The want of every parent is for their children to have it better than they did. Today, Joanna Gaines, 44, is a TV personality and star of a home improvement program, Fixer Upper. But go back a generation, and her mother Nan Stevens had a very different and very difficult start.
Gaines opened up about her family in a podcast The Stories We Tell as a companion to her memoir of the same name. It contains four episodes featuring conversations with Joanna’s husband Chip, sisters Mikey and Teresa, and mother Nan. One segment turned very emotional for Joanna as they discussed Nan’s childhood in Korea, where she was confronted with abuse, and how love saved the day.
Joanna Gaines and Nan Stevens share the stories we tell
On her father Jerry’s side, Joanna is German and Lebanese. On her mother’s side, she is Korean. Nan actually grew up in Korea. Nan shares with Joanna and podcast listeners that she always felt like “less” and like an outsider. This was exacerbated by the verbal and physical abuse she suffered. Nan developed a rebellious streak and loved American culture.
When Nan was 18, she met a military man named Jerry, who resembled a “hippy” with long hair and John Lennon glasses. A photo shared by Joana shows Jeff standing over two heads taller than Nan. The two fell in love and planned to get married. But even this was met with resistance until finally Nan’s mother forged her husband’s signature that allowed the pair to wed. Unfortunately, this family’s hardships were not at their end.
Generational hardships and strength from Nan to Joanna
The family of Nan and Jeff has come a long way geographically and emotionally. When Nan moved to America, for all her love of the country and culture, she was made to feel like an outsider. She channeled her love of America into trying to perfectly emulate the quintessential American woman. Some of this “othering” was passed down to Joanna, who revealed she was teased for being half-Korean. This was news to Nan, as Joanna admitted, “I never sensed you were not strong enough to carry it, but I just felt like we could have two people hurt here or one, which is why I opted to silence my pain.”
That meant that for Joanna Gaines, embracing her whole self was partly a massive hurdle. She was 21 when she first went to Koreatown, a part of New York – where Joanna attended college – bursting with Korean restaurants, Asian grocery stores, and other amenities that earned it the nickname Korean Times Square. “I always wanted to say I was sorry,” Joanna said to her mother, “for living in halfness, and not fully embracing the most beautiful thing about myself which was you, the culture that was half of me as a Korean little girl, as a Korean teenager, as a Korean woman. That I felt that guilt and that regret.”
While her mother walked a path through Korea to America, rooted forever in both locations, Joanna is determined to walk a cultural heritage path from America back to Korea, appreciative of her full self. As for Nan, whenever she is confronted with negativity, she reminds herself, “God always helps me…God has blessed me with my beautiful family, and this is it. I am full, my heart is satisfied.”