When I was 8 years old, I found hidden in a drawer a little, brown book. It was a well-worn copy of, “How to Get U.S. Citizenship,” which my mother had used to prepare for her U.S. citizenship exam. When I asked her about it, she explained that it was one of the items packed into her small suitcase along with a few articles of carefully selected clothing, photographs, and jewelry that would be the only things that would remind her of the life she had lived in Korea. As I glanced through the pages, I thought about my mother as a young woman dreaming of a life in America – a place where she believed the streets were lined with gold.

In 1973, my mother, alone and without knowing a word of English, left all that was familiar to her for a life in the United States. She joined my father who had emigrated years earlier with his sister, the wife of an American GI. Her friends and family told her she was bound for an easy life where she would live in a big, American house. Caring for her children would be her primary concern. But when she arrived, she settled into a cramped, 3-bedroom house in Westland, Michigan with my father, his mother, his brother, sister-in-law and their young daughter.

After my brother and I were born, it became apparent that my father’s low-wage job in a warehouse would not support our family of four, so mom decided to look for work. Despite her very limited English, she was hired to work on the assembly line at General Motors and became our household’s primary wage earner. Her job eventually allowed us to move out of Westland and into a nice, middle class neighborhood with good schools. Her work was difficult, but life was definitely taking an upswing. About 7 years in, Mom was laid off from GM and was forced to take odd jobs in Chinese restaurants or flea market jewelry shops in Detroit. At times, Mom held two or three jobs at a time, just to keep us afloat. She worked hard to ensure we could remain in that middle class lifestyle. Mom scrimped and saved to make sure her two children had enough to eat, decent clothes, and the opportunity to attend universities to pursue careers that would ensure they’d never have to work as hard as she did. General Motors called mom back after a few years. One of her jobs was a welder on the night shift. Her tired 5 foot 4 frame would come home smelling of exhaust. And her shirts were covered in tiny holes from stray sparks. Though it was difficult work, she never complained. Instead she regularly encouraged us to do well in school so we’d never have to work so hard as she did. Mom ended up working for almost 30 years and is now enjoying a much needed retirement.

The significance of this little book is that it is an important bookend to the immigration story of my family to the United States. When she arrived, mom was full of great expectations for herself, but having found the reality of life much different than expected, she modified her dreams to encompass something more tangible. In 1978 she applied for and received her U.S. citizenship. One of the annotated pages in this little book pertains to why she, the applicant, wanted to obtain US citizenship? Mom underlined this answer, “I wish to work for the benefit of this country and to protect the happiness of our children.” If you’d ask her today, my mom would proudly affirm that she had achieved the American dream-a better life for herself and for her family. It allowed her the ability to have an American dream for her children to attend college and live securely in the comfort that they could provide for their families. Achieving this was our way of being able to honor our mom’s hard work and sacrifice.

– Teresa Kim (History Teacher in Vista, California)