How we’re shaped by the worlds we grew up in.
Beautiful facets of self-identity can form from the influences that make each person’s life story unique. For Elisa Oh, her childhood was filled with warm memories of both Bolivian and Korean culture. Looking back, she reflects on how these early experiences continue to shape who she is today, and her hopes for the future.
Elisa was born and raised in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. One side of her family had immigrated to Bolivia when her mother was a young child, whereas her father had settled there in his mid-20s. Her parents kept influences from their ethnic heritage, and Elisa grew up speaking Spanish at home, but with aspects of Korean culture infused into everyday life as well.
“Growing up in a multicultural setting, I was exposed to various customs and traditions from a young age, and I adopted pieces from each culture. For example, although I communicate with my family in Spanish, we primarily eat Korean food at home… My family upheld traditional customs, honoring our elders and even incorporating kimchi in every meal. My parents also made sure my siblings and I attended Korean school every Saturday to maintain our fluency in the language.”
When Elisa moved to Canada at twelve, she found herself embracing parts of a third culture, and even gained a newfound perspective on her upbringing.
“Growing up attending an international schoolmade it easier for me to be able to adapt and build relationships with other kids … but I found that people [in Canada] were really interested in my background, and it made me appreciate my unique mix of cultures even more … For example, I love the strong sense of warmth and affection that I grew up in Bolivian culture, and the delicious Korean cuisine that I grew up eating that has now gained widespread popularity.”
Over time, Elisa lost a sense of connection with some aspects of her roots, but this relationship with her self-identity continues to evolve. “A few years ago, I came to the realization that I would never be able to fully identify with one culture … I would love to reclaim my Korean heritage, which I feel like I’ve lost touch with over the years.”
For Elisa, part of this reclaiming is linked to forging stronger bonds with loved ones and feeling more connected to those who have passed. “One aspect of this would be to improve my proficiency with Korean, in order to better communicate with extended family members and even friends … I never formed relationships with either of my grandfathers as they both passed away at a young age. Therefore, learning how they lived, and what brought them happiness during a period of hardship in Korea would also be intriguing to learn.”
The Traditions We Make Our Own
Today, parts of Elisa’s life story can be found in the traditions that she continues to make her own and the pride she finds in her identity. “My favourite tradition is celebrating the New Year (Jan 1) with my family. We gather and pay respect to our elders, eat rice cake soup, and play traditional games. Over the years, this holiday has transformed into a more laid back, casual day. Although we still play the traditional Korean Yut Nori game, we have also added more playful family-oriented games over the years.”
As I reflect on my life, I’m grateful for my unique cultural influences that have shaped me into the person I am today.”
We love how Elisa takes pride in her roots and is still working to reclaim parts of it. To explore your own heritage and safely preserve a family library of special stories and traditions, we invite you check out the Root & Seed Family Conversation Card Game.
What unique influences shaped your own identity growing up? Are there parts of your heritage you’ve preserved or hope to learn more about? Share in the comments below!
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