I am Korean. This has always been a major part of my identity, even though I was born in America. Being a member of another culture in America means that the way I have always viewed life, and success, is different than the way most Americans view it. My mother, who was born and raised in Korea, contributed to this significantly. She did not understand American culture, and never fully adapted to American life. Living in a new country was confusing for her, which is why she clung so strongly to her native culture. She passed this culture and way of thinking on to me.
My mother was a typical Korean mother – prideful, overbearing, and she always had the attitude of “I’m always right no matter what you think.” Her attitude was maddening at times, especially when she remained completely calm despite telling me I was wrong and she was right. However, it was this very attitude that shaped who I turned out to be, in many different ways.
Traditional Korean values and American jobs do not mix well. It was because of my mother’s strong Korean views that she could not keep a steady job in America. This put us at a real economic disadvantage, but my mother remained strong no matter what. She would find another job, and continue to provide for us somehow. Even when money was tight, she was not discouraged. My mother remained strong and did what she had to do.
Watching her strength tore me apart sometimes. I saw how hard she had to work, just to help us get by. When I was 14, after having lost another job, my mother was forced to work for my aunt’s cleaning business. She was assigned to clean a building that was within walking distance of our home, because she often had car troubles. She made only minimum wage doing this, which I knew was not enough to support us.
I asked my aunt if I could work with my mother in order to make extra money to help with bills. While I can’t say I was thrilled at the prospect of working at the age of 14, I knew I needed to do this. At first, my aunt resisted letting me, and my mother wasn’t happy either. She did not want me to work. However, within a week, both realized how serious I was about working, and they relented. Already I had picked up from my mother’s attitude that I needed to do what had to be done, even if I did not want to.
When we were not working, my mother and I talked sometimes. Every chance that we had, it would always be about the same dreaded topic — my future. Being so deep inside of the grave, as I liked to call our financial situation, there was only one direction to look – up and out of the hole. I never admitted to myself that I wanted to leave her to go to college; how could I? Life was hard enough with both of us working, so it didn’t seem possible for her to do it on her own. However, my mother had other ideas about my future. She wanted what was best for me, and not the life that she had raised me in.
I always protested when she told me this, because I wanted to stay and help her. But she would tell me then, in her serious, don’t-argue tone that I needed to go to college to make my life better. Our conversations had an enormous effect on my work ethic and my sense of responsibility. I wanted to receive my degree and help my mom so that she could retire, because she was so selfless in taking care of me, and pushing me towards a brighter future.
My mother’s quiet, hard-working attitude left a major impression on me. She taught me never to give up, to always do what is necessary, and to continually strive to do better. I will not relent in the face of life’s struggles. I will be strong, I will work hard, and I will dream of a future that would not have been possible if it were not for my mother.
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