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Where does our name Rosalee come from?

Filed in About RLC — October 23, 2023

This practice is named after my mother, Kyungja Rosa Lee (1950 – 2008), the most loving, wisest, resilient, and creative individual I have ever met.

Born female in Korea, a patriarchal society, during the Korean War, she battled sexism and poverty. In an era where it was common for girls to only receive an elementary school education and be placed in arranged marriages shortly after beginning menstruation, she worked to put herself through high school before getting married. Unfortunately, she had an abusive husband, my father. At the time, domestic violence was considered not ideal but acceptable and a private family matter. She bravely chose to become a single mother and immigrate to the U.S. to provide a better life for her children, especially her daughter (me!). Her only assets were her sisters’ phone number and address and a bag of loose American change from a friend. 

When Kyungja moved to the U.S. in 1989, she became known as Rosa, her baptismal name as a child because no one could be bothered to learn “foreign-sounding names”. Despite working multiple low-wage jobs without days off or vacation for nearly 20 years, she provided a loving and stable home for me and my brother. She cooked all our meals and snacks because she believed in holistic health. She emphasized education, kindness and social justice values. She always had a loving disposition and time for us.

The stressors and lack of access to medical care caught up with my mom when she was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer after I graduated college. Four years later in 2008, I interrupted my human rights advocacy work in Cambodia to take care of my mom full time in hospice. During the many conversations that month, she revealed her only regret before dying: she hadn’t done enough to address social injustice, because she was “so caught up trying to make ends meet as a single mother.” She told me she was proud of me, and wished that she had been able to spend her life doing the work that I was doing. I remember telling her that anything I do in the world is only possible because of her, so in a way, she was doing it with me. 

When I gathered the courage to establish this practice away from the security of a full-time job with benefits, I drew upon the example of my ancestors: my grandmother giving birth to my mother during a war, and my mom leaving behind her familiar homeland to provide a better life for herself and her children in the U.S. no matter the challenges. When I was looking to name my practice, my partner suggested “Rosalee”. It felt right and full circle, because this calling is a gift from my ancestors, one made possible by my mother, and I know she has a real desire to do this work. I hope that this name reminds you not only of my mom, but all of the ancestors who make it possible for you to do your work as a social changemaker, and that you’re able to rest deeply in the knowledge that they still stand with you. 

Love doesn’t die,

People do.

So, when all that’s left of me

Is love,

Give me away.

– excerpt from “Epitaph” by Merrit Malloy

Dear changemaker, it will forever be an honor giving Ms. Rosa Lee away to you.

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