Dear Byung Ho Park:
It’s been official for two weeks now, but I’m still in shock that you’ll be playing for Minnesota.
As a loyal Twins fan, I’m eager to see how your power-hitting presence might help our lineup.
However, as an adopted Korean American raised in Minnesota, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that a Korean will be wearing a Twins uniform. Incredibly, this means that I’ll soon be able to buy a Twins jersey with “Park” on the back, without a need to custom order.
You see, as a kid growing up in suburban St. Paul I often struggled to understand and accept my Korean American cultural identity.
My parents, under the largely correct assumption that it would be good for me, sent me each summer to Camp Choson, one of the many “Korean culture camps” spread throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. There I met hundreds of kids who looked just like me and were asking a lot of the same questions: “Who am I as a Korean? As an American? How do I reconcile the two?”
At the same time I was morphing into something of a Twins superfan. I spent my early years dragging a plastic teeball set everywhere I went. I poured considerable energy into perfecting the batting stances of Kirby Puckett (youthful, punchy), Chuck Knoblauch (angled, quick), Kent Hrbek (patient, powerful) and Chili Davis (sleek, compact). I took great pride in the fact that I was born in 1987. I made little effort to hide the fact that — while not by blood — Joe Mauer was my distant cousin.
Once I got to college I was forced to confront the many insecurities that had been building since childhood. A pivotal moment came in 2006 when I enrolled in a summer Korean language program at the University of Minnesota. Despite the additional student loans, lost wages and ungodly commutes between Hugo and Minneapolis, I never felt more certain that I was, for the moment, where I belonged.
After college I moved directly to Korea, where I reunited with my Korean birth mother and, for the first time in my life, experienced the daily feeling of “blending in” with my own people.
So I’m excited about your arrival, but for reasons that go beyond baseball. Chinese Americans from the Bay Area must have felt the same way when Jeremy Lin signed with the Warriors: “One of our own, who looks just like us, is coming to play on our team.”
It might seem strange, but your story is one that, under different circumstances, could have belonged to any one of the approximately 200,000 adopted Koreans living around the world. Interestingly, the post-adoption version is already being played out by Rob Refsnyder, a 24-year-old Korean adoptee who’s fighting for a starting spot on — shudder if you wish — the Yankees.
Suffice to say, my adopted Korean friends and I are rooting for you. Though your story differs from ours in almost every way, it’s still one that began in Korea and, through a series of somewhat extraordinary events, found its way to a bitter cold, deer-hunting, hot dish-baking, State-Fair going, Scandinavian-accented place called Minnesota.
It may take some time for you to adjust to life in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, so here are a few pointers to speed the process:
You can eat kimchi pizza at a place called Pizzeria Lola in South Minneapolis.
If you’re missing the more traditional side of Korea, there’s a samulnori (Korean percussion) group called Shinparam and a Korean dance group called Changmi that performs in the Twin Cities year-round.
You can sing noraebang (Korean karaoke) at DoReMi in Eagan.
You can shop for Korean groceries on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, Central Avenue in Columbia Heights or East Moore Lake Road in Fridley.
Most important, you’ll have hordes of excited Korean and Korean American fans waiting for you. Minnesota has the highest per-capita concentration of Korean adoptees in the United States.
In much the same way we were greeted when landing at MSP International Airport for the first time, we’d like to offer our own greeting to you: Welcome to Minnesota, your new home.
Nikolas Nadeau is a native of Hugo and a graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. He lived in South Korea from 2009-2011 on a Fulbright grant, and reunited with his Korean birth mother in 2010. Follow him on Twitter: @NikChangHoon.
ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 takes features first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota. Got a story to tell? Send your draft to firstname.lastname@example.org.