In 1953 I came to America at the age of sixteen with an empty pocket, feeling that America was a country where the highways were paved with gold and money grew on trees. Soon I realized that the highways were paved with concrete – not gold—and there was no money tree. I had to work to survive and send myself to school.
The first summer I found a job as a maintenance boy at a camp – a job that only the lowest-class boy would do in Korea. I washed dishes – hundreds of dishes a day. I dug ditches. I took garbage away to the dump to feed the fat maggots crawling around. I even cleaned toilets with my bare hands.
With a working scholarship at a private high school, I cleaned the classrooms on weekends – moving desks from one side to mop and then moving them back. I shoveled coal to heat dormitories in the winter. I swept and mopped the dormitory floors. Did painting during the holidays. It was hard to work and study at the same time especially with the limited command of English. But I persisted. At the graduation I received the most number of awards. I wished my mother was there to celebrate with me.
After graduation in 1955, I went to Austin, Texas, to attend the University of Texas. The first day I stepped onto a bus and saw the black faces in the back and the white faces in the front. Where do I sit? At a Greyhound Bus station, I looked for a restroom. I saw the signs: Whites Only and Colored Only. Which one do I use? On the first Sunday I went to University Methodist Church fifteen minutes before the service and sat in a middle row. The people started to walk in. The front rows were filling up with people. I looked behind, and back rows were also filling up with people. But no one came and sat in the row where I sat. What’s going on? Do I smell? One afternoon I was hungry. I went into a restaurant by the university for a meal. A white waitress saw me, and instead of ushering me to a table, she went to the kitchen. A few seconds later, a black boy looking like a dishwasher came out to usher me in. I left wondering, Am I not worthy to be served by a white waitress?
In 1962, I was in Columbus, Ohio, doing my graduate work. I fell in love with a coed from Canton, Ohio. We decided to get married and went to her parents for their approval. Her mother screamed at me, “Why don’t you go back home and marry your own kind?”
Time marched on. I have been married to the lady from Canton, OH, for fifty years. I have two wonderful kids – all grown up in their fortieth. I am at an age where I can see the pearly gate glittering in the setting sun, but I don’t see St. Peter waiting for me – yet. As I look back the paths that I travelled since coming to America, 60 years ago, my heart is filled with gratitude and love for America. Why?
Because Americans are willing to change with changing times – without violence. Instead of my way, my way only, they are willing to follow our way. My mother-in-law, who had told me to go home, whispered to me in her waning years, “Thank you for taking good care of my daughter.”
I love America because I experienced the darkness in Korea – the darkness of human spirit – during WWII under Japan and during the Korean War. I experienced hunger – the hunger for individual freedom, the hunger of religious freedom, and the hunger for food.
I love America because anyone with a dream, who is willing to work hard, has a good chance of attaining his goal or getting close to it.
I love America because I can shout aloud, “President, you go to Hell.” I can do this in a broad daylight. In the midst of crowd. Without getting arrested or tortured. Can you picture yourself, shouting, “You, the great leader, Kim Jong-Un, why don’t you go to Hell.” in North Korea?
I love America because people come from all over the world – Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia… – for a new life, for a better life, for a more fulfilling life, instead of fighting and killing each other.
I love America because no work is beneath one’s stature. If you do your best and give your most in whatever job you may have, you are a good man.
I pray that America stays being the greatest military might in the world, for, in this world whether we like it or not, power rules. America, with all its failings, stands for the respect for human life, justice and liberty for all. I dread to picture what would have happened to the world if Japan won the Pacific War and Hitler’s Germany won the European war in WWII.
God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.