Spread my wings and fly…
Photo Credit: Mohammad J Al-Mumen
This past weekend I was keeping my eyes on DREAM Act updates and the courageous and brave individuals who were coming out of the shadows and sharing their personal stories. I felt an unusual tingling in my heart to want to walk alongside my brothers and sisters. I felt uplifted and wanted to share my painful struggles. I wanted to set aside my fears and shame of being undocumented and also having a physical disability. I wanted my testimony to highlight the importance of the struggles, perseverance and aspirations of us DREAMers. I wanted to give my all, just as many of our heroes in the DREAM Act movement have done.
And so, this is my all.
I’m 22 years old and I was born in Seoul, Korea. My dad was a traveling businessman so my family moved to Australia when I was just a couple of months old. After 3 years of living in Sydney, my family moved to San Paolo, Brazil, where we lived for another 3 years or so. In Brazil, I had an accident that completely changed my life.
When I was young, I used to be a mischievous tomboy, having very little fear. I was such an active little kid. One day, I followed my brother as he went to play with his friends at a nearby basketball court. While he was playing with his friends I looked up to the basketball post and had a sudden urge to climb to the top. I stepped on to the criss crosses of the basketball post and began to climb. But I didn’t realize that the night before it had rained and the posts were wet and slippery. As I climbed up, my hands slipped and I fell on the cement floor beneath me. I was left unconscious.
The events that happened afterwards have been told to me. My brother immediately carried me to my house and my parents frantically drove me to the emergency room. As soon as I arrived, I went into an eight-hour brain surgery. The doctor told my parents that if I had arrived at the hospital just 5 minutes later, I would not have made it because of the severe internal bleeding in my brain.
After the eight-hour surgery, I fell into a fifteen-day coma. During that time, the doctor told my parents that if I did not wake up within 2 weeks, I would probably not wake up at all from my coma. But, on the fifteenth day, I miraculously woke up. I looked around and saw my beloved family. But one thing that I also noticed was that the right side of my body was completely paralyzed. I was able to move my left arm and leg but not my right. I was able to think but no words would come out of my mouth.
For months, I had to relearn how to do everything. How to hold my head up without support, how to move my eyes keeping my head still, how to use my tongue and mouth to talk, how to walk, how to write with my left hand because I used to be right-handed. I fell down hundreds of times before being able to walk again, and the countless hours of physical therapy to relearn how to move my paralyzed right side of body was so challenging and overwhelming for me at such a young age.
My family made the ultimate decision to immigrate to the U.S. because they did not want me to live with the stigma of being a person with disabilities in Korea, where more challenges and stereotyping exist. In the U.S., a land of opportunity, they wanted me to spread my wings and fly, set aside my physical challenges and fulfill my dreams. They also wanted me to receive better medical care and wanted my brother and I to receive a better education for a brighter future. However, the complications of our legal paperwork left my family undocumented. And because of this, I am not able to receive physical therapy. My muscle nerves have been deteriorating, and the severe scoliosis that I developed due to the imbalance of my body became worse that my lungs are being compressed as I speak. The muscle tensions in the right side of my body are severe to the extent that it is difficult for me to even sit down with my muscles relaxed.
My undocumented status made me live in constant fear of my uncertain future; what will I be doing after graduation from UCLA? And what about my worsening health condition? Will it get better someday?
I hated standing in front of a crowd and sharing my struggles because I was ashamed. It is so very painful being physically challenged and being undocumented as well. But gradually, I changed my attitude to not let fear consume me. My perspective changed when I realized that this is my life, my future and my dream. I knew I had to own this movement that directly impacted me. I realized that my physical challenge can be a way to change and touch people’s minds and hearts and to bring light to our struggle.
My dream is to become a social worker and be able to inspire other individuals living with a challenge similar to my own. I also want to serve and work with the disabled. I want to instill hope and dreams in the hearts of many. I may be physically disabled but I believe I am differently abled. I am undocumented and unafraid. I am proud of being a DREAMer and being a part of this amazing movement of undocumented students.