My Dysfunctional Family and I
Na Young Kim, La Crescenta, CA
I’ve always been placed in the middle, regardless of the cost or burden, and my parents have sacrificed everything for me with a smile on their faces.
My life began at the age of five. Everything prior is comparable to my dreams; there are undeniable truths, but I cannot ascertain whether they are rooted in reality. Childhood memories of Korea are a hazy blur yet I clearly remember my excitement when news arrived: we’d finally be reuniting with my father in “the land of opportunities,” “the home of the brave,” the United States of America. Despite my young age, I knew life had changed drastically from the moment I entered our new apartment. I savored every trivial detail, like the view of the mountains outside my window, the clean smell of my unfamiliar father, and even the feel of the soft carpet. And I still remember the dreamlike quality captured in each novel experience until it too was just another distant memory.
It’s strange to be the byproduct of two cultures, especially when these cultures vary beyond mere comparisons. Culture and upbringing are two crucial influences in shaping one’s individuality and self, especially throughout the tumultuous journey of growing up. Trying to balance the relationships in my life can become exhausting, and oftentimes, I believe my parents do not truly understand me because they do not see the multifaceted aspects of my character. I used to feel as if I were two separate people, struggling to discern who I really was and assuming the ego of whichever identity fit my situation best.
As an immigrant, I had never noted a difference between my fellow peers and I; we enjoyed the same music, devoured the same foods, and even had the same terminologies and dialect. I was naturalized by America, and always considered California to be my home. Once liberated from my soft-spoken shell which I had hidden myself in, I became a reflection of the American culture and quickly let the memories of the past erode. Yet, as time passed and my naivety abated, there were more and more privileges my friends had that I could not relate to. I could not visit my family in Korea, much less leave the country, I could not obtain my driver’s license, I could not open a bank account, I could not seek employment, I could not obtain insurance, I could not.
When I first learned the truth about my situation, I cannot describe the shock that flooded my mind and soul. To discover I was not only different, but also estranged from my fellow peers struck a chord within, one which was harsh and dissonant. The reality was that one day, my visa expired. But I stayed blissfully ignorant of this fact and remained so until sophomore year, when my parents unexpectedly confronted me about my situation. Suddenly, I was an “undocumented student” or less eloquently deemed by the state, an “illegal immigrant.” Hearing these words crushed my spirit. It felt so unfair to be rejected from the only place I had ever known to be home.
Perhaps this is the reason why my parents were never strict; they encouraged discipline but nothing was ever forced upon me that I had not wished so myself. Although they did not fully comprehend the American culture, and thus me, my mother and father did everything in their power to support me. They labored day and night to provide me with the “American Dream” that they never had. In return, I worked diligently to excel both in school and in my community and to cultivate the passions I discovered along the way. And I also discovered love. This love is what transformed my shame into determination, for my status would not deter me from success. I began applying myself to life instead of distancing away from it in fear that it’d be torn away from me. By dismissing this fear, I also embraced my Korean pride and culture, for I realize it is a part of me that resonates not just externally, but in every fiber of my being. I now acknowledge the blessings in my life rather than the struggles, both of which has shaped me to be the person I am today, the person who is self-assured and assumes a single identity: herself.
Life has changed so drastically in a single year but as I reflect upon it as a whole, I understand every obstacle was simply a chance to gain strength. I no longer desire to hide in the dark, concealed from opportunities ahead. Instead, I challenge myself to continue learning and to continue persevering, to experience every moment life offers, and to pursue an existence of wholeness, not merely an empty quest for happiness. These define a meaningful existence. For how does one appreciate happiness before experiencing sorrow and loss or characterize success without the bittersweet taste of failure? Regardless of whatever struggles are before me, I know my parents will always be there to support and love me unconditionally, as I do them. Today I realize future challenges are guaranteed, but only I can limit myself. Though time moves quickly, my entire life is ahead and I will always strive for the life that began to emerge at age five, despite any labels placed upon me. One day, my visa expired. And life continued. I continue.