This Is Us

Parenting is a constant work in progress

Shadows on pavement cast by a child and an adult holding hands as they walk.
Shadows on pavement cast by a child and an adult holding hands as they walk.
Shadows on pavement cast by a child and an adult holding hands as they walk.
Photo: AlexLinch/iStock/Getty Images Plus

I used to let my son, J, hit me in the face. I did not start out thinking, I will let my son hit me in the face. It was something that just happened.

Then, over time, it became “Oh, ‘that’ happened again,” reported to my husband. A few years in, I had to get my glasses fixed so much the man at the glasses place thought I was pulling some kind of scam. Then I burst into tears and said, “My son won’t stop hitting me in the face!” …


When soldiers returned home, they brought with them stereotypes that became embedded in American culture

An archival photo from the Korean War. Carrying her baby brother on her back, a war weary Korean girl walks by a stalled M-26 tank, at Haengju, Korea, June, 1951.
An archival photo from the Korean War. Carrying her baby brother on her back, a war weary Korean girl walks by a stalled M-26 tank, at Haengju, Korea, June, 1951.
An archival photo from the Korean War. Carrying her baby brother on her back, a war weary Korean girl walks by a stalled M-26 tank, at Haengju, Korea, June, 1951.
A Korean girl with her baby brother walks by a stalled M-26 tank in Haengju, Korea, 1951. Photo: RV Spencer/Interim Archives/Getty Images

“Fry ‘em out! Burn ‘em out! Cook ‘em!” You wouldn’t be faulted for guessing this dialogue is from a new cooking show. But it’s actually from the 1951 documentary, This Is Korea. Directed by distinguished filmmaker John Ford, the documentary was commissioned by the U.S. Navy to show off its military prowess to American audiences. Hollywood hero John Wayne narrates the film, including one scene where he exhorts a U.S. soldier with a flamethrower to “cook ‘em” — the ‘em in this case being Koreans.

Ford’s documentary follows a dark U.S. tradition of treating Asian people as less than human…


Nearly 30 years later, my book is relevant again. But why do I feel conflicted about it?

Finding My Voice book cover against a red and bright pink patterned background.
Finding My Voice book cover against a red and bright pink patterned background.
Finding My Voice book cover against a red and bright pink patterned background.

One of the lesser-known heartaches of achieving your dream of publishing a book is that after all those years of sweat and tears, getting an agent, etc., you presume your book will be in the world maybe forever. But hundreds of books come out every month (in fact, 2018 had over one million self-published books, according to Bowker); in a bookstore, there are a hundred to a thousand books competing for that one space on the shelf. Publishers print a number of copies of a book and send it out into this jungle of bookshelf space (real and virtual). …


One clue: racism

woman and other commuters wearing masks on subway

President Trump has an Asia problem. As much as he would like to hold the United States out as the example of how to effectively handle the coronavirus, places such as South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan keep showing him up.

Take the press conference he held on Monday (before stomping out in annoyance at what he called “nasty” questioning from reporters, including one who was Asian American). The event was meant to celebrate what he considered a benchmark. …


The rhetoric around 2019-nCoV — the “Wuhan coronavirus” — plays on centuries-old racist sentiments against Asians

Image representation of the dominant public opinion that persistent presence of these three diseases Malarium, Small Pox, and Leprosy were all the fault of the Chinese immigrants and their unsanitary living conditions — the Wasp newspaper 26 May 1882 via Wiki Commons

Some day, I will draw up a visual flowchart to explain how epidemics are named for the public. Specifically, there is a logic employed by both the media and the scientific community, though neither speak it aloud. It starts with the question of where the virus originates: is it currently spreading in the US, or in another Western country? If so, give it its numerical designation (e.g. H1N1), or reference the animal in which we think it started (e.g. Swine Flu, or Mad Cow Disease). …


People long for clear narratives, but reality isn’t like that

Illustration by Carmen Johns

For people who know my mother, they know she is an amazing trailblazer who established a center for Korean immigrants — and is also a somewhat difficult woman. The two probably go hand in hand, like where the fresh water of a river meets the saline of the sea, impossible to separate out which is which, the currents and proportions are always shifting.

With the end of World War II in 1945, the Korea she was living in was liberated as a colony of Japan. Though Korea was naturally supposed to become “free and independent,” the U.S.partitioned Korea at the…


This piece originally appeared in The Millions, December 2019

Every year is a great year for reading; 2019 was no exception.

One of my favorites this year was Helen Phillips’s The Needpart parenting book, part horror, part thriller, part literary fiction — actually none of these descriptors do it justice; narratively inventive in a Jenny Offill Dept. of Speculation way, it requires close reading, with a big and tender and surprising payoff at the end.

Jean Kwok’s literary thriller, Searching for Sylvie Lee, put the literary back into literary thriller; a fast-paced but surprisingly emotional novel that takes…


This piece appeared originally in the Los Angeles Times in June 2019

From left to right: Russell French, Paola French and their son, Kenneth French, at Universal Studios. Kenneth, 32, was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer in a Corona Costco on June 14.

My 19-year-old son has the face of an angel, but he lacks the cognitive ability, if lost, to ask for directions home. I worry about him continually: How will he navigate the world? Where will he live? Will he have a happy, meaningful life?

I also worry, now more than ever, about his interactions with police who don’t understand his disabilities.

This week, a couple shopping at Costco with their adult nonverbal son with intellectual disabilities was shot and their son was killed by an off-duty Los Angeles…


This essay first appeared in The Millions in September, 2019

prison cells

At my university, I once attended a dinner to help support first-generation students. This was a varied, singular group of students, undergraduates and grad students, who had overcome all sorts of challenges in order to land, and thrive, at Columbia.

The next day, I attended a ceremony celebrating a graduating senior in the Directly Impacted Group, a university-wide organization comprised of students who have been incarcerated or who are impacted by incarceration via family members. …


Some down is plucked while geese are still alive, causing immense suffering. Find out how to avoid it

This piece first appeared in Salon in December 2013

Goose looking into the camera (credit: Pixabay via Pexels)

Now that the weather has turned cold in New York City, down is having its fashion moment. Every other person seems to be wearing the kind of brightly colored jackets once the province of serious climbers and hikers. On the streets of Manhattan I saw a dog wearing a puffer coat; several varieties of that style are available at Barneys. Right before Thanksgiving, a teen was shot at the Bryant Park ice rink over a Marmot down jacket, the Mammoth, also known as the “Biggie.”

I grew up in the snow-swept…

marie myung-ok lee

Columbia faculty, Writer-in-Residence. Simon & Schuster author. Slate, Salon, NY Times, @Guardian, @TheAtlantic. Famous for being from Bob Dylan's hometown

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