My brother wrote his college application essay on the immigration story of our father and his family. A non-English speaking 17 year old who climbed his way up from rags to riches through the American Dream. A story a lot of us second-generation kids were told since young.
The dinner table monologue always started the same way — “When I was your age…” or “If I hadn’t moved to America…” and back then it was a drag, a lecture that I didn’t have to hear for the 129th time. “I know, Dad, I know.” But I don’t think I really knew what he meant.
If my father hadn’t immigrated into LA at the age of 17:
- I would have gone through the regular, disgusting public school system in Korea.
- I would not speak English, or Spanish, to this level of fluency.
- I would not have traveled and visited more than 15 countries before the age of 15.
- I would have a brother who would have had to serve in the military for two mandatory years.
- I would not have a younger sister. Likely, I would not have been born either.
- I would be busy caring about my physical appearances.
- I would be struggling to find a job under a dysfunctional government and a declining economy.
- I would not be able to receive grants and scholarships.
- I would have been working far more part time jobs and studying far less.
- I would probably have been part of the OECD statistics on teenage suicide rates.
- I would not be here today, writing this.
The “American Dream” we like to put in quotes is not so glorious, and I’m not trying to say that Korea is horrible in every aspect. But it’s true that the America that raised me despite my immigrant father and my skin color was a kind one. The sheer number of opportunities that were available for me shines light on how lucky I was encouraged to live to look further and to think beyond limits.
It saddens me that I have to constantly think twice about whether I should be using present or past tense. It saddens me even more that I’m having a harder time writing in future tense.
America was great. America is great. America will be —
fuck you, Donald. America will be great without you.