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Anderson .Paak, Korean Heritage, and Something More

I have been listening to Anderson .Paak’s “Come Home” over and over since it won Grammy Award last year, and I still love it. Recently I encountered an article about his Korean heritage (here), which hooked me to learn more about his life. Knowing that he and I share Korean heritage motivated me to dig deeper into his works, and now I became his loyal fan. Numerous videos on YouTube introduce Anderson .Paak as an artist with a Korean heritage, which has made Korean fans very proud. As such, the element of shared heritage often plays an important role in bringing someone into our lives. However, I am cautious about addressing him with the Korean part of his identity, because he may not want any part of it. I was not sure how Anderson .Paak values Korean heritage in his life, because I witnessed many cases of immigrants suffering because of their heritage, myself included.

Anderson .Paak’s mother was born in Korea between a Korean mother and African American father who was a soldier during the Korean War. She was placed in an orphanage and eventually got adopted by an American family in Los Angeles. His wife, Jaylyn, was born in Korea, and they are known to have met at a music school in Los Angeles. He had shared in his interviews that his son, Soul, is a huge fan of BTS and K-Pop. Luckily, many pieces of evidence imply Anderson .Paak is not repulsive toward Korean identity. But his mother endured hardships caused by her conditions in Korea, which makes me wonder how it has influenced his impression of Korea.

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In countries like Thailand, Canada, Singapore, and the US where I studied and lived abroad, I was an alien and minority. Every time I moved to a new place, I befriended Koreans easier than anyone else in that country because I felt more comfortable with them. However, after my grandmother and I experienced several cases of fraud by Koreans, I went through a phase of despising and being cautious about Korean immigrants. The film “Minari” also portrays the light and shadow of the Korean immigrant community in a very similar manner. In the movie, young David and his family who are Koreans move from California to Arkansas, where his mother misses the Korean church community but his father does not. Arkansas was portrayed as a haven for Koreans who want to escape from Koreans. People with shared heritage can make you feel at home, but they can also invoke the worst pain. 

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I am very curious about how Anderson .Paak’s mother shaped his perspectives on Korean heritage. The environment she had to go through at her young age sounded too harsh to not have a negative feeling toward Korea. Born in post-war, which was the worst time in Korean history, as a half-Korean and half-African American, she was orphaned and left the country to find a new home in the US. Still, despite the shadow of Korean heritage that is part of his family history, he is not shy or passive in expressing the Korean part of his identity.  

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The name “Anderson .Paaak” itself may demonstrate how he embraced his heritage to make his musical narrative unique. His full name is Brandon Paak Anderson, and Paak refers to his mother’s Korean family name, Park, which was misspelled as ‘Paak’ in the process of her adoption. That is, Paak is a name uniquely bestowed to him and his family, as it is unfamiliar to both Koreans and Americans. Many Korean immigrants, including myself, live as Koreans who both love and hate our heritage. That can be a dilemma for immigrants who get placed in a tiresome limbo of deciding who they are and where they belong. But Anderson .Paak blended the dilemma into decorating his identity and rose as an artist with a unique appeal. We are living in the world where Anderson .Paak is irreplaceable. 

More people should listen to his music, learn about his life, and fall for his artistic narrative. I want to conclude this article with Anderson .Paak’s legendary performance at NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert on YouTube. Once the social distancing period ends, you may find me at his concert.  

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