BALTIMORE (WJZ) — With May being Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, WJZ sat down with a local leader in the Korean community, who opened up about the trauma she experienced coming to the United States.

For years, Sue Song suffered in silence. When she was 21 years old, she left Korea and immigrated to the U.S. for her husband. They were poor, Song did not speak English and she did not know of any Asian people around her.

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“I was very depressed,” Song told WJZ. “I was so lonely. So many times, I had to cry.”

That complete loss of identity is traumatic for immigrants, but Song kept her pain to herself.

”In my culture, we want to be peaceful,” she said. “We want to be able to minimize any kind of conflict. We don’t want to say too much.”

She recalled how her mother sent a gift from Korea, a traditional side dish called kimchi. It was a remedy for her severe homesickness. But when Son brought the kimchi to work, it went missing.

“I found it in the trash can,” she said. “So you can imagine my disappointment and my trauma.”

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Song was devastated and too afraid to ask why it was thrown away.

“I couldn’t really talk about it. I couldn’t bring it up,” she said. “I have to be very silent. I have to promote that harmony for the family and for the community. But internally, I am not happy about it. Internally, I think there must be a way I can express myself.”

She found a way through her education, becoming a psychiatric behavioral advanced nurse practitioner.

Then she helped establish the Korean American Community Association of Howard County, an organization that promotes the rights of Korean Americans, helping them connect and communicate.

Song’s advocacy work eventually led to meetings with President Joe Biden, Gov. Larry Hogan and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.

“We want to be able to embrace other people. Even though we have a different color of skin, even though my English is not perfect, even though I appreciate different kinds of food that nobody likes because of the smell, it’s okay for us to express ourselves,” she said. “That kind of being silent model minority as a label is not always healthy.”

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Song uses her words to amplify the voices in her community.

Linh Bui