My fathers parents first operated a Laundromat, then a small general store. My father is now a civil engineer.
School was always a priority in my household. I did not have to work in a family business like my parents, but it was always expected that I would get high marks and devote my attention to keeping at the top of my class and pursuing extracurricular activities that were valuable and enriching, including soccer and music. However, this did not mean there I had no fun as a child. I have many happy memories of my family watching my sports games and concerts and preparing traditional foods with my grandmothers.
Sometimes the pressure I felt was quite intense. My parents had succeeded against all the odds and were determined that I would succeed as well. However, I felt that I needed to pursue a different path. Rather than going to school immediately after college I worked in my aunts nail salon, searching for myself. Like my mother, my aunt had also pursued a career in business, because of the inspiring example of my grandparents. I eventually decided to go back to school and study finance and get an MBA. I decided that I could still be creative and successful while managing my own enterprise.
Many examples of Korean-Americans exist who have excelled in American society. The comedian Margaret Cho is one example. So is the magazine editor Jeannie Park, who began her career in the sciences, and gradually branched out into publishing, eventually becoming an editor of People Magazine and In Style. Angela Oh is a prominent activist attorney. All of these are examples of the diverse careers Korean-Americans have pursued (Korean-American History, 2010, Curriculum guide).
Korean-American integration into the modern American social fabric has hardly been problem-free, despite the success evident in the careers of many Korean-Americans.
The riots that swept Los Angeles after the Rodney King beating resulted in the destruction of many Korean stores, because of the ethnic polarization of the African-American and Korean-American residents of the area. Many of my family members saw their businesses severely damaged because of this strife.
However, while America still manifests racial division and discomfiture in many respects, it also has fostered unity between many former national enemies. Japanese oppression motivated many Koreans to emigrate abroad but today the notion of a common Asian-American identity that must articulate its interests in the public sphere has caused individuals from a variety of national backgrounds to band together to demand rights and recognition. Korean-American identity as a subordinate or historically marginalized group is complex, as are all Asian-American identities. This notion of being an Asian-American fuses cultures that are just as, if not more, different than the identities of Europeans. Because of the commonly-shared culture of being a historically discriminated-against group in America Asian-American is a problematic but necessary category.
Because I remain close to my family and my Korean heritage, I am often asked if I will marry someone of that nationality. I would certainly not restrict my marriage choices to people of my heritage, but regardless of who I marry, I see myself honoring the traditions I observed when I was growing up: making different kinds of kimchi and bulgogi (barbeque) with the changing seasons, valuing hard work, and taking an active interest in the welfare of Korea in the international news.
Korean-American History. (2010). Curriculum guide: Unit 1. Retrieved August 6, 2010 at http://apa.si.edu/Curriculum%20Guide-Final/unit1.htm
Rusling, Matt. (2006, April 21). Comics stoke Japanese-Korean tensions. Asian Times Online.
Retrieved August 6, 2010 at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Japan/HD21Dh01.html.