In 3rd grade, I once brought home a “C” on a math test.
With the reaction and punishment that came with it, I might as well have stolen thousands of dollars from the school.
If that was the reaction for getting a “C”, I never wanted to find out what would’ve happened if I had brought home an “F”. Maybe they really would’ve made me find a new family…
I was always envious when my white friends didn’t get in trouble for bringing home anything below an “A”. A few times I was flabbergasted when my friends would get a “D” and they had no concerns whatsoever. I was in fear for them.
“Dude, what are your parents going to do to you?” I earnestly would ask.
“Oh, nothing, man. They’d be cool with it.”
One time a friend said, “Nothing. They won’t find out, anyhow.”
…not find out…? It’s an option to not tell my parents I got a bad grade…?
(Hindsight 20/20 — I had to translate everything I got from school for my parents, sometimes sign on their behalf. I totally could’ve gotten away with not doing well in school. I was so innocent and naive….)
The reason why our parents pushed us so hard in education was that they felt it was one of only few places where we can stand on even ground with everyone else (along with working hard and diligently).
We looked different (probably smelled different, too…)
We were in an unfamiliar country.
We barely had the grasp of the language.
And how teased many of our parents/families/we were for lacking the ability to speak fluent English.
The type of people who make fun of non-English speaking people; make fun of people’s accents; make fun of how non-native speakers mispronounce words; they are ignoramus-one-language-speakers who feel superiorly smug for no good reason other than “I speak this language better than you and I will mock you for trying to communicate with the masses instead of commending you for learning a new language, because that’s the kind of small person I am.”
Because anyone who submitted themselves to learn a new language knows how humbling and difficult it is.
As Willie Jennings writes:
To learn a language requires submission to a people.
But our parents were convinced whole heartedly that being in America was far advantageous than being in the Motherland. And it was through education that we — their children — would reap the benefits of the family’s sacrifice.
And a sacrifice it was.
I recently thought of this because I saw a set of (used) World Book Encyclopedias on eBay for $60.
Somewhere between 3rd-5th grade, my dad came home with an entire set of World Book Encyclopedias, volumes A to Z. I’ve been doing minimal research trying to find out what a 1990’s edition of World Book Encyclopedias cost in the 90’s. Couldn’t find much. But a brand new set of the encyclopedias goes for $250 on Amazon. Since, we seemingly live in a time where feeling something whole heartedly is a fact, I whole heartedly believe that it costed my parents $250 during the early 90’s.
That’s a lot of money. Money my parents didn’t have. My dad served a church with about 200 people. My mom didn’t speak enough English to work. Besides, she felt that being a pastor’s wife was her calling (which is more difficult than being a pastor).
Yet. They wanted to make sure that I had what I needed to thrive in this country.
I’m always in awe of my parents and my in-laws tenacity, courage, strength, and unwavering hope in this new country.
Somali-born poet, Warsan Shire wrote:
You have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
Granted — we weren’t in danger or anything like that. But both my parents and in-laws were convinced that being in America was better than being in Korea for their children. So they left prominent positions; the comforts of home; the privilege of being a majority and got on a plane with nothing but the hope of a better; brighter future for their kids. Don’t underestimate the courage, strength, and tenacity of immigrants.
I can’t imagine the things my parents went through.
Being a teenager, I was so selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed, I never saw the struggle that my parents went through. I could only focus on why they were trying to be so Korean in the USA; why they were trying to be so overbearing rather than giving me the independence my white friends had; I took everything granted and lightly. I was a little s*#t.
But I know better now. I am who I am because of my parents’s tremendous sacrifice and their audacity to follow through on a hope that the U. S. of A. would provide a better life for their son.