2006 Sejong Writing Competition

Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior third place

Challenges and rewards of living with first-generation Korean parents
Jessica Lim

I know the casual claims that all second generation Korean American children make when regarding their parents, all of which I do not refute. Those stereotypes are clearly evident in my mom’s shrill voice as she adamantly demands that I study my math textbook or in my dad’s obvious obsession with his new karaoke machine. I was raised in a household where my hands quickly grew accustomed to the smooth keys of a piano and grades were a top priority. I have suffered through countless hours of Korean school and Sunday school and summer school, but as overbearing as my parents are, they are, above all, selfless.

Every night the fluorescent lights in the basement burn my dad’s eyes through his glasses that are twenty years old, the lenses scratched and outdated. He wears them because he is convinced that time will not allow him to get new ones, his sleeves always grazing his cheeks as he wipes away those stubborn tears caused by dust and fatigue that seep into his lab coat. He’s a dental technician, my dad. He does not get the chance to see the way the lazy afternoon rays flood the living room or how the snow slowly coats the bare tree branches in our front yard when winter finally comes because he is downstairs making a living, hopelessly replicating the American dream. He is this man who would let me fall asleep on his stomach as a baby, whose voice echoes through the vents when he sings karaoke tunes, who says he loves me and hugs me but always seems too busy to figure out who I am. But that is the inevitable catch-22 of life, the unattainable balance between trying to make a living and cherishing what you are living for.

My mom, on the other hand, is a housewife, the most underappreciated job in any society. She lies awake next to me as I study until the sky turns pink and warm in the distance, hoping that her presence is support enough. She cleans the house and does the laundry and prepares dinner in clothes that she bought years before, the colors faded and the threads tired and worn. Instead of indulging in a shopping spree, she saves that money for me, so that I never have to be the one who tries to hold back my tears in the car as I drive home, tired of living in a place where my tongue can not seem to grasp the harsh syllables and dialect of those surrounding me, tired of folding the shirts and ironing the pants until the monotony drowns me, tired of naively wishing that one day I will be able to take a vacation before my joints ache from sitting still and my spirit remains forever stagnant.

It is sacrifice, this virtue that I see in their actions everyday as they find their happiness in my simple successes. And I do feel the undeniable guilt that spurs me to live out their silent dreams of being a respected doctor, to achieve a position in society where I will never have to worry about taxes or if I have enough money to send my child to the college of their choice. But I do want to make them proud, as cliché as that may seem, because I want to be the one that can buy them a nice car and send them on an exotic vacation so that they realize their sacrifices were never made in vain. And although I wish things could have been different, that my dad did not have to work until three in the morning or that my mom did not have to pass time by washing the dishes, I have come to understand that despite all the pressure and high expectations my parents have burdened me with throughout the years, it is nothing compared to the sacrifices they have made in their lifetimes. So through all the tears of wishing I could lead a more normal life, where my parents did not push me to get straight A’s or to be at the top of my class, I know that that it is because of them that I will always strive to be better. That is my reward.