Friday, April 01, 2011

Korean Americans

The BBC has an article that came out a couple days ago about Korean Americans. I've been letting it percolate in my little brain since I read it (on Twitter- that thing is good for something, apparently).

It's very interesting, at least to me. It's very close to the story of my family, after all.

A brief history of my family:

1981: Mom and Dad get married.
1982: Child #1 (me) is born.
1983: Child #2 (sister) is born.
1985: Immigrate to the United States.
2000: Child #1 graduates from high school.
2001: Child #2 graduates from high school.
2002: Child #1 graduates from college.
2005: Child #2 graduates from college.

We immigrated to California. I had just turned three, my sister was just shy of turning two. My parents were in their early thirties, leaving good jobs and their entire families to go to a foreign country.

That action is not only brave, but also miraculous. I wouldn't survive a 13 hour flight with two kids that age, let me tell you.

I think the article's references to "success" and the "American dream" are pretty standard- good education, good jobs, living in a safe area, raising a family.

From the Korean American point of view, I think we are "successful" immigrants because our families demand it. There was never a question that my sister and I would both be attending college. We never knew that people don't go to college until we watched movies about kids from "the wrong side of the tracks" with deadbeat parents.

My parents both went to college, which is almost taken for granted in South Korea. Koreans are a very education oriented people, in general, and has a huge number of people that attend college, get masters, get doctorates, and continue to educate themselves, well into their adult years.

That emphasis on education means that Korean kids grow up with a different focus. Sports aren't as important in Korean households, we don't think of sports as being a viable career in life. Music is something to learn and do well, but not necessarily a career path. Korean parents are generally all about doctors and lawyers.

Luckily, since my mother is a pianist and my father is a poet, we grew up with choices. No, we didn't have a choice about education- we had to get good grades, we had to try as hard as possible, we had to put in the time and effort. But we were also able to take ballet, tap, gymnastics, jazz, figure skating, swimming, bowling, baton twirling, singing, art, sculpture, and a variety of musical instruments. Not all of them stuck, of course, but we got the experience of learning to do all those things. We were able to try everything we wanted to try.

Because both my sister and I attended a magnet school, the people around us told my parents that they were crazy for letting us both attend art school for college. "But your kids went to a good school! They should go to UCLA or UCI or an Ivy League!"

My parents, both of whom were pushed into their careers in Korea, made sure of our commitment to art (me to digital art, my sister to fine arts) and then helped us to get into our schools of choice, helped us to decide what we wanted to do. That is also a brave thing for parents to do, to support their children even without a sure knowledge that their children will succeed.

I think people generally regard my sister and me as "successes" now. We're both gainfully employed and have been so since college graduation. We live away from our parents, in apartments that we pay the rent on, managing our finances and our lives at our own discretion.

Though people may feel that Korean parents are pushy, I love my parents for it. They were always involved in my life, they always made sure there were consequences (good AND bad) for my actions.

I don't know what other immigrant groups are like, and why they may not be as "successful", but I'm glad my parents moved here, little girls in tow, so that my sister and I could grow up here. It's a unique point of view, to be Korean American, and there are more good things than bad about having grown up one.

Thanks for the thoughts into my past, BBC, and for calling me a success.


ALECHO April 2, 2011 at 5:31 AM  

Hey there, thanks for the sharing the story. I can really relate to the BBC news and your personal story. My mom is an artist herself and raised both me and my bro. She wasn't too pushy for a Korean parent in terms of education, but did challenge us to be a good person and be "successful" in what we pursue. My bro became a graphic designer, I was once a cartoonist and now in the health science field. She gave us the opportunities but more so the heart to become "successful". I thank my mom for that.

Enjoyed reading the post, reminding me of my mom ;)

jeanny April 4, 2011 at 6:48 PM  

Aww, I hope you told (and still tell) your mom that you appreciate her. ^_^