In Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee, Casey Han, a Korean American immigrant in New York City, struggles with being an Americanized daughter in a traditional Korean household. Unlike her younger sister, Tina, Casey fights against her parents’ expectations of her. For example, her parents, especially her mother, are devout Christians, but Casey enjoys casual sex and has even had an abortion. And although Casey graduated from Princeton because it was what her parents wanted/expected, she still hasn’t decided what she wants to do when she grows up. This causes turmoil between Casey and her father that culminates in him striking Casey and kicking her out of her home.
Even exiled from her parents’ home, Casey still feels the pull of the Korean American community and their expectations. For example, Casey ends up calling in favors so that she can work, as an assistant, at one of the best banking firms on Wall Street. Not because she wants to work in banking, but because a position in a firm like that is expected of her. And of her parents; the Korean American families tend to monitor the success of all the children, not just their own.
Throughout the book, you see Casey trying to reconcile her dreams and the dreams of her parents. She wants to be a milliner but they press her to go to law school or business school or anything but fashion. And although Casey is generally considered the black sheep of the family she still respects her parents and their sacrifices.
“As they grew older, they saw their parents working yet unable to get ahead. Leah looked perpetually frightened in the streets, and both she and Joseph were treated like idiots by their customers, who care little that the hardworking pair were fluent and literate in another language. Case and Tina saw their parents’ difficulties and believed that Leah and Joseph meant well.”
Well-meaning as the parents are, Casey and the other Americanized children of immigrants in Free Food for Millionaires have to work to balance their wants and needs with the often oppositional expectations of their parents. And that makes for a fairly interesting read. I didn’t love it, and it didn’t resonate with me on a personal level, but I appreciate the insight into the Korean American community.