In Time of Tension: Reflection on Maryland Governor Hogan’s Operation Enduring Friendship

(I planned to post this reflection to LinkedIn, then I realized the table is not supported by LInkedIn. I realized that I had a blog under my new website. It is actually meaningful to post this for my first blog because Mending Hearts Academy is dedicated to my five dissertation participants as a part of my life time giving project, The Three.)            

Sigh, deep sigh, another deeper sigh. I need to let these feelings of unseen, unheard, and unspeakable. I am nervous and cautious about how to precisely and concisely express the depth and width of my struggles related to the recent controversial political event of the imports of COVID-19 test kits from Korea to Maryland on April 20, 2020. This confidential project is called “Operation Enduring Friendship.” (the Operation). I wrote about my initial internal responses on April 23, 2020, after my dearest college and friend (CS) texted me about the Operation. I ended up writing about a single space, seven pages of my reflection. Yet, I was not finished. I decided to use my thought to publish in a counseling journal. I want to talk about what I am not able to share in a professional journal on LinkedIn. 

           One area that I had a hard time finding is about First Lady Yumi Hogan’s response to the Operation. I have followed all the media reports as much as I could. Still, I did not find a single source where she expressed her thoughts and feelings about the Operation. Most often, I found a brief response when the Operation is claimed to be her hidden effort, praised as “a champion of ‘Operation Enduring Friendship.” (The Sunday Capital, April 26, 2020). CS sent me a piece of a newspaper report from The Sunday Capital me by a snail mail a couple of days ago. This article contains more about Yumi Hogan, and CS thought that I could use the report. Her thoughtfulness moved me. I decided to write a personal reflection that can’t be published in a peer-reviewed journal. 

           The reason why I struggled with the Operation is that the media’s response to the operations reminded me of my five dissertation participants and myself. It is a common cultural practice under the influence of Confucianism, where people help each other when in trouble regardless of moral or ethical issues. This indigenous Korean custom, embedded in Korean spirituality, is referred to as 상부상조 (Sang Boo Sang Jo, 相扶相助). Just like First Lady Hogan did, my participants did the same when they were in marriage with White husbands. This Sang Boo Sang Jo may not a form of financial aid. It is often seen as a labor-sharing custom to accomplish a common goal. It was too painful to read the media report about the Operation. Here is why. 

           Let me share my and my participants’ similarities and differences with First Lady Hogan in a chart to make it more visible. Asians are all “invisible” and “all look the same”, aren’t we? I am going to call my participants and myself as “Second Ladies.” 

SourceFirst LadySecond LadiesComments
The Route to the U.S.Immigrant statusImmigrated with her whole family (1)F-1 visa (1), tourist visa (2) finance visa (2)Unsure about immigrants was legal or illegal for First Lady. I assume it was legal.
Motivation for immigration to the U.S.Followed her dreams to become an art teacher and artisanFollowed her dream to become a counselor and return home (in Korea -1) Parents immigrated (2)Followed her White husbands (3) 
Location of meeting White husbandThe U.S.The U.S. (3)Korea (2) Japan (1) 
Location of extended familyThree-adults children in the U.S.The whole extended family In the U.S. (1) A part of extended families in the U.S. (2)In South Korea (3)Unsure about First Lady Hogan’s extended family location
Education levelBachelor degree from KoreaBachelor degree from Korea (4)High school diploma from Korea and Japan (2)Uncertain of First Lady’s master level of education in Korea
English proficiencyExcellent  Primary language is KoreanThe first language is Korean, and the primary daily language is English. Self-rated proficiency is excellent. Noticeable Korean accent. First Lady Hogan’s English proficiency is based on my observation her media speech.
AgeEstimated age mid-60sAge range from 29 to 62. First Lady Hogan’s age is based on her immigration history  
History of infidelity of own or family of originUnknown The number of Infidelity committed by White husband  during the course of a marriage, ranged from 1 to 20 years: 1 – countless 
Sibling positionThe youngest of eightThe youngest of seven (1-me)All had one or more siblings 
Maritage statusMarried in Korea, divorced in the U.S, remarried with Hogan in 2004Married (1) – one person remained in marriageDivorced (4) Engaged (1)At the time of the interview in last 2017 to early 2018
White husbands’ occupation & overall socioeconomic statusGovernor Upper high class Veterans (4); Employee, self-employed (2). avg. household income range over $25K-50K (2), $75K-100K (1) $100K-250K(2) 
OccupationFirst Lady Adjunct faculty at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)Private practice owner, adjunct faculty at Liberty University and other two small local higher education (1-me)Self-employed (1) Work at a public library (1) Childcare provider (1) Salesperson (1) Staying home mother (1) 
Ethnic identity1st generation Korean1st generation Korean (3) 1.5 generation Korean American (1), Japanese American (1)It appears First Lady Hogan refers herself 1st immigrant Korean; whereas, media reports to 1st immigrant Korean-American
Characteristics described by othersBy Governor: a champion of the Operation, proud of my wife   By media: celebrity, rockstar in the Korean American community, not an attention-seeker, all she wanted to do is help, never a politician,   By others: “very classy”, tenacious, “tiger person”, adored enormously in the Korean American Community (State Sen. Susan Lee) Characteristics by White husbands: used to be caring but now crazy, “something wrong” – implicitly and explicitly pointing to mental diagnosis, including but not limited to, borderline, narcissistic, major depression, social anxiety, avoidant etc.   Characteristic descriptions by their adult children: caring, but short-tempered, unpredictable, having no boundary, self-centered, over-controlling, manipulating, strict, “too religious”   Media/social/literatu-res: Military Bride, a Mail-order bride, tiger mom, exotic, submissive, sacrificial, rebellious over own ethnic group, seeking higher social class, flee from extreme poverty vs “crazy rich Asian”, most recent addition  COVID-19 Kung FluCharacter descriptions about First Lady Hogan are solely coming from The Sunday Capital on April 26, 2020. Flourishing complement over First Lady Hogan is pretty amazing.   Characteristic description by White husbands is based on their direct expression to me in clinical interaction either by a phone call or in-person sessions.   Characteristic descriptions about Asian women are mostly based on my clinical experiences with adult children of Asian mothers married to non-Asian husbands  
Experienced microaggression“some people say, oh you got the job because your husband is governor”When I got my scholarship: ”oh, you’re so lucky you’re Asian”   When I got my internship at Naval Hospital in Japan – “oh, the agency must have lowered their standards. I didn’t get it last semester when I applied there.1”   When I called my first potential client from the waiting list at the Family Counseling Center, a Marine base in Okinawa, Japan – “You? You’re going to be my counselor? You barely speak English! How are you going to counseling me?2”    “Your English is fine. You speak English better than anybody else. You always make excuses. You need to change that.”   “We were married, and the problem was that I don’t like to socialize, especially American people. they look down on me always. That’s why I started to hate socializing.”   “She only one’s Korean dick she says she cannot even imagine any other races you know dick going inside she said it was gross she was born in the state that’s even worse”   Again, I’m going to stop here because I’ll need another Bible size of a book to say about my participants’ experienced racism in the U.S.Quotes under the differences are from a direct quote from my participants.   1. One of White female classmate at the time told me when I was in a mater’s program.   2.Then, she abruptly hung up the phone. I left the center for the rest of the day. I still have a hard time talking on the phone in English.   

            I think I will stop here because I need to step aside to take a deep breath again. My eyes already started to teary. My tear is anger over the injustice that my five courageous Asian women married to White men, and I had to endure so many years. I know and met many more Asian women married to non-Asian men. They shared similar heartbreaking stories in my personal life and professional life. I am also glad that I can be angry about the gap between reality and science that has become a tremendous source of power and motivation to keep me moving. I am also a bit scared not to know whether Governor Hogan’s administration staff might call me. When I tried to recruit participants for my dissertation study, I reached out to governor Hogan couples by sending an email to them. I was simply one of Marylanders who did not have much “power” to connect directly to the governor couple. I wanted to get some help to research on this crucial topic to develop culturally effective counseling theory and interventions. Of course, there was no answer for many weeks other than an autogenerated email confirmation that my email was received. To my surprise, though, many months later, one of the governor’s staff called. He explained that the governor could not support an individual research project. I could not recall what the staff’s description of the reason, but it was something similar to a boundary-crossing, potentially leading to a boundary violation. I am confident that this concept of “boundary” is mine, not the staff. After all, we all live in a time of tension, aren’t we?

           Just like First Lady Hogan, I was never a politician. In fact, I used to not expect much from politicians. I am no longer me. I follow major media sources in the U.S. The emphasis of creating community to “feel better”, hope, and universalism (e.g., “I’m not alone”) have huge limitations, especially to those who underserved. Developing enduring friendship would not enough. Majority of my participants, Asian-mixed couples and their children at my clinical practices fall miserably, yet they stand again, again, and again. We need to actually speak up, raise hands, go to meetings, go to schools, go to the court, and call insurance companies WITH them, not spiritually, emotionally, but also physically there with the unheard, unseen, and unspeakable (not because of language but because of fear, pain, and anger). Our field of counseling and psychology has a long way to go. Yet, there has been a tremendous changes past twenty years since I started to study counseling. That is a factual truth. That’s why I am hopeful and get up this morning. I was glad to get a call from an “actual person” although it was a part of political strategies.  I hope to have another pleasant surprise to have an encounter with “actual person” after this story sharing on behalf of my five courageous women.

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