There’s something I increasingly feel the need to clarify: my nom de plume.
I realize that, as my audience is primarily English speaking, that the first assumption upon seeing that my husband’s family name is Lee is that ‘Msleetobe’ refers to the fact that I myself am now a Lee. I’m not.
I wrote about my feelings regarding name change in this post, but I probably should have also explained why I chose to call myself Msleetobe when I never intended to change my name.
Wikipedia tells me that 14.8% of Koreans are Lees. Kim, Lee, Park, Choi, and Jung combined constitute a whopping 45% of the population. In fact, I just did a quick scan of my class list, and it seems about 13% of my students are Lees. And while it is still sometimes taboo for a Lee of one clan to marry a Lee of another, my brother-in-law and his wife are both Lees although my sister-in-law did not change her name. She is a Lee in and of herself, separate from her husband’s Lee family history. In this way, I am not Mr. Lee’s Ms. Lee, I am but another Lee, anonymous on one level, and very much an individual with a particular history and identity on another level.
But beyond that, let me clarify. This blog is not just about becoming a wife who is ‘good,’ in Korea, and feminist, it is also about becoming a feminist wife, a ‘good’ feminist, a Korean feminist, a ‘good’ wife, and especially for the purpose of this issue of name – a ‘good Korean.’ The possibility – the sliver of an option – that an expat woman can start to publically fit herself into the social fabric of Korea is an extremely new idea. Korea is not a ‘pure’ race ‘unsullied’ by ‘foreign’ blood as many would have us believe. But, this is the first time where many women from many cultures have started, en masse, to begin to identify themselves as being part of Korea while still maintaining their birth culture. And it is in this vein that I see myself as ‘Msleetobe.’ (A woman, an expat woman, who is slowly becoming part of Korea as a wife, as a teacher, as a friend, as a daughter-in-law, and as an individual). I specifically chose the continual tense for the title of this blog as a way to convey this constant never ending process that I find myself in.
When Mr. Lee and I were showing his mother pictures of our honeymoon, she came across a picture of a one of my university friends and her family because we met up with them in Vancouver. The conversation (in Korean) went something like this:
Mother-in-law: Who is she?
Mr. Lee: Msleetobe’s friend. She’s Chinese.
Msleetobe: Well….actually, she’s Chinese-Canadian. Specifically Hong Kong-Canadian.
Mother-in-law: Who is this?
Mr. Lee: Her husband. He’s Polish.
Mr Lee: (Exacerbated) So what are you? German-Scottish-Canadian?
Mother-in-law: (Looking long and hard at me) No….you’re now Canadian-Korean.
This is a profound statement from my mother-in-law. A profound shift in her thinking of what it means to be Korean, and I have to say that I was taken aback. It was the first time I truly started to believe that Koreans themselves might be experiencing the feelings about my place here that I was feeling.
In closing, the thinking behind Msleetobe is more along the line of wanting to share a snap shot of what is happening in the now as an expat in Korea, a new wife, an English teacher, a concerned citizen (without the voting rights), a young woman, a woman concerned with feminist issues, and a foreign daughter-in-law. It is not the whole story, but is an individual story which I think speaks to something happening on a larger level.