Tosca Lee: Turning Difficult Subjects Into Riveting Reads

Wow! When I sat down to visit with Tosca, I had NO idea how incredibly rich and interesting her life and journey is! This is one of those conversations where I had to keep my mouth from hanging open repeatedly. From her unique and interesting formative years, to her stints in the Mrs America Pageants to modeling, marrying a hunky farmer father, to writing truly riveting fiction - this is one woman you will really want to get to know better! Luckily she is super friendly, fun and a sincerely lovely person to know!

InD: First of all, we want to know the background of Tosca Lee, where were you born and raised?
I was born in Virginia but we moved to Nebraska before I started first grade, so I did most of my growing up there. I went to college in Massachusetts but I came back to Nebraska and married a farmer!
InD: What was it like growing up in Nebraska?
Well, back in the 70s it was interesting because I am biracial. My dad is a first generation Korean. He came to the U.S. for graduate school and ended up staying and marrying a Caucasian American. Growing up as a biracial kid in the Midwest was really interesting. There was one other Asian kid in my school, she was full-blooded Chinese and people mixed us up all the time. It is different now. There is a lot more diversity here.
InD: Was it hard being the only biracial kid in your class?
I think it was hard for a lot of kids, in general, to be biracial in the Midwest. When a girl becomes a teenager, you're trying to figure how to do your makeup and look good, but your eyes are different than all the models in the magazines. Back then it was Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley, and I didn’t look like them.
InD: For you, personally, was it hard?
I think it was a little hard. This is a sports state. We have wonderful arts here, but we are very sports oriented and I grew up as a ballerina. With that said, it was wonderful growing up here. My dad taught at the University of Nebraska for 35 years. My mother is a native Nebraskan. My mother's great-great grandma was one of the first female homesteaders in Nebraska. She came out here as a widow with four kids and by the time she passed away, she had claims she had proven upon. That is the stock my mother comes from. The other half of my family is still in Korea.
InD: Wow! What a rich history you have that you can draw on. Growing up as you did, with your pioneering heritage and your dad coming from Korea, you have a lot of stuff that would make you a very strong woman.
I feel like you don't know how strong you are until you have to go through stuff. For me, it was just normal everyday life. I grew up very self-conscious a lot of the time, but anytime you have something different or difficult, you learn how to be resilient. I would not change it for the world.
InD: How were your parents with it all?
When they first applied for their marriage license, they were denied. They were in Athens, Georgia, where my dad was doing his graduate work. The law had been passed that they could no longer discriminate, but it was being contested, so when they initially applied, they were denied because my dad was not Caucasian and my mom was. They ended up going to Atlanta to get married. So, they had a fight on their hands from the get go, but otherwise they never drew a lot attention to it, so for me it was just a normal life.
I remember when I realized the differences, I noticed that we made ribs at home using the Korean recipe but other people used tomato sauce, and they didn't eat leftover fried rice omelets, like we did. Or, they drank black tea instead of the ginseng tea, like us. I remember the first time I drank black tea, it was the most horrible stuff ever because it was so bitter. Ginseng tea has a natural sweetness to it. It was those little things I discovered along the way that were different, but it was just our life.

Read the entire interview in the July/August 2020 issue of InD'Tale magazine.

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