Calligraphy Art

Relationship: Child of im/migrant
Mother with her Korean calligraphy art.
Mother with her Korean calligraphy art.

The journey begins with my mother who arrived to the United States from Korea in the 1970's on a student visa, in hopes of exploring a new world opportunities. She initially lived in San Franciso then migrated to New York as an aspiring artist. She had an art exhibition for her Korean calligraphy. One of the attendees was a graphic arts pioneer, Dr. Robert Leslie, who bought one of my mother's works and donated it to a museum. As a supporter, they became friends and my mother was invited to many social gatherings that he had. Dr. Leslie became a mentor and unofficially adopted my mother. Born and raised in the Lower East Side in 1885, to a Scottish father and a Jewish/Polish mother, his achievements are astounding. He began working in 1899 as a printer, awarded a chemistry scholarship to John Hopkins University, becomes a doctor in 1912, translates and performs health inspections at Ellis Island until 1914. Dr. Leslie was a widower lived in a huge house and had a live-in housekeeper and close friend, Hester Thomas, who was African American. Eventually, Dr. Leslie sponsored my father to immigrate to New York, and in 1977, my mother gave birth to me.

Dr. Leslie, who I have always known as grandpa, was at the hospital awaiting my arrival. A few days later, I would return to live with my Jewish grandpa, Hester, who was the equivalent to a grandmother, and my Korean parents. My family shared and celebrated each other's customs and foods with one another. I grew up in a loving family and fortunate that I had the benefits of learning about acceptance of different people. I wanted to share this story because Dr. Leslie is much more than what is written about him in books, he has been instrumental to our family and I wanted to make sure his legacy lives on.

Place(s): Korea, Lower East Side
Year: 1977

– Sohmi Pai

Relationship:  Child of im/migrant Child of im/migrant