Personal History: Terry Hong
My name is Terry Hong. My full name is Theresa Yumee Hong. The “Yumee” is my Korean name. It means “beautiful dawn” because the sun was rising when my mother gave birth to me. “Theresa” is my Western name because both my parents are devout Christians and they wanted to name me after a special saint, St. Theresa of Lisieux, who died young doing good deeds and was rewarded with a shower of rose petals from heaven. Maybe they hoped I might grow up to be a saint, too, someday, but probably they couldn’t be more wrong. I suppose I can keep trying!
I was born in Seoul, Korea and came to the United States when I was 5 years old. My family came to visit my father who was studying in upstate New York at the time, and we never left! In Korea, my father was a professor and my mother was a pharmacist.
On my father’s side, the Hong family legend says that we are directly descended from the person who invented the printing press. I have visited the monument made for him in Korea. We can also trace our family back 46 generations to the early 600s in ancient China.
On my mother’s side, the Lee family legend says that we are one of the last direct branches of the final Korean dynasty, the Yi Dynasty. My mother’s family is from North Korea and she escaped with her parents and six brothers and sisters during the Korean War.
When we moved to America, both my parents did not speak English very well. After my father finished his degree, we moved to Virginia. My father worked as an architect and my mother opened a small restaurant in Washington D.C. They both worked long hours, six days a week. They sacrificed their own dreams to make sure that my two younger brothers and I had the best of everything. We were very lucky growing up and had many advantages. Our parents always stressed the importance of education. Because both my parents had attended the best universities in Korea, they expected the same of us. We three kids studied hard and went to Ivy League schools: I went to Dartmouth and Yale, my middle brother went to MIT and my baby brother went to Harvard. We made our parents very proud. Like many parents, they are so happy to sticker their cars with all the names of the schools we have gone to!
Today, I am very proud of my Korean heritage and everything I do is a reflection of that pride. I am a writer and an editor, with a specialty in Asian American theater, film, and books. I also work at the Smithsonian Institution in the Asian Pacific American Program office. And I am also an adjunct professor, teaching theater. My middle brother is a technical genius and has founded many highly successful companies, that combine his love of music and technology. His ‘funnest’ company is Kimchee Records, a non-profit label, which gives struggling new musicians the chance to make demo recordings so they can market their music. My baby brother is an award-winning architect who tries to find new ways to use old materials in building the next generation of amazing buildings. In each of our lives, we each try to celebrate our Korean American heritage by making sure that we always remain actively involved in the Asian American community.