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By: Steve Han/ KoreAm Journal
This piece was published in the February/March 2015 issue of KoreAm Journal
Our living room wasn’t very big. It was just spacious enough for a 16-inch analog television and a couch, but in that small space, my father also kept a pair of wooden display cases to house some of his most prized possessions: a collection of imported spirits. Even as he maintained an after-work ritual of drinking inexpensive soju on a nightly basis, he saved those bottles behind the glass for very special occasions, such as holiday gatherings or when guests visited our home.
When my father offered me a sip of his whisky for the first time when I was 10, I felt like it was a rite of passage, as if he were ushering me into manhood. Years later, when I was a high school student and my father was visiting me in L.A. (by that time, he was living and working in Korea), I remember him inviting me to do shots of soju with him after dinner. By that point, I think he assumed that I regularly drank with my friends, even though I was just a teenager.
My early exposure to drinking alcohol is probably familiar to many Korean Americans, who, starting at a young age, often witness how much alcohol is valued, celebrated and considered a key part of socializing and enjoyment with friends and family—or even bonding with one’s dad. For an ethnic community known to stigmatize issues ranging from mental health to cancer, there seems to be a remarkably casual attitude and permissiveness toward exposing young people to this culture of drinking, even excessive drinking.
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