Generational Trauma

As children of immigrants, Laughlin minimized her racial background to fit into school and life, but her struggle with upheaval and a sense of trauma in her home country had many effects, including a fear of Jesus and a need for comfort only continuity with Korean ancestors could offer.

Laughlin recounts how she and her mother relied on ancestors – and even interacted with them – as a way to survive and live well. (The story involves ghosts which some readers may find unnerving and worth skipping. For my reading, I was reminded of the lore and stories told by the generation of my Irish grandparents about the family, and the sense Mary played in comforting them all.)

Laughlin points to a common experience among some Koreans: “In her book Haunting the Korean Diaspora, Grace M. Cho draws upon Nicolas Abraham and Maria Tolok’s work on intergenerational trauma to situate the ghosts that haunt the Korean diaspora: “An unspeakable trauma does not die out with the person who first experienced it. Rather, it takes on a life of its own, emerging from the spaces where secrets are concealed.” The ghosts grow from silence, from concealment, from shame.”

Studying the history of abuse and trauma in the United States Catholic Church warrants reflection on the immigrant backgrounds of many families during the era, identified for John Jay to study for its famed report. Not only were immigrant families more vulnerable in a strange new world, but they were also often fleeing traumatic circumstances which this woman’s testimony challenges us to see – in the past, and in the current day of immigrants in flight.

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