In 1989, I was born in South Korea. My parents were considered upper middle class citizens in Korea and we had no trouble living our happy life as a family.
In 2001, age 12, my parents were given a great opportunity – to move to America under a business sponsored visa and raise their one child that they would love to send to an American university. The opportunity was offered by a man who was my father’s childhood best friend. He was married to a woman who owned several successful restaurants throughout Arizona and he said he would love for my dad to move to Arizona and be a manager at some of those locations, and he can sponsor us for our visas. My parents, without much thought, jumped at this chance of a lifetime.
That summer, we arrived in Phoenix, Arizona, with our 6-month visitor visas and met our fate. Dad’s friend had divorced the woman who owned all the restaurants, and married a woman with whom he had an affair during his previous marriage. The angry ex-wife, in her divorce settlements, gave him a couple of restaurants that were already failing. He had filed for bankruptcy. He was nowhere near able to sponsor us.
My parents decided that we will stay here and find a way because we had nothing to go back home to.
Before our 6 months ran out, we had cut our ties with the “family friend” and we began applying for an E2 Visa, something independent business owner hopefuls obtain. After so much money had been poured into our Lawyer fees, filing fees, travel fees, what have you’s, we received a painful rejection letter from the government. Our lawyer failed to tell us the correct deadline for when certain forms were due and that cost us our applications.
My parents decided to go ahead and buy a business: a Water and Ice store in Apache Junction. We didn’t make much money but we finally had time to be a family. But my parents harbored this big, dark secret, and they were always worried that any day, what they worked so hard for would be taken away from them, and subsequently ruin their one child’s life. After all, they did up-root me from our home country and put me in a whole new environment, which consequently involved financial and emotional risks.
Meanwhile, I was unaware of anything happening. I was about to turn 15 and telling my parents “I’m going to be old enough to get a Learner’s Permit in 7 months!”, thinking I was like any other American child, getting a permit at 15years and 7 months, and moving on to a driver’s license 5 months later.
Then, life got harder. My dad was getting sick, then sicker, then too sick to ignore the problem. After many false identifications, the doctors finally sat down my parents and told them something no one will ever want to hear. My dad had terminal liver cancer. No hope of recovery, Nothing they can do. It took my dad exactly 50 days from that diagnosis to pass away. My mom was devastated. They were married for 25 years at this point, 10 of which they got to enjoy as newlyweds until I arrived. They had spent more than half of their lives being each others’ spouse. She refused to leave his side during those 50 days.
My parents finally had to tell me about our situation shortly after his diagnosis.
You might ask.. If your mom and dad were away in the hospital, then what did you do with the water store? I had just turned 15 and my parents had to ask for help from random people to give me a ride to and from the store. I ran the store at age 15 for almost 2 months. There were times I stayed at the store for a week, in the back, and all that had to protect me from an intruder was an alarm system. I would wash myself in the big sink in the back of the store, walk to the Fry’s next door to get my food, and at night, treating myself to a little scoop of ice cream, to try to take some of the sadness away.
We sold the store to a couple that had heard about my family and wanted to help us in any way.
While my dad was sick, word got around in the Korean American community, mainly the churches. Eventually a man who used to work for the “family friend” heard about my family. He began to visit my parents at the hospital and brought my dad foods he was craving, and kept my mom company as my dad was usually unconscious with heavy doses of Morphine for his pain.
After my dad passed away and the distraction of the funeral has passed as well, my mom was falling deeper and deeper into her depression. There were days I was worried that I would come home from school and I’ll find that she’d taken her life. Losing one parent was difficult beyond imagination. Worrying about losing the only other parent was more than I could bare. But the new family friend was helping by visiting and eventually giving her a job at the restaurant he had just opened.
That was 2004.
For the next few years, we spent our lives working at the restaurant and me going to school in additional to working. I tried very hard to make the best of everything in my High School. I joined Student Council and got involved. But, mind you, it was difficult staying low and making sure I can at least finish high school before I get deported, should I get caught.
