It’s the middle of November, and I know many of us are bracing for the chaos that’s about to emerge. But each year, we somehow manage through the season. We are resilient in many ways and don’t acknowledge our strengths often enough.
With Thanksgiving around the corner, I’m pausing to remember why we celebrate. It’s a time for expressing gratitude and I have much to be thankful for this year. At work, I feel a sense of inclusion and inspiration because of my caring, and fun colleagues. Also, after decades of being a professional and a student, I graduated and don’t have to go back to school… ever. (Not as a student anyway.)
While I’ll be sharing many parts of the dissertation and research on Asian women in leadership, I also wanted to share the dissertation dedication with you. As I look at the page today, it was as if I never read it. The words did not fully register because when I wrote it, I was in a frenzied state; trying to wrap up my work at The New York Times, planning a cross-country move, and grappling with the final phase of the dissertation. It was immensely gratifying for me to reread the dedication, many months later.
If you were to make a dedication to someone about something you accomplished, who would you dedicate it to? What would you say?
I think it would be a worthwhile endeavor to go through the process of writing one. Would you like to try it?
I dedicate this dissertation to my family, who immigrated to the United States during the 1970s. The journey started with my Aunt Chu, who left South Korea in search of the “American Dream.” She sponsored her eight siblings and her mother, my Grandmother. My Grandmother never learned to speak English while living in the United States. She was a skilled Korean cook who crafted meals without the aid of a recipe book. When Grandma babysat the other kids and me, she decided to appeal to our evolving American palate and would make us French bread pizza with spaghetti sauce, Kraft American cheese, and sliced hot dogs. To this day, I can picture myself sitting at the kitchen table, watching the bright yellow cheese bubbling atop Grandma’s improvised creation. This is one of the warmest memories I have of my Halmoni.
My parents were in their 30s when they arrived in the United States, leaving behind their already established lives in Korea. They did not speak the language, but the dream of endless opportunity was too great. They worked day and night, often weekends and held two jobs.
Growing up in San Francisco during the late 1970s through the 1980s was hard for a kid who just learned how to speak English. During my adolescence, I knew I was different from others. I wanted to be more American, I avoided identifying with being Asian, and I was content to erase the fact that I was Korean.
It was not until much later in life, when I read Amy Tan’s 1989 best-selling novel, The Joy Luck Club, that I began to explore my ethnic identity. Reading the story about mother-daughter relationships of Chinese women gave me permission, so to speak, to reflect on my Korean culture and consider what it means to be Korean American. Amy Tan’s book painted a realistic, flawed, and endearing portrait of Asian women. I identified with the Americanized daughters and empathized with the immigrant mothers.
Reflecting on the stories in the novel made me appreciate my Mother. With this awareness, I began to acknowledge the personal sacrifices my parents made to immigrate to America.
I am indebted to my parents for the countless sacrifices they made for my brother and me. My parents struggled to keep up with finances the entire time I was growing up. Coming home as a kid and seeing an eviction notice on the door of your family’s apartment was a sobering experience.
When my parents were in their 50s, they bought a small café at the foot of Oakland’s Piedmont area. They worked together, side by side every day. My Mom took orders and made sandwiches and espresso drinks, as my Dad bused the tables, washed dishes and went to the store when they ran out of lettuce.
My parents sold College Point Café when my Dad’s health began to deteriorate. One of the most trying times in my life was when my Dad passed away after 18 months of suffering from congestive heart failure.
In December of 2013, I stood by my Dad’s bedside as he spoke his final words to me. “Take care of your mom, live a happy life, and finish your Ph.D.” My Dad’s guidance stays with me every day, and my motivation to complete this dissertation was fueled by his words. I hope, he knows what I have accomplished and that he is proud of me.
This body of work is a culmination of the hopes, dreams, and worries that my parents have carried with them throughout their lives.