The Jane Park Files

Jane Park by Jane Park

It all started with a film. And a Facebook search. The quest to find the people who share my name.

In 2005, I screened The Grace Lee Project at the Los Angeles Korean International Film Festival. It’s a quirky documentary through which the filmmaker – her name is Grace Lee – enters the lives of several other Grace Lees. In so doing, she tries to debunk the myths that surround the name and its bearer as the stereotypical Asian-American model minority.

“I grew up not knowing that Grace Lee was such a common Asian-American name,” said filmmaker Grace Lee, who grew up in Columbia, Mo.

But once Lee left the Midwest, everyone she met seemed to know another Grace Lee.

“The more I heard about these other Grace Lees, the more I became convinced that Grace Lee signified an unmemorable, conservative hyper-achiever, confirming already existing stereotypes of Asian Americans,” Lee wrote on her Web site.

But The Grace Lee Project certainly challenged the image of the accomplished but timid Asian girl that Grace Lee usually evokes. Through it, I met Grace Lees all over the U.S., each of whom has her own unique story replete with rebellious episodes, unconventional career paths and undoubtedly, some common themes. To date, The Grace Lee Project has reached 399 Grace Lees in 23 countries.

My name is Jane Park. And though it’s probably not as common as Grace Lee, it also has the reputation for belonging to good, smart, responsible Asian girls. I also met many, many people who knew at least one other Jane Park.

A quick Facebook people search of “Jane Park” yields more than 500 unique results. Not surprisingly, the majority are Korean, living either in the U.S. or Korea. Again, not surprisingly, I share at least one mutual Facebook friend with about 35 Jane Parks on the networking site.

In my humble attempt to mimic Grace Lee’s project, I contacted as many Jane Parks as I could. Did they share the second-generation Korean-American experience that I had? Were they also teacher’s pets? Were they the quiet one in their class? Were they the shortest? The smallest? What are some of their life aspirations?

The Jane Park Files is a compilation of seven profiles – eight including my own – of Jane Parks I contacted this summer.

There are some commonalities and our paths do cross. They are all Korean and several have similar Korean middle names. Many were named Jane because of its simplicity and ease on their immigrant parents’ tongue. They are all in college or have recently graduated with multiple degrees. And in fact, three of these women attended my alma mater.

But by no means are they the same woman. Each has her individual story, her individual identity. And no one said that the name Jane Park confines who they hope to be.

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