“My Name” by Dahee Joy Kang

Dahee Joy Kang (age 15)


When I was a baby, my name meant
a dedication to God
Dahee meaning Jesus’ joy
it meant life
it meant another black-haired baby
in a sea full of black-haired babies
in a country 3/4 surrounded by sea
Kang Dahee
It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

When I was three, my name meant
unfamiliar letters
on a strange laminated green card
in a foreign country
“Joy,” they decided
my name would be Dahee Joy Kang
it meant a quick handing off of the card
from the hands of a bored government worker
to the trembling hands of my parents
and a call for “next!”
welcome to America

When I was in second grade, my name meant
a sudden realization:
that I was different from others
it meant a childish wish for sameness
it meant drawing pictures of girls
with blonde hair
and blue eyes
and paper white skin
scrawling different names on my own paper
with the desperation of an eight-year old wanting to fit in

When I was in fifth grade, my name meant
nervous excitement on our trip to Korea
it meant finally feeling like I belonged
amongst all these people who looked just like me …
and then suddenly realising that I don’t
belong, that is
it meant that
I was too “Dahee” to belong in America
and too “Joy” to belong in Korea
but when I came back
my name meant crying for a week straight anyway
because I missed being able to get lost
in a crowd of people with the same skin as mine

When I was in sixth grade, my name meant
trying to make myself as American as possible
begging my mom to stop packing me kimchi
joking about my small eyes and good grades
it meant laughing
when a white boy told me that my green card
meant my opinion didn’t matter
it meant clenching my teeth
as TSA agents assumed I couldn’t speak English
it meant watching the Independence Day fireworks with tears
because I wasn’t American enough to celebrate

Now that I’m a sophomore, my name means
it means two independence days
it means my ancestors survived
which means so can I
it means I build a meaning for my own names
so that it can mean something new
for every person I meet
Dahee Joy Kang

It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

from 2021 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Dahee Joy Kang: “When I was younger, the first book that I ever read by myself was Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Now, although I have moved past Dr. Seuss, poetry has become one of my favorite forms of expression.”

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