Michelle Zauner’s essay “Crying In H Mart” in The New Yorker is an astonishing manifesto on grief and culture. The daughter of a Caucasian father and a Korean mother, she grew up in Eugene in the ‘90s and returned to town a few years ago during her mother’s final struggle with cancer. In the weeks after her mother’s death, as Zauner helped her father through the bureaucratic aftermath of her mom’s passing, she started writing the songs that became the first Japanese Breakfast release.
But it was only this year that she put words to the ways in which her biracial identity has colored her grieving process, personified by crying jags in the Korean superstore H Mart.
“I can hardly speak Korean, but in H Mart I feel like I’m fluent. I fondle the produce and say the words aloud—chamoe melon, danmuji. I fill my shopping cart with every snack that has glossy packaging decorated with a familiar cartoon. I think about the time Mom showed me how to fold the little plastic card that came inside bags of Jolly Pong, how to use it as a spoon to shovel caramel puff rice into my mouth, and how it inevitably fell down my shirt and spread all over the car. I remember the snacks Mom told me she ate when she was a kid and how I tried to imagine her at my age. I wanted to like all the things she did, to embody her completely.”
Zauner spoke with us from Portugal, during a short break from touring. Hear the interview in the audio player above.
You can find Zauner back in Oregon with shows in Portland and Eugene Sept. 27 and 28, respectively.