Joanna Gaines Felt She Had to ‘Hide’ Her Asian Heritage


  • Joanna Gaines spoke to People ahead of the release of her memoir, “The Stories We Tell.”
  • She told the outlet she felt like she had to “hide” her Korean heritage when she grew up in Kansas.
  • The “Fixer Upper” star said it took her decades to fully embrace her roots.

Joanna Gaines opened up about growing up half-Korean in a predominantly white town in Kansas.

The “Fixer Upper: Welcome Home” star, 44, spoke to People ahead of the release of her memoir, “The Stories We Tell.” 

In her interview, Gaines, who is half-Korean, discussed her experience growing up in Rose Hill, Kansas, with her white father, Jerry Stevens, and her Korean mother, Nan Stevens, as well as her sisters, Teresa Criswell and Mary Kay “Mikey” McCall. 

“My parents met in 1969 when my dad was stationed in Korea and their story is one you hear about in the movies,” Gaines wrote in a 2017 Instagram post about her parents’ love story. “All the odds were against them but they fought through and became an example of how to love, fight for, extend grace to, and honor each other amidst all their many differences.”

Gaines spoke to People about feeling othered throughout her childhood because there was no one who looked like her or her sisters around them.

Joanna Gaines smiles in front of a blue backdrop.

Joanna Gaines.

Rob Kim / Contributor / Getty Images

“We were literally the only Asians in our entire school,” she told the outlet, adding that she was bullied because she was Asian, with her peers mocking her lunches filled with rice and calling her names.

“It was deeply personal because that was half of my story,” she said to People. “I realized if this isn’t accepted, maybe I need to hide it and play more into the other side of who I am.”

“My early memories, a lot of the things that come up are the moments where I switched off and I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I can’t be this,’ or ‘I shouldn’t be this,’ or ‘This won’t be approved,'” Gaines said of her childhood memories. 

Gaines went on to tell People she “internally processed” these feelings, which she sees now “wasn’t healthy.”

“It ends up coming out at some point because we have to deal with it,” she said. “So for me, sadly, it took years for me to wrestle with that.”

Gaines and her family eventually moved to Waco, Texas, where she still lives with her husband and “Fixer Upper” costar Chip Gaines, but her perspective on herself didn’t change until she took a journalism internship in New York City after college. 

Joanna Gaines and Chip Gaines

Joanna Gaines and Chip Gaines attend the TIME 100 Gala 2019 Cocktails at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 23, 2019 in New York City.

Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Gaines didn’t leave the internship wanting to pursue a career in journalism, but she “saw more people that looked like me than ever before,” as she told People.

“I left really understanding the beauty and uniqueness of Korean culture, and for the first time, I felt whole, like this is fully who I am and I’m proud of it,” she said. 

People reported that Gaines shares more about the experience of working through the narratives she created about herself in her upcoming memoir, which will be released on November 8.

“I had to actually go backwards and say, ‘This is the lie I believed for 21 years, and now I have to rewrite that,'” she told People. “When we really take hold of our story and write it down, there’s so much healing that can come from that.”

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