In 2007, I met a college student named Louis. I was 17, almost 18, and he was 23. We had a tortured relationship, that started with arguments and ended in blackmail and rape. That relationship lasted 7 months. Long 7 months. Eventually, he figured out that I was illegally living in Arizona. When I tried to break it off for good, he started his blackmail. He told me that if I didn’t comply to his demands (sexually), he would get my mom and I deported.
My mom always told me my dad died trying to give me a good life in America and I was not about to let Louis take that away from my parents.
I let him have what he wanted, despite how much those demands left me dead inside for months to come, and he let me leave the relationship. I was depressed for a few months, and afraid for my life at night time. I was always worried he was watching me, keeping tab on me, and will eventually strike again.
In 2008, I graduated from high school and that fall, began my next step in education at Arizona State University. There began my journey towards a Bachelors of Science in Geological Sciences. My new goal was to not be deported before I graduate with my college degree, that comes at hefty price. In the 9 semesters I will have attended ASU for my degree, my mom will have spent roughly $100,000, purely on ASU bills. Not counting books, not counting living cost, not counting transportation.
Remember Louis? To This DATE he still contacts me via Email. I just don’t respond.
Over the years between 2004 and 2012, My mom and I’s relationship with the new family friend was traumatic. Though he has done a lot for us, he also treated us badly on several occasions. It all comes from his general nature of short-fuse. He would throw things, yell at us for hours, fire us, you name it. I think he did that because he knew we had no choice but to take his tantrums, and when it’s over, forget it as if it never happened. We were fired from that damn restaurant hundreds of times.
The restaurant became the biggest source of my stress. It was providing us a way to support ourselves but it came at a high price, too, much like my education. If the restaurant was to fail, I would not be able to live here and support myself, and same for my mom. But being there was also toxic.
When SB1070 came out, I was devastated. Despite the fact that I had lived here in Arizona for almost 10 years, the message was clear: People don’t want me here. I was worried that my friends getting caught with me in their car may get into legal troubles. I was worried that I would ultimately become a college drop out who had to move back to Korea and try to find a life for myself there.
I’ve had someone tell me illegal immigrants are “vermins” who broke the laws in their homeland and had to run from the consequences.
On September 17th, 2010, I had my first date with a (almost) 23 year old named Cory. Over our dinner, I asked him how he felt about illegal immigration. He said that the subject wouldn’t affect his life much so he never paid attention. Later he told me that when he said that, I had a very coy look on my face. When he asked me after his response if I was here legally, I said no and explained why to him. I made it a point to be honest with him, regardless of what I thought this date would turn into. We have dated ever since. On July 20, 2011, Cory asked me to marry him and I said Yes. On December 3rd, 2011, we were married and by the end of February 2012, I got my 2 year Green Card. After 2 years, I may be upgraded to a 10 year Green Card, provided we are still happily married (we will be interviewed again). A year after that, I may apply for a citizenship.
Our Lawyer told us that the government will see me as more forgivable because I came here through legal portals and did not get into any legal troubles, this being my first marriage and not having any children from a previous relationship, and being a college student.
My rule for dating was that I will not marry any guy just because he is a citizen. I said I will only marry for the love and the relationship and that is exactly what I did. Aside from the resolution of my immigration troubles, I am the happiest I ever imagined being in my life. I have finally switched from “I hope I don’t get deported before _______ is done” to “I can’t wait to graduate, get a job, put away some money, and start our own family”.
I finally have a future to look forward to and my husband has given me that hope in more than one way.
So those of you who have been thinking I am way too vocal on social media about political things, now you know why.
Being republican is not a bad thing. It does not make you a bad person in my eyes. However, I want people to know that the people they vote for can alter my life for better or worse. These politicians could easily ruin my life with one written law, like SB1070 did.
I took a lot of abuse in different form throughout my life because of my status. I’m not the only one that had to deal with that and I won’t be the last.