I am the mother of an African-American daughter and a Korean son. When my husband Ben and I adopted our kids, we made a commitment to honoring and learning about their birth cultures. One of the ways I did this was to join the p’ungmul (Korean traditional drumming) group at the University of Pennsylvania. This was a student-run group and I was the only non-Korean there (as well as being twice as old as anyone else present.)
I had a wonderful time, and absolutely fell in love with p’ungmul. It is drumming, it is dance, it is (historically) shamanistic…and it is incredibly underappreciated. Sadly, even so for Koreans in the US. I realized how hard it would be for my son to join a group like this if he ever wished to when he was older — he’d have as hard a time as I had, with my limited Korean language skills, and almost NO experience with the amazing, mystical beats that make p’ungmul!
My experience with learning p’ungmul was really like being dropped onto another planet — and I was so obviously “the other” in the group. It made me think of how transracial adoptees not only grow up feeling somewhat “other” in their families, but also feel “other” when they try to join social, musical or culture groups at college, with people who share their ethnic background.
My goal — with support from Korean p’ungmul drummers in the Philadelphia and New York areas — is to create a p’ungmul teaching collective in the Philly area, for first-generation Korean and adopted Korean kids and their families — although we will be open to all ethnicities (otherwise how could my son’s sister come along?) Kids and their families will be able to learn traditional Korean drumming, play together, and even learn the acrobatic dances that are integral to p’ungmul. We’ve got a commitment of rotating, volunteer drumming teachers, and a great, comfortable, professional meeting space to rent for a cheap hourly rate. We are currently fundraising for drums. Please visit our fundraising link above, which also links to our blog!
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