For my parents, America meant opportunity. Individually, they came to the US from Korea in the 1950’s, meeting for the first time in Chicago, and bringing with them their own stories of perseverance and dedication to realize their dreams. They grew up in the shadow of Japanese occupation of their country, being forced to surrender their Korean names and use of their language and customs. As children, they endured the Korean War, my father helping his family put whatever small amount of food they could on the table, selling cigarettes on the streets; my mother being forced to retreat to the bathtub while bombs were going off, in order to practice her violin.
Their stories when they got to America are equally memorable, arriving in this country with virtually nothing but the clothes on their backs, but with an undeniable work ethic. My father worked as a janitor to put himself through college, ultimately earning a PhD from Northwestern and going on to a distinguished career as a Chemical Engineering professor at Purdue University, and later heading his department at UC Irvine. My mom forged her own violin studio from scratch, introducing hundreds of young children (including me) to the joy of playing the violin and making music.
My parents instilled in me and my siblings an appreciation for the opportunity that America provides. They made us understand that we were lucky to live in this country, and that if we worked hard and prioritized education that we could succeed. Because of my parents’ American story, I will never take for granted what it means to be American.