaleidoscope — that is, if the many lives they lived represented thousands of colorful reflecting surfaces — then I have observed my mom through a magnifying glass: a perspective zoomed in to her role as my mother. 

I do not know her years prior to 2004. The many places and people she left behind in Korea are relics of the past that are inaccessible to me. I’ve always thought that to know someone is to love someone. Have I not been loving — knowing — my mother like she’s loved me? While my mom has smoothened the crease between my eyebrows and held me through sleepless nights, I remain in the dark about her own eyebrow creases and sleepless nights. 

Mom, what do you dream about? What keeps you up at night? 

In the movie “Past Lives,” Arthur confesses his insecurity of being a white husband to Nora, a Korean woman: “You dream in a language I can’t understand. It’s like there’s this whole place inside you I can’t go.” 

When I first heard that line, I couldn’t help but think of the distance between you and me, Mom. How it might span the Pacific waters and decades of time. Yet, during Celine Song’s visit to Yale, I found comfort in her interpretation that Arthur’s words of insecurity are an expression of love.

“It is actually in the way that it’s almost in the longing that exists in the difference between these two people,” said Song. “The truth is, I find this to be true in any intimacy… And so, what an amazing thing to know that your wife will always be a mystery to you.” 

Mom, I vow to pursue the mystery that you are. 


When I was young, I wanted nothing more than to look like my mom. 

I would sneak into my mother’s closet and pick out my newest accessory among her trove of heels, scarves and handbags. Then, I would awkwardly yet triumphantly parade down the hallway, in her finest silks and shoes that were much too big for me. As I opened the door to her bedroom, I remembered popping a hip to the side and striking my best pose. I would ask her: 

“Mom, do I look like you?” 

She would laugh and take me into her arms. “Of course, you do, my pretty daughter.” 

This was not entirely true. Puberty, which did not hold the parental obligation to tell me sweet lies, made it brutally clear in my early high school years. I did not have my mom’s wide, almond eyes, nor her long, slender legs. My mom’s pronounced, sharp features pierced through every photo, even the poorly taken ones. My rounder, hazier characteristics seemed blurry and unremarkable in comparison. 

For my entire childhood, I wanted nothing more than to resemble the way she looks in a Polaroid photo where my mother is holding me and my brother — a photo I keep in my wallet to this day. I would ask family members and friends if they could see the resemblance between us and pretend not to be hurt when they said I looked more like my dad instead. Sorry Dad. 

Many years down the line, I have reconciled with the fact that I do not have my mother’s long eyes nor her high nose. I’ve realized that her beauty has never been contained to the aesthetic. 

Mom, you may consider your dazzling handbags and plethora of skincare products your arsenal of youth and beauty. But, to me, you are the most beautiful person because you are the person who evokes the most in me. 

My days of playing dress-up and being called cute by virtue of age are far behind me. In two weeks’ time, I will be a twenty-year old, junior in college — extremely far from the excessively positive and jubilant youth I once was. But even at this age, you never fail to pinch my cheeks and tell me lovingly that I am still your adorable daughter. 

Whether my features resemble yours or your heels and scarves fit me, none of it matters. As long as you tell me that I am a sight you adore, I feel like the most beautiful person in the world. 

Beauty is in the beholder of the eye, and you fill my eyes with so much love, Mom.



We sing eternally about our Asian mothers. Even when it seems as if all the songs have been sung and all the stories have been written, there are always more words, more music, more art that can be created to honor and decode the word “mother.” They are the monsters of our story, as Ocean Vuong writes in “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” They are the first and second words we utter, says Michelle Zauner in “Crying in H Mart.” 

To me, my mother is the most familiar space. When I embrace my mother, my arms know where to wrap, my chin knows where to bury. Yet, when I observe her rare tears or catch bits of hushed conversations about her childhood, I know that my mother is my biggest mystery.  

But one thing is for sure. Mom, you are the keeper of my heart. You are the keeper of my laughter, my tears, my fondest memories and fears. 

To the end of my life, you are one song I will never stop singing. 

Love, love, love,