Here at KPOP Foods, we like to keep things fun and light, because we truly believe that eating and enjoying delicious Korean food should never be a chore. However, with the launch of our new “K-TOWN” Sauce Set, we wanted to dive a bit deeper into what it means to identify as Korean American.
Koreatown is an amalgamation of so many different cultures, peoples, and identities, and is an inspiration to our team. It is a constant reminder that Korean food is so much more that just a meal. Much like Koreatown, one very special member of our team also has a complex and moving story about identity, family, and rediscovering her heritage.
Rachel Thompson, Head of Content and Marketing here at KPOP Foods, is 75% Korean, 25% Mexican, and 100% MONSTA X fangirl. In this candid conversation with our CEO Theo Lee, Rachel talks about growing up having to explain here mixed heritage to people. “I would have teachers or substitute teachers be like ‘You’re not in the right seat’ or whatever...telling me I’m not who I am,” she explained, noting the frustration of how often people would assume her name didn’t match her appearance.
Identity is something that every single person has to discover for themselves, and oftentimes, this can be difficult for people of mixed descent. Many young people find themselves not fitting in to just one category, and it can be hard to stand out when all you want to do is fit in. For Rachel, growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood meant not being totally accepted by her peers. With this came a desire to reject her Korean and Mexican heritage, purposely not eating traditional dishes or speaking Korean, and embracing the more American traditions she was being exposed to at school. However, Rachel’s shy and introverted nature at a young age had people falsely presume that she couldn’t speak English.
Nonetheless, Rachel found solace in swimming, not only through the rigorous training sessions at 6 AM everyday, but with her teammates who would become her closest friends. “You bond through pain,” as Rachel likes to joke. She grew up to be captain of her swim team for two years in a row, and graduated high school with honors - all while still attempting to assimilate into the American culture of her peers.
It wasn’t until college that Rachel was able to appreciate her unique upbringing. This rediscovery began simply with her younger sister’s love of BTS. “After I saw her getting really into [BTS], I thought, okay, I’m going to support her in this,” as she recounts. Through this support, not only did she begin to enjoy korean popular music (k-pop) music, but Rachel also began to re-learn Korean, start cooking Korean food, and bond with her parents over her unique background. And just like that, she went from being teased for her homemade lunches to sharing these flavorful meals to friends in college.
Not seeing herself apart of the white American community she grew up with along with being told she wasn’t Korean, Rachel decided it was up to her to decide her own identity. “You can’t tell me who I am and who I’m not if I identify with that,” she says, “I’m Korean, and I’m gonna be Korean.”
It’s been a long journey for Rachel, and today, she is thriving and living her best, Korean-food-eating, kpop-loving, content-marketing life. She brings in delicious homemade foods like kimchi-jjigae to the office for lunch and often shares it with us all. She always shows us what’s new in the k-pop music world, and we wouldn’t have her any other way!
Korean culture is one that should be enjoyed and celebrated by anyone who wants to experience it. And there is no better place to do that than LA’s own Koreatown. Rich with mouthwatering Korean BBQ, vibrant karaoke bars, and authentic markets, K-Town is a great destination to understand and appreciate Korean American culture. We know not everyone can make it and we got you covered. We put all the best parts of the Koreatown experience into our latest K-TOWN Sauce Set. We’ll say to you what many of our friends say to us, “Take me to K-Town!”