XI’m an uneducated female technologist who came from immigrants, coal miners, activists, and farmers. I shouldn’t be here.

It’s a Shame

I’ve never shared my story before. I‘ve been afraid my colleagues would think less of me. Let me increase the resolution of that statement — I thought that the people who make them big bucks would think less of me if they knew. I was right, most of them do.

Because of the limited access to running water, bathing your child in a bucket is a Korean Tradition and family activity. Here I am sitting in a bucket (USA, Sacramento — We had running water).

I thought that the people who make them big bucks would think less of me if they knew. I was right, most of them do.

I’ve spent most of my career ashamed of my roots. I’ve never shared my truth and today I will. I’ve also since updated my LinkedIn to reflect my journey, starting at 11. I want everyone to know where I came from. It’s a place where not many people make it out. Thanks to California’s very generous welfare system and some helpers along the way — I made it y’all.

On my mothers side …

My grandfather was a North Korean soldier. He put down his gun, ran across the border and surrendered. Why? I like to think he was hungry.

He left a family behind. The punishment his family members could have faced if he was seen surrendering was the extermination of three generations.

My grandfather was a North Korean soldier. He put down his gun, ran across the border and surrendered.

When he settled in South Korea, he found a job delivering coal in the mountains using a sack he carried on his back. My great-grandmother, who was a female rice farmer in South Korea chose my grandpa for an arranged marriage to her only daughter. The first arranged husband beat my grandmother.

My grandpa, who I recently learned was not my biological grandpa was a good man. He never raised a hand and rarely raised his voice; and despite no genetic connection, he still wiped my butt.

The most generous butt wiper — he didn’t have to, but he did.

Despite no genetic connection, he still wiped my butt.

I never met my grandmother. I know she was tired and ill. She died of pancreatic cancer and melanoma before I was born. All of her children suffered from effects caused by agent orange exposure.

My grandpa spent his later years in the U.S lying about his Korean nationality. According to the news, he was a South Korean war hero. He enjoyed running to the Korean War Veterans Center in Rancho Cordova, California to shoot @#$! and play hwatu with people I like to imagine had similar stories.

I wish he shared more.

On my fathers side …

My fathers ancestors were part of the Popham Colonists in Maine. Over generations, some of our family settled in the North, some in the South. There is a Plumb House (Historic) in Virginia and a Plumb Abolitionist Monument in New York. My fathers family fought against each other in the civil war. Rumor has it they are still at war with each other.

Joseph and Theron Plumb ran a safe house. They actively spoke and wrote publications against slavery. They both fought in the civil war.

My grandfather was a smooth talker and a womanizer.

My grandfather was a coal miner, as was his father.. and his father. My grandfather was a smooth talker and womanizer. He did not treat children or women with respect. This affected his children, and their children; and will likely affect many of their children’s children. I don’t have more I’d like to share about him.

My grandmother was a mountain woman. She came from a loving family that were secluded in the Appalachian mountains. Her purpose in life was to help other women raise children until she could raise children of her own. Her family were the soft and tender kind of people. My grandmother deserved better and that’s the life she made for herself.

She married a man who loved her, respected her children, went to school, and against all odds — she perservered.

“Get that @#$! out of my face.”

Grandma, if you’re reading this, I love you. I’ll remember that I deserve better too, always!

My Biological Parents

My father came from very poor people and needed to make a life for himself. After a fallout with his brother and an episode of belligerent jealousy pointed at a woman, he ran away to join the Air Force. Some say he built runways in active combat zones. Some say he killed men. He had a very private life and his stories were as tall as his lies.

I don’t know much about his youth other than he was a womanizer and a disco king. He loved fast cars, bell bottoms and partying. I knew him as a man who had dissociative states of anger and who fought for his daughter the best he could.

My dad liked taking us to the races when we were younger. The women behind us, my mothers family, were not entertained.

My mother came from a wealthy family that never gave her any personal wealth; ironically, my grandmother (Radical Rice Feminist) left everything to her son. She raised her three siblings while her mother was dying of cancer.

My mother went to a technical school, her first job was a bus attendant. During this time, my mother won a Karaoke talent show where the winner would become a famous singer. My grandmother denied my mother stardom, fearful that she would turn to drugs and alcohol.

My mother pathologically desired attention. This damaged her psyche. It was rumored that my mother was the most beautiful woman in South Korea.

I felt uncomfortable baring my midriff and kept pulling my shirt down. Notice her hands and expression. This illustrates our relationship well.

My father spent the end of his enlistment stationed in South Korea where he met my mother on base. She was a mess hall house keeper. She liked working on base because she was allowed to shop at the commissary. They had fruit and meat, which at the time, were Korean delicacies. The only word of english my mom knew was ‘Finishee’ meaning, “Are you finished with your meal plate?”.

My dad asked her to go out on a date with him 3 times before she said anything other than “Finishee”. I am not sure if thats because she didn’t speak english or because he was Caucasian. There was a lot of anti-nationalism pointed at Americans after the war.

He was the first man who ever gave her flowers.

My mother once told me she married my father because he wouldn’t beat her like a Korean man would.

They got married in South Korea during the Spring. My father didn’t speak any Korean and my mother didn’t speak any English. A few weeks shy of nine months, my brother was born. Shortly after their marriage they moved to the United States.

My mother once told me she married my father because he wouldn’t beat her like a Korean man would. Another time she was worried he’d abandon her in the woods. She said she’d call her grandmother and weep, wanting to go home. I believe her.

Over the years, she immigrated her siblings and her father to the United States.

My mother had control issues and a fragile ego.

My sibling

I prefer to honor my brothers privacy. He has had a very disadvantaged life. I hope some day he has a story to share.

I’ve got history …

I am a child of immigrants, activists, laborers and war. With that came a lot of volatility in our family dynamic. We weren’t poor people, but we weren’t wealthy people either. Addiction — both drug and gambling ran rampant in our family. Greed and status were more important than love and kindness. Mental health problems (dissasociative disorder, borderline personality disorder, sociopathy, narcissism, PTSD, compulsive lying, kleptomania, addiction..) made typical social interactions with other human beings impossible at home.

Gambling was frequently more important than clothes, food, and housing.

Love us, please?

Between their emotional immaturity and anger, my parents didn’t have a lot of time to raise their children. My brother had special needs and needed attention. I was gifted and needed attention. They had no time, money, or attention to give.

This story is supposed to be about me …

I was a 4.0 student, with a photographic memory, synesthesia, and exceptional academic and physical capabilities. I could self teach my self anything. I enjoyed reading the Encyclopedia Britannica in my spare time. I was painfully socially awkward. My parents were blissfully unaware of my condition. I thought everyone hallucinated pictures and colors until my twenties.

We grew up in poor people neighborhoods that attracted violence and drugs. I would get called names like, ”Big word using fu#$ing weirdo.”, and frequently asked, ”You think you’re so smart.” I was alone.

I recall being chased home by my brothers adversaries, who poured salt in my eyes because of a disagreement. I recall our friendly neighborhood crack dealer. Everyone around me were crazy, tired, hungry, and poor.

After going bankrupt, they moved us out of the ghetto into a dilapidated home in a smaller community.

My first computer …

After our move, my father would find computers in trash cans and bring them home to me. I remember my first computer. He pointed at it, looked at me, and said “Learn this. This is important.”, and then walked away.

My first computer was an IBM PC (5150) that ran on DOS. Every year, my father consistently delivered a new (old) computer for me to learn on. My mother despised of computers.

My mother expected me to become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer. I would go to college, graduate, and support her poor financial decisions. I was not on board with this plan. I wanted to move to the city, live in an old house, meet amazing people, and design useful software. Since I was 8 years old that was always my plan.

Unfortunately, my mother was selfish, hard, and inflexible. She tried to control my path, every day, relentlessly, for 18 years straight.

I am disowned by my Korean family. Their loss.

A moment of appreciation

There were daily shouting matches over the computer, more specifically, my use. Despite the turbulence his choices created, my father kept bringing new computers home for me to learn and new shouting matches would ensue. I kept learning through the noise in the background of this domestic battle.

Dad, for this I am grateful.
(RIP Donald Plumb, Lou Gehrigs Disease 2017)

Academics …

By the time I was 9 (1995) I had learned to code HTML. At 15 I’d learned PHP, MySQL, HTML, CSS, Javascript, Flash, Dreamweaver and Photoshop. I was recognized for my talent with the role of Website Editor for my high school — which would be the equivalent to a lead today.

I lived in the house pictured behind me. The walls were insulated with empty cigarette boxes.

I should squeeze in here that I started working when I was 8. My mother had a series of failed fast food restaurants and I was frequently her fry cook and server. After her businesses went bankrupt, I was able to get jobs at my mothers friends restaurants.

We were manufactured into poverty by her gambling addiction, so I had to make my own money. Through high school I held down numerous fast food jobs. I had no work acumen or social skills — this was very difficult.

By my junior year, my GPA was below 1. I had missed 52 days of school. I entered an alternative program at 16.

I remember my father shouting, “C is average! She is still passing! Calm down.” My mother would combat with, “No A is average! A spells average!”

Insert blood curdling screams, objects slamming, and physical violence.

Life wasn’t easy, I was miserable.

My mother told me I was a failure, a stupid ass. That I should get a government or health care job and stop using the stupid computer.

That sentiment remains today.

And I am proud of who I am today…

At the age of 18 I landed my first job as a web developer. At 19, I received my GED. I dropped in and out of college a dozen times, hoping to become a Bio-Medical Engineer, all the while paying for college by means of graphic design and web development work. I didn’t listen to my heart until I was 22, when I founded a series of failed and successful businesses.

This is where my new story begins. I didn’t always share that I was a high school drop out, college drop out, I aced the GED test, and that I was forced to work starting at the age of 8. Or that I have a photographic memory, the ability to map data in my head, or synesthesia. Or that I came from a dysfunctional family.

Now that I am here, secure in my self, I feel like I can finally share my story.

I am resilient because of a turbulent family history, divorce, becoming a single mother and homelessness.

My name is Christina. I come from poor crazy people. My dad, despite 10 years of friction created in our household, continued to bring me computers because he saw something in me that nobody else could.

I am resilient because of a turbulent family history, divorce, becoming a single mother and homelessness. Today, at the age of 33, I am paid to help multi-billion dollar companies architect strategies for their customers experiences.

Statistically, I shouldn’t be here.

My promise to myself…

Is to always be honest, choose the morale thing to do, treat everyone with dignity and respect, choose love and kindness first, and do not bring a single value from my family into my future life. Maintain boundaries, standards, expectations, and self respect.

To fight like hell to get away from anyone who could send me back to my emotional and physical ghettos.

Be a helper …

But I didn’t get here on my own and I don’t deserve it more than other people. There were series of interventions in my life.

A high school counselor who coached me and kept me from being short sighted. She taught me strategy.

A kind neighbor across the street who let me hide at her house, work on arts and crafts, and who showered me with love. She taught me creativity and kindness.

A high school computer teacher who let me use what I learned to rearchitect the website and teach the class. He taught me my technical skills.

A great friend who snuck a truck over to my house in the middle of the day and helped me pack my things and leave. He taught me to be a helper.

Another great friend who let me move into his house, despite being under age, because he genuinely wanted a better life for me. He taught me not to expect anything in return.

A strange man who hired me for my first web development job. He taught me that age isn’t relevant.

A woman who gave me a job at a time when there were no jobs to give. She taught me we can sacrifice a little for ourselves to give others more.

A man who gave me $300 so my daughter and I could eat. He taught me other people could see through facades.

An ex-boyfriend who moved me cross country because he couldn’t stand to watch people be cruel to me any longer. He taught me that an act of generosity can change someone’s life

A man who took a risk on a 30 year old agency nobody, because he believed she could. He taught me to pay it forward.

Therapists, psychologists, and life coaches who helped me manage a lifetime of trauma, taught me what to expect from others, boundaries, and self respect… and that I deserve the best!

Without helpers, I wouldn’t have made it out of emotional and physical ghettos. Against incredible odds, I am here. And for that, I am forever grateful.

Personal advice

Both sides of our family were raised to be ashamed of their humanity. Nobody trusted each other, nobody wanted to be around, nobody respected each other.

My family had so many secrets. As children, we we’re threatened to keep those secrets. It was regularly proclaimed that things were just the way they were and nothing would ever change.

Do as I’ve done, the exact opposite of all of everything they had done. Refuse it, dispute it, and work against it. Never accept that reality.

Be honest, be kind, be transparent, be flexible, be wrong. This sits well with my soul.

Christina is a data-driven Solution Architect, Product Designer, and Researcher with an excellent track record in leading customer centric strategies.

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