It was 1976. I was 2 and my brother was 4. Korea was starting to recover economically and politically from back to back wars and 3o plus years of Japanese rule. Quality of life was steadily improving as the country’s economy grew. Two well-educated people like my parents should have been financially stable, but they weren’t.
After our history of Japanese invasion and the civil conflict that divided our country in half, the government instituted 2 years of mandatory military service to all male citizens. If you didn’t serve, you were black-balled for jobs in most industry.
When my dad graduated from a top college with top grades, he should have been able to get a great job. That’s just how things worked in Korea. First, he had to serve his military service. He signed up to serve, but he failed the physical. My dad had extremely bad vision.
He should have been exempt, but the system and the government at the time didn’t recognize exemption. He had to serve to be able to work. He couldn’t serve because he failed the physical. It was terribly unjust. The only industry that would hire him was the newspapers.
I knew that my dad was a newspaper reporter when he met mom, but I never knew why. I found out recently when I asked what motivated him to immigrate to the U.S.
My dad liked to write and he was a good writer. I guess that’s where I get the love of writing bit. It was an okay job for a bachelor. Unfortunately, a reporter’s pay couldn’t support a family.
By the time Dad got married and my brother was born, the blackball had lifted. He could apply to other industries, but companies didn’t want to hire 30 something year old with no real work experience. It was a tough time for my dad and our family.
He didn’t say it, but I think when he finally got an offer for a job overseas, in Africa no less, he was feeling desperate. I didn’t probe too much because I could sense that there was still a hint of raw nerve.
He needed a job even if it meant going to the other side of the globe. Unfortunately, the company he worked for was having financial troubles. It wasn’t stable enough for him to continue long-term. He also didn’t feel that Korea had any opportunities for him.
He decided that the U.S. provided the best chance for him and his family. However, getting a travel visa, let alone an immigration permit was near impossible. There were too many applicant.
Dad was resourceful. He managed to figure out a way to get to Canada from Africa (Malawi) via Kenya. From Canada, he made his way to New York. I’ll leave the details to your imagination because I think some of the stuff he did was a little on the shady side.
His first job in New York connected him to an immigration lawyer who helped him get a green card, the permanent resident card that would allow him to sponsor his family.
It took a long time, but we were finally able to travel the U.S. in February 1982. I had only seen my dad once in 1980 when his mom had passed away. My brother and I didn’t know him and it was a little strange for all of us in many ways. But that’s another story. It must have been harder for our parents, 6 years of separation couldn’t have been easy.
To be continued…