Cover Photo: A Korean American woman writes at her desk and is surrounded by different scenes
Illustration by Sirin Thada for Catapult

Dear Imo: A Letter from the Korean Diaspora

I made a promise, too, that I would bring her back to you.

Little sister. Don’t go.

One day I will show you America. I will show you everything.

What in the world happenedYou used to speak our language so well.

Where is yourmah-mi? Why didn’t she come?

Her spirit hurts, so she can’t travel anymore.

Mama passed away. Heart attack

Where are you from? You seem Korean. Why don’t you speak Korean well? Are both your mother and father Korean?

NoYou are not Korean.

Your mother is not KoreanYour mother was born in Japan. She is not Korean.

Yes, in 1941, when Korea was a colony of Japan. Surely you know that thousands of Koreans were laboring in Japan at that time

Only Korean people’s remains can be taken to KoreaYour mother’s do not belong there.

Look againHer parents’ names are Korean names. Can you not see that?

Okay, what are their names?

Her mother is Cho Sung Woon. Her father is Ha Jum Eul. My mother is Korean.

Nobody knows how much suffering I’ve been through in my life

If she wanted to come back to Korea, why didn’t she do it when she was alive?

I want to take Imo to see country. Aigu, I been here so many years and hardly seen anything.

One day I will show you America. I will show you everything.

Grace M. Cho is the author of Tastes Like War and Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War, which received a 2010 book award from the American Sociological Association. Her writings have appeared in journals such as the New Inquiry, Poem Memoir Story, Contexts, Gastronomica, Feminist Studies, Womens Studies Quarterly, and Qualitative Inquiry. She is Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.