- Ward Just, The Translator (1991)
When I think about all of the age-old Asian-American, or for that matter, Korean-American mantras of the Issei (not sure if I'm allowed to use a cross-cultural reference in reference to a separate and completely unrelated cross-cultural reference) aka our parents, the American Dream obviously comes to mind, but the American Dream of our parents was somewhat different than the one that we learn about in history and sociology textbooks. The comparison is incomplete and imperfect, but when I put myself in my parents' shoes when they first decided to leave Korea and come to America in hopes of a nice car, mansion and maybe more important than any of that, a reputation back home that they would never get to enjoy, something doesn't really make sense.
When we were in high school/middle school/or maybe as far back as preschool for the really unfortunate, our parents always told us how much they had sacrificed for us in coming to this country without money, friends or language and went on and on about how it was our obligation to repay them through studying hard, earning a decent living and taking care of them so they could finally be comfortable. I'm almost 100% positive I'm not the only one in this and if you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, please just read this post as a Korean-American sociological/cultural case study.
But one thing that my parents at least regretted to mention is that they had dreams of their own that were either crushed, thrown aside to be picked up in daydreams or arrested for their kids to carry through at some point later on. Some were successful, most weren't. I'm sure most of us have had this point communicated to us by our parents in subtle forms that we were too young and stupid to understand. Now in retrospect, I realize that these subversive pressures weren't so much for betterment as much as they were just the torch of their dreams passed on to their children regardless of whether they were forced or willing.
And please don't take this as some bitter kid (not sure if I can still call myself a kid at 23) ranting about how his parents put pressure on him to bring home a report card free of minus blemishes and tardies. What I'm getting at is actually closer to the opposite. Just bear with me.
My point is that at some point, there was proverbial waking up. Or if you're a pessimist an "Oh (enter preferred interjection here)" moment. There was a moment wherein our parents realized that this American Dream that they had twisted, filled in, defaulted to be perfectly their own wouldn't ever come true. In fact, most probably realized that they would be working by the sweat of their brow and the tired bones in their fingers for the remainder of their productive years. Here's where the sacrifice part comes in.
I remember back when I was in college, I was having dinner with a good friend of mine at Cheeseboard when this lady began talking to us out of nowhere. Aside from the strange incense smell emanating from her clothes and the fact that she claimed that Biography of A Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda was the greatest work of literature to have ever been written, she was a nice lady. But one thing that she said really irked me, so much so that it still bugs me to this day. After the general awkwardness of letting her know that my friend and I were not boyfriend and girlfriend, she told us that we shouldn't be pursuing law, engineering, business like all of the rest of the asian mainstream (her words, not mine), but that we should go into fields where we could be the proverbial sacrificial lamb (see above) for the future. What I thought she was hinting at was that we had to die to ourselves so that we could aspire to be unsuccessful only to realize that we had to defer to the next generation.
That's exactly what our parents had to do. They didn't know the language, they didn't know the customs (if you're a complete idiot and this is completely lost on you, wikipedia L.A. Riots) and most of all, they didn't have the opportunities that we have today. And all of this is so painfully true.
What that lady told me over dinner that cold night in Berkeley killed me inside because it was so evident, so prevalent in my own life. I saw my parents and I hated that they had to die to their own dreams only to see someone live vicariously through everything that was provided by their hard work and anguish. What is love? That's a question that's been asked of me countless times over the past year. All I can do is point to Christ, but I'm beginning to see that the love of our parents had/has so much more depth than we thought we realized.
Is it wrong to have selfish desires? At this point in my life, I could care less. It doesn't make what our parents had to go through any less tragic. They're the tragic heroes of our short and very hopeful lives. It almost hurts me to say that, only because I can't imagine what I would feel having to do that.
I guess there's really no point to this post other than to get that off of my chest. Sorry if it sounded depressing, there are just a lot of things happening right now and please don't take that as anything other than what it means.