To my fellow Korean-Americans…
Two weeks ago, I officially became a citizen of the United States of America. Took me long enough…I’ve been living in the US for the past 27 years and have been a permanent resident for 22 years. Although I toyed around with the idea of becoming a US citizen, I just never felt the need to do so. Even this time around, the decision to become a citizen began mostly out of convenience – my green card was expiring, and I didn’t want to keep having to renew it and pay the exorbitant renewal fee. I also didn’t like getting scrutinized extra carefully every time I came back from traveling abroad.
Now, I’d be lying if I said I also didn’t have this nagging concern in the back of my mind – the question of whether I should become a US citizen and in effect denounce my homeland, Korea. I immigrated to the US with my family when I was 12, after my first semester of 6th grade. And even though I have now lived in the US more than twice the amount of time that I lived in Korea, I have always considered myself to be a Korean who happens to live in America. To me, Korea was always us and US was still them.
I always root for Korea in any and all sporting events (even against the US). I eat mostly Korean food. I speak Korean fluently and can read and write in Korean. I don’t find American stand-up comics funny, yet I laugh at those silly Korean game shows. Most of my friends are Korean.
Beyond these superficial things, I also feel that being Korean is so deeply rooted in who I am as a person. I’m very nationalistic because I grew up in a country that is still technically at war. I remember the drills we used to run in elementary school on the fifteenth day of each month, where we’d practice hiding under our desks in the event North Korea decided to attack South Korea. I still cook dinner and do the dishes even though I’m as legitimate a full-time professional as my husband. I do it because that’s what I saw my mom and other Korean wives do. I find family values and tradition important. We dress in hanboks, perform ‘sae-bae,’ and eat dduk guk each New Year’s Day. I admire the Confucius way of showing respect to elders.
So how could I stand up and declare, under oath, that “I absolutely, and entirely, renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity” to Korea?
How could I answer yes to the question “would you bear arms on behalf the Unites States (even against Korea) when required by law?”
My husband thought I was an ingrate – and in some ways, he was right. My parents brought us here for better opportunity. And yes, we worked hard and paid our dues – but we were also rewarded. This country gave us a level playing field, where anyone could get a good education and comfortable life if you studied and worked hard.
Yet, isn’t becoming a US citizen essentially betraying Korea?
Then, something hit me during my naturalization oath ceremony. As I was standing there among the 160 immigrants being sworn in by Judge Sullivan (who is himself a third generation Irish American) as newly minted US citizens, I realized that I wasn’t betraying my home country, and that I did feel proud to be an American.
America is the only country in the world that is built on ideals rather than blood ties or religious beliefs. It’s the only country where on any given Friday, you can be among a group of immigrants that raise their right hand and pledge your allegiance, in broken English, to protecting freedom and justice. You can earn that right regardless of your skin color, political affiliation, religious beliefs, income, or educational background. I’m not giving up who I am as a person – in fact, America embraces individuality and diversity. That is why, after all these years, I can now finally say that I am proud to be both American and Korean, at the same time.