Heejung Kelly


Heejung Kelly




St. Louis, MO


Speech-Language Pathologist; Cognitive-Communication Therapist

Own Words

I am a 1st generation Korean.  My family immigrated when I was 3 weeks shy of 5yrs old.  I am the first in my immediate family to: become a citizen, to vote, to receive a college degree.

I was a smelly, immigrant child in the rough city with roaches, bad schools, a little brother, a little sister, and a divorced mom with no English who worked all the over-time she could, a mom who went to night school for English and a cosmetology license.

I am 40 years old.  I have 2 beautiful, intelligent daughters from a practice marriage.  After separation in my 30s, I put myself through to graduate school.  Now I am lucky in my real marriage. I run my house with pride and high expectations.  I take care of my family with cautious love.   I don’t mind that my family gives me a hard time; they know who is in charge.

I have 2 step-sons, who are their mother's, who is maybe the opposite of Korean.

I am intense in my profession, it is dynamic, diverse, challenging: I am the communication (speech/language) therapist!  I am most useful when people are listening to my ideas and not judging me because of my eye/nose shape or hair texture.

For a long time I thought that the lights through the airplane's window were beautiful red, green and yellow planets.  The first food I tried to eat after I landed was a bland mouthful of warm expanding goo that I couldn't chew, so therefore couldn't swallow.  Now I love pizza, but I still prefer a crispy crust with garlic and lots of crunchy, spicy vegetables.

I ask my mom: why did you come to America? 
"…because I dream nobody get sick, nobody hungry, everybody have money, and maybe even nobody die.  maybe everybody beautiful.  maybe like heaven."

I do not know where in Korea I was born, my mom tries to tell me but her words don't stick, or maybe she changes the words every time I ask.  I have memories, or maybe dreams: a couple of grandmas, grandpas, an auntie, hair braiding, toasted silk worms and grapes, a dog bite, running in an open field, billions of ants, unstitching the edge off of heavy blankets to wash and hang in the country sunshine, busting my chin wide open and getting stitches, pointed rubber shoes, a detached outdoor kitchen, a grate for heating the floors, trying to potty train and getting in trouble.  I still have not been back and now my grandparents have passed on.

I imagine Korea:  children are not smelly immigrants, don’t have to get up 2 hours early to make mother's lunch, don't food shop on $20/week, don't make dinner for everybody, don't do laundry in the bathtub because the laundry mat burned down, and the religious lady next door doesn’t want her machine used anymore, after her daughter’s pretty striped skirt was “accidentally” taken home and the old machine in the basement is broken.  Children don’t have to translate what mother says and what other people say back and fill out lines on applications.

Maybe everybody is well-mannered, kind-tempered, hard-working, soft-spoken.  All children are clean, comfortable, safe, and go to the best schools, to college on time, get married right the first time.  And there are uncles, and aunties and cousins, and grandparents, who may be dead in body but very alive in spirit..maybe like heaven.

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