New Organizing Project blogger
It was at the end of December 2009. While my friend and I were at a local coffee shop, he asked me an unexpected question. He said, “Ju, why you don’t drive? I’ve only seen you riding a bike.”
The sound of his voice had already made it clear; he was suspicious about my immigration status. With a sense of embarrassment, I hesitated to answer. Perhaps I was too sensitive and prideful to answer at that time. I gave a sidelong glance to make sure no one around the coffee shop had heard.
Back in high school, I used to be jealous of my friends who had their own cars and could drive around during lunch time. Since I couldn’t drive, I usually rode a bike to school. Sometimes, I felt so embarrassed that I covered my face with a hoodie while riding to school. Gradually, my personality as well as my attitude changed, and then I began to lose my friends, one by one.
Also, whenever there was “guy” talk, my close friends always talked about cars and their experiences getting their driver’s licenses. In their shared laughter and experiences, I didn’t have any space to fit in. Instead, I felt alone and betrayed. Among such bittersweet moments at high school, I kept my status secret.
However, this time at the coffee shop, I decided to tell my high school friend about my situation. I thought it was a “good” thing to do.
“I can’t drive,” I said with a long pause, “I can’t drive because I don’t have proper documentation.” My friend seemed confused, or at least he pretended to be. “What do you mean? So you came here like illegally?” He stared at me with a bizarre look. It took me a very long time to answer back because I couldn’t believe what he had just said.
It shocked and surprised me, and I tried to explain more about my situation. I cringed a little, “I’m in the process of getting legal residency. I hope to get it as soon as possible.”
I lied, with a soft voice. My face began to blush and I didn’t know what to do.
He then blurted a rather absurd recommendation: “If it’s too difficult for you, why don’t you just go back to Korea? It might be better for you and your family.”
There was a moment of silence; we dared not look at each other.