I am up at 12:30AM. I finally found a nugget to share. I just finished watching a documentary on KQED (our local PBS station) called “The New Americans.” The documentary follows the lives of a few new immigrants trying to make it in the US. I highly recommend this documentary for those of you with no clue about immigrants and what they have to go through to make a new life in a new country. It’s also a great way for immigrants who have been here for a long time to remember our struggles and hardships so we can appreciate what we have now. (Unfortunately, around here it seems as though you have to get your VCR or Tivo to record it for you – the next time it’s on KQED is at 4AM on April 1st. )

I first came to the US when I was 6. My dad was a grad student at the University of Pennsylvania. My mom found work at a Dunkin’ Donuts. I went into first grade with no knowledge of the English alphabet. Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster and others on Sesame Street were my English teachers.


I was also taken out of my classroom a few hours a week for one-on-one ESL tutoring. My parents and I were lucky. We didn’t have to come to the US to flee religious or political persecution. My dad was from a wealthy family and could afford to get a second masters degree from an expensive private school. We lived in a 3rd floor 2 bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Philadelphia. I wasn’t allowed to run or make much noise in the apartment because of the neighbors below us. My dad was at school all the time. My mom worked at the Dunkin’ Donuts in the mornings and met me at the bus stop after school. On Saturdays I was on my own while my mom was at work and my dad was at school. I was used to entertaining myself since I was an only child.

By the time I was done with the first grade I did pretty well with English. I don’t think I had any friends though until second grade. It must have been hard to trade my lunch (rice with seaweed, or some variant) with other 7 year olds. My mom had her share of adventures in grocery shopping. Dad asked her to get him some beer. She came home with root beer. We had a used car that my aunt who lived in Salt Lake City gave us but my parents had no clue about car maintenance. That Mercury got us from Utah to Pennsylvania, from Pennsylvania back to Utah, from Utah back to Pennsylvania, then from Pennsylvania all the way to California over a period of 5 years without a single oil change. (I swear!!)

By the time I was a third grader we had moved to California and really immigrated here with green cards. We had been briefly living in Korea where my dad had a job teaching at a local college. My dad tried to find a job in his field for about a year and gave up. It is so sad to see many educated and accomplished people who had great jobs in their old country come here to the US and end up working as janitors and laborers because they are not fluent in English. My mom did other people’s laundry at a wash and fold laundry place. We lived in a townhouse with my mom’s brother and his family. They had just immigrated as well. My aunt and uncle worked at a 7-11 during the day and cleaned laundromats at night. I remember going to the laundromats with them now and then to help out.

20 years later, we’re all doing well. My parents just bought their second home and finally got health insurance. Dave and I are getting the keys to our first house tomorrow. My aunt and uncle has a nice house but my uncle still works 2 jobs. My mom’s sister took over at the wash and folding doing others’ laundry.

People are surprised when they find out that I wasn’t born here. “But you don’t have an accent!” (Yeah, because all immigrants have thick accents, right?) I just got my citizenship in November. It’s been easy to forget how hard my parents had to work to make sure I had a bright future here in the US. I had forgotten how my gradmother made me clothes to wear out of the ugliest cotton fabrics and I wore them everyday through elementary school. I had forgotten the wonderful taste of government cheese, my favorite government handout. So, it was nice to relive my past through The New Americans.” .

3 Comments »

  1. Now take a look at how my lifestyle changed up
    I’m on now, Goddamnit, I done came up.
    –50 Cent (G-Unit), Poppin’ Them Thangs (2003)

    Oh yeah, I know all about the government cheese…

    #1 by Nugget — April 1, 2004 @ 2:28 am

  2. Yeah. You’d think they could slice it up or something. It was a pain trying to cut into a 4 x 4 brick of american cheese. If you want to read a great short story check out that link to government cheese.

    #2 by Meerenai — April 1, 2004 @ 9:49 am

  3. Hey, ugly childhood clothes aren’t just for immigrants! You should see some of the heinous polyester I was forced to wear. Better yet — check out Dennis’s bowl-cut haircuts through elementary school Aw yeah! Fashion faux-pas at their finest!

    On a more serious note — very moving post Meerenai. Keep up the good work! (And congrats on the house. You done came up too!)

    #3 by Mama — April 1, 2004 @ 11:48 am

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