가족 Meet My Family, The Immigrants

Editor’s Note: We are glad to welcome justpaperskater to our group. She’s been a friend for many years and has great stories. We looking forward to her sharing her stories and hearing about her adventures in the months to come. Welcome!

I am the first person in my family to be born in the United States. My parents are from South Korea and like many immigrants, they brought along as much of their culture as they could when they moved here. My father also brought his mother along to the United States, and the three of them did the best they could. My grandmother didn’t speak a word of English and I am told that my mother didn’t, either. Only my father, who had a fascination with American culture and had always dreamed of living in the United States, spoke any English at all.

Susie and Family

This made for quite the interesting childhood. As with many immigrants, my parents surrounded themselves with people of “their own kind.” It was a very insular community. However, despite this, my parents made an effort to try to absorb into American culture as much as they could. For example, my name is Susie, the most American-sounding name for a girl that they could come up with. I was enrolled in Girl Scouts, which was a very confusing two years of my life.

You see, I spoke Korean before I learned how to speak English. I distinctly remember my first day of kindergarten. The teacher made us sit on the floor in a circle, and I believe the exercise was that we had to stand up in the middle of the circle and introduce ourselves. However, I couldn’t understand the directions, spoken in English, and I just stood there while the teacher made funny sounds at me. I think I cried. My mother tells me that I cried very easily when I was a child.

I was quickly enrolled into an English as a Second Language program at school. For some reason, I was told that “ESL” classes stood for “Extra Special Learning.” I spent my years in grade school thinking that I was a genius. The realization hit me just about a year ago – ESL did NOT stand for “extra special learning,” it meant that I just didn’t speak English good.

I obviously have overcome that language barrier. As a matter of fact, much to the dismay of my parents, I can now only speak and read Korean with a heavy limp. I had only spoken Korean to my grandmother, and ever since she died and I had moved out of my parents’ house, I had no reason to speak my first language to anyone. It is actively withering away, and I feel I can’t stop it. But, there are many times where I can only find a Korean word that best expresses my feelings for something. There is a Korean phrase that wonderfully expresses frustration, which loosely translates to your “body flipping inside out” due to exasperation. There is another phrase, which loosely translates to “soul-ache,” and is something I experience when I think about my parents. I don’t think America was all what they expected it to be. Many of their friends have moved back to Korea. The only ties that remain are their children – me, my sister, and my brother. Unfortunately, we’ve been “taken” by the American culture. I can see the soul-ache in my mother’s eyes in the rare instances where she wistfully talks about her own mother and her family in Korea. I know that she is staying here only for the sake of her children, and so I live my life trying to bridge the gap between my mother’s dreams and my own.



Categories: Family

Tags: , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Awesome article. Welcome to the blog Susie. I really enjoyed learning more about your history. How sad that you are losing your native language, come hang out in my area for a bit and I’m sure you will pick it back up. San Jose has a thriving community and is only an hour North of me.

  2. Tell us more about the photo! What’s going on there? Is that a cake made of rice? Are you dressed like Strawberry Shortcake?

  3. Your mother in the photograph is so beautiful. Now we know where you got your good looks! Jeff, we were all dressed like Strawberry Shortcake as children (except 60’s child me, my family decided the Jackie Kennedy look would do. I remember crying at my first communion as my dress was plain with a small pill box hat. All the other girls were in those beautiful dresses like Susie is wearing …only in white).

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