Ajumma Peggy: Foster Youth Advocate
Updated: Feb 25, 2019
One thing's for sure: there is no match for Ajumma Peggy's bright energy, lively laughter, and tenacious spirit. She is a proud Korean American whose love runs deep for her superhero mother, foster children, and her soulmate, John.
Tell us about yourself.
My journey through life began at birth in Seoul, Korea in the fall of 1968. My father, an Army soldier, met my mother and they fell in love. In the winter of 1969 my mother, father, and I immigrated to the US and settled in eastern Iowa farm country, where my mother and I were the only minorities within a 30 mile radius. The winters were very cold and the summers ungodly hot and humid. I learned to deal with the stares I received and even though I was not a standout student, I channeled my energies into athletics and Tae-Kwon Do. Fast forward to the mid-1990s when on a whim I decided to escape the slow pace of Iowa for the faster pace of a city and decided to move to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I quickly realized once again, that midwest weather was not my thing and changed my mind last minute to move to California. The day I left Iowa, the temperature was well below zero. I immediately moved to sunny Southern California where the pace is more my speed and the weather is WARM.
I moved to Long Beach, CA one week before the Northridge earthquake. Two years later, my job sent me south to San Diego. I knew at first glance it was going to be my home. And it has been for over twenty years! I’m a very blessed Ajumma married to a handsome and talented photographer who has a gifted daughter in her last year at Art Center in Pasadena studying film.
For the past 18+ years I have worked for three Biotech startups as an executive assistant to two CEOs. At the same time, I helped raise four foster children through their teen years. Every year for the past 14, I have fundraised & hosted the San Diego foster mentor holiday party for children and their mentors. This year I applied for and received confirmation of a 501(3)(c) under the name of San Diego Foster Angels. This will allow us to help more foster children throughout the year.
What does it mean to be an Ajumma?
Ajummas have the amazing ability to be masters of EVERYTHING, AND be able to read the minds of others.
My mother was a determined and fierce, visor-wearing Ajumma. She failed her written driver’s license test three times but was still not deterred. After the third time, she went to the local sheriff, explained to him that she knew how to drive and asked him if he would supply her with a test which she could read and understand. After chewing off the sheriff's ears, he agreed to do a ride along. After excelling in the ride-along my mom received her license!
I was taught that no means yes. No matter what, there is always an answer and/or solution. Many from Iowa felt I was going to fail when I left for California and come crawling back in less than two years. I packed every inch of my Mitsubishi Eclipse with stuff, drove from the mid west to Santa Monica, all by myself, in 24 hours. When I arrived I found a temporary place to stay for a month AND I still didn’t have a job. On top of that the Northridge earthquake hit a week after I arrived. A rocky start yes, but I was determined to succeed in making a life in California.
The state’s aftershocks and high unemployment rate didn't make it easy finding a job, but nothing was going to deter me. I remember jumping under a conference room table during an interview when an earthquake hit and being asked "Aren’t Iowa girls afraid of earthquakes?" I responded, "I'm a Korean girl that grew up in Iowa! I survived the great flood of 1993 and lived without running water for over 18 days due to the floods. I'm sure a little rock and roll won't scare me!"
Ajummas are known to have super-human strength and abilities. What is your Ajumma superpower?
My superpower is occasionally being clairvoyant. My foster kids use to say I had "eyes in the back of my head." There was one night I woke up at 3:00am, I had a feeling my youngest foster child snuck out of my house. When I went to open her locked bedroom door, I found she wasn't in her bed. I sat in her room waiting until at 4:00am when she came crawling through the window. She said, "I went jogging and didn't want to wake you up so went out the window". OMG all I could hear is my mom voice in my head saying, "paybacks are hell!"
My natural superpower is working in high stressful situations, while juggling many different balls in the air. This superpower has come handy as an Executive Assistant to demanding CEOs.
What is one of the biggest challenges you've overcome?
The death of my mother in 2016 was the hardest thing I have had to overcome. She was my rock. After her passing I found an old black and white picture of her and a man. He clearly shows to be my biological father. He was not the man I called dad and who raised me. Not being able to talk to her was overwhelmingly painful and confusing. Losing my only Korean connection in the world was worse than learning the truth she kept from me about my biological father. I have met some amazing people willing to help me in my search for him and better late than never, I finally am discovering all these Korean connections here in California. It warms my heart when my new Korean friends tell me "Peggy-ah your mom would be so proud of you!"
Growing up Amerasian in the Midwest was a challenge! But thanks to the strongest of mothers, I managed and turned the negatives into positives. Living in Iowa was difficult as a minority. One day, when I was six, I came home from school crying, telling my Omma (Mother) that I wanted “blond hair and blue eyes.” It was like a dagger to my mom’s heart to hear that I wanted to be anything different than Korean! She snapped back “AYAY no you don’t want to be like EVERYONE else!” “Why do you think they tease you…because they are jealous, jealous that you are more beautiful than they are and someday they will all look old and fat!” “Just you wait and see…” She knew just what to say and never let me stand down for who I am. Thanks to Omma I grew up to be a very proud Korean-American and turned the negatives into positives.
Sage Ajumma advice? (words you live by?)
I don’t believe in coincidences, I believe everything happens for a reason. Otherwise my life wouldn’t have turned out the way it has.
When I was 18 my family discouraged me from getting married so young. I didn't listen to them and married a Korean man three years older who came to Iowa on a student visa. After five years of physical and emotional abuse, I filed for divorce and promised myself I would NEVER make that mistake again. After that all of my Korean relatives worried that something was wrong with me because I didn’t remarry or have any kids of my own at the age of 42. I was single but happy. It wasn't that I wasn't looking, I just hadn’t found the one and this time I was going to take my time.
That was until I met John. He came early to pick me up on our first date and of course I wasn't completely done getting ready. I excused myself to finish and shortly after I came out, John responded, "take all the time you need if you’re going to look this beautiful!"
All I could think at that moment...oh my husband is home! I grabbed him and gave him a gigantic kiss! OMG what just happened? I kissed a man and we hadn't even gone on our first date! I couldn't tell him I thought he was my husband till a couple of mouths later. I didn't want him to think I was nuts! We got married three years later on the 4th of July in front of all our family and friends. I’m truly blessed!!!
Finally, what is your guilty pleasure?
Jjimjilbang 찜질방 (Korean spa)!!! It’s not for everyone. Some of my friends feel the same way as Conan O’brien does about the jjimjilbang experience. When I was young, I hated it when my mother scrubbed my skin raw till I was bright red and squeaky clean with the Korean Italy towel. Now I love going to the Korean spa! It’s the one time I’m able to close my eyes and it feels like my mom scrubbing me. I go once a month to Yu Spa for a body scrub & oil massage. It keeps my skin soft and young looking. It's the best 75 minute body treatment for ninety dollars in the world!