An Honest Letter to My Immigrant Parents

Dear mom and dad,

(No. I told myself I would not be ashamed of my roots.)

Dear umma and appa,

            I hope you know that this is my fifth time trying to compose this letter. I thought it would be easier, but obviously, the number of drafts I left unfinished serve as evidence that writing an honest letter to the both of you is proving to be extremely difficult. You will most likely not read this, and perhaps knowing this fact is what is encouraging me to write this letter to you.

            Where do I begin?

            Thank you, thank you


            You. Thank

            You thank you.

I know I do not express my gratitude to you, ever. Sometimes, I take my life for granted. I forget how lucky I am to live the life you gave me. You both taught me to be grateful for each day that I wake up. Maybe I am a spoiled brat, living a privileged life in a Western country, not realizing that there is a world outside my reality. Or, maybe I am a product of cultural assimilation, taught to act like a Western woman, to forget my culture, my mother-tongue, but most of all, become ignorant to the history of my people.

I do not know anything about Korean history, and I can barely speak Korean. Appa, I am embarrassed and ashamed of my reality. You always stressed the importance of keeping an open mind and not subjecting myself to limitations solely because I thought one language was superior to another. You were right as you always are. If there is one thing that I am most apologetic for, it is that I actively chose to neglect my roots, and assume a new identity for myself; one that I naively thought was more progressive. I wish I had not been so eager to be white.

Umma, I am sorry for all your wasted efforts in packing a lunch for me when I was too embarrassed to eat it at school. I am sorry for the time when I got angry at you because you did not understand why I was so embarrassed of eating a Korean-style lunch in front of my (mostly white) Western friends. The list goes on, but most of all, I am sorry for all the times I told you that I did not want to be seen with you in public because I was embarrassed. Looking back on my childhood, I resent my younger self. I was unnecessarily cruel and selfish. 

I blocked out a lot of memories from my childhood. Even now, I find it hard to recall on some from specific time periods, but I do remember the first hate crime I was exposed to. I think I was about five or six years old, and I remember it being cold outside—so cold that our windows were frozen. Appa came home from work and he said something about teenagers hiding behind a bush, and throwing small pebbles at him. At the time, I did not understand why appa had been the target, but I vivdly remember laughing at him.

I know immigrating to Canada was not an easy decision. I know there are stories that the both of you cannot share. I know there were dreams that were unachieved, family reunions that could not be attended all because of us, your children. Why weren’t you more selfish with your lives? Why didn’t you stay in Korea and accomplish personal goals? Appa, why did you have to take my feelings into consideration when deciding the next steps after finishing your doctoral studies in Canada? It would have been easier to pack our bags and move. You always remind me that the reason you stayed was so that my siblings and I would have a better life. What is a "better" life anyways? What does that mean? Political awareness and freedom? More job opportunities? A Western education? We could have returned: we were young, and we would have grown accustomed to living there. I wish you had not immigrated. I wish you had stayed and lived comfortably. I wish I was more affectionate to the both of you. I wish I was not afraid of being vulnerable, and verbally express how I feel. I still resent myself for how I treated you and continue to treat you.

I wish you and umma had been more selfish with your lives. I wish the both of you had not sacrificed so much for your children. We were financially stable, and surrounded by extended relatives, It was a good life for the both of you. I suppose that is what being a parent means, giving up self-happiness in hopes that the children will live a freer, comfortable life. For what? Most immigrant children forget what their parents did for them. We act as if we raised ourselves, unaware of our parents' efforts. It is easier to pretend this way, easier to believe that dreams had not been destroyed because