By building their businesses, filming their shows, and raising their four children (soon to be five!) in Waco, Joanna Gaines and her husband Chip have put the Texas town on the map. But it might surprise you to learn that she hasn't always called the Lone Star state home. The host of HGTV's Fixer Upperand Behind the Design has a unique background.
Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1978, Joanna's nationality is American. But the beautiful, brown-eyed star clearly gets a lot of questions about her heritage, as she has shared the story of her roots a handful of times.
"I love hearing all the guesses," she responded to a fan's question about her ethnicity in a Q&A on her blog. "Although I did play Pocahontas in high school, I am not Native American. My father is half Lebanese/half German and my mother is full Korean."
Joanna's parents, Jerry and Nan Stevens, actually met in Seoul, Korea, while her dad was serving overseas during Vietnam, according to the Gaineses' book, The Magnolia Story. Jerry and Nan in love over letters, Nan came to America, and the two married.
While Jerry had been raised Catholic, Nan was Buddhist Korean. Despite their different upbringings, the couple bonded over their faith, "memorizing Scripture together each day," Joanna revealed in the memoir.
The couple moved to Jerry's hometown of Wichita and welcomed three daughters, including Joanna, who are each half Korean, a quarter Lebanese, and another quarter German.
The family moved around a lot for Jerry's job with Firestone, which Joanna wrote was difficult "when kids started noticing that I didn't look exactly like they did."
"Most people don't look at me and automatically think I'm half-Korean," she continued. "But in those first couple of years in elementary school, kids started picking on me because of it."
The lunchroom bullying was so bad that Joanna started packing her lunch and eating in a separate room with a smaller group of kids. Then, Joanna's Korean grandmother came to live with them, which Joanna felt drew even more attention to her diverse family.
"Kids in kindergarten would make fun of me for being Asian and when you're that age you don't know really how to process that," explained in an interview with Darling. "The way you take that is, 'Who I am isn't good enough.'"
Eventually, things got better, but when another move meant Joanna would be attending a larger public school, those same fears resurfaced. She ended up hiding in a bathroom stall or stealing away with her mom at lunch to avoid interaction with her peers.
Finally, the Stevenses settled in Waco, where Joanna was able to make some good friends-she was even voted her high school's homecoming queen.
That same year, "I started to think consciously about what it meant to be half-Korean," Joanna wrote. "I remember thinking, 'I'm either white, Korean, or both, but I've got to own this. It's me.' I started to see how beautiful my mom's culture was and how beautiful she was, and there were times when I wanted people to know she was different and she was unique. I didn't want to be embarrassed about that."
As Joanna told Darling, those childhood challenges, as well as her travels to New York, eventually helped her pinpoint her purpose in life: "I really felt like God was telling me that I would be able to help women who weren’t confident, who were looking for guidance or who were lonely. And so I knew that from that place of pain there was going to be a place to reach others, because I had actually lived in that place; I had felt that pain myself."
Now, she inspires women with her words and her designs-and she encourages her kids to reach out to lonely, less confident peers in need of a friend.
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