Today is my mom’s birthday — here are some life lessons she has taught me:

1. Treat everybody the same, regardless of their outer appearance

My mom helping at my first workshop in SF, 2013
My mom helping at my first workshop in SF, 2013

I remember as a kid, my mom would always break social conventions. She would approach strangers, and talked like them as if they were family.

She taught me:

Treat everyone the same, regardless of their appearance.

I still remember, when I was around 11 years old, and I got bullied by some black kids at the park. They punked me, and threatened me. I felt like shit.

Me and my mom, when I was around 11 years old.
Me and my mom, when I was around 11 years old.

I remember I was in the car with my mom, and I told her about what happened, and I said something like,

“I hate black people! They always bully me around!””

My mom stopped the car. She stared into my eyes. She slowed down her speech — and told me in a stern, and serious voice:

“Eric, don’t you ever dare say anything like that again. You cannot categorize and judge all people of a certain race or color, just based on one experience.”

The words and her look pierced into me.

That moment has stuck with me forever.

2. Treat everyone with respect

My mom and Cindy’s mom, exploring the farmer market of Paris for the first time. 2015
My mom and Cindy’s mom, exploring the farmer market of Paris for the first time. 2015

Don’t get me wrong, I still racially profile. I still stereotype people based on how they look, the color of their skin, and based on foreign cultures.

eric kim sukhee chung mom

However — my mom has taught me,

All humans are more similar than dissimilar. Don’t treat others differently based on how they look.

Therefore, I know that I still racially stereotype and profile — yet, I’m more aware of it.

Me and my sister as children. Taking my sister ANNETTE on a spin on my tricycle. Picture by my mom.
Me and my sister as children. Taking my sister ANNETTE on a spin on my tricycle. Picture by my mom.
Me and my sister as children. Taking my sister ANNETTE on a spin on my tricycle. Picture by my mom.
Me and my sister as children. Taking my sister ANNETTE on a spin on my tricycle. Picture by my mom.

I love all people, and have love for strangers (xenophilia). I’m really not afraid of anyone based on the color of their skin. If anything, I can relate more to people of color who grew up poor —rather than rich people. I relate more to my class (lower working class) than middle class folks, and certainly the upper echelon 1%.

My mom at her childhood home in Busan, 2014.
My mom at her childhood home in Busan, 2014.

But thank you umma for teaching me the importance of treating all people with respect, regardless of how they look or their background. You’ve truly opened up my heart to all of humanity.

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My mom at my Berkeley Apartment, 2013

3. Don’t be shy.

Mom holding my suit jacket. Day of my wedding, 2016
Mom holding my suit jacket. Day of my wedding, 2016

My mom also taught me not to be shy.

I used to be a shy kid, and I remember my mom having the superpower to talk to anybody, like she knew them forever.

My mom. Berkeley, 2014

This is now my biggest skill and talent — not being afraid to make small talk with strangers, or have a conversation with anybody.

Dinner at my friend Yves home with my mom and Cindy. Marseille, 2015
Dinner at my friend Yves home with my mom and Cindy. Marseille, 2015

This is why I’m a good street photographer — I like strangers, am genuinely interested in them, and I’m not shy.

My mom, me, and Cindy (photo by Neil Ta)
My mom, me, and Cindy (photo by Neil Ta)

Thank you umma for showing me that strangers are more friendly than they seem. You have opened up so many new doors and opportunities for me.

I love you umma

Me and my mom // memento Mori.
Me and my mom // memento Mori.
My mom at my grandfathers funeral
My mom at my grandfathers funeral

I know you couldn’t give me much in terms of money, but you’ve given me the best gift of all:

Character.

My mom and Russell Halmunee. Berkeley, 2015

I love you umma, and happy birthday. Let us continue to travel together, explore together, and be curious together.

My mom drying fish outside. Marseille, 2015
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Teaching my mom how to use her smartphone / Berkeley, 2015 (photo by Cindy A. Nguyen)

Me and my mom. UCLA, 2009
Me and my mom. UCLA, 2009

Love,
Sangjin

DEAR UMMA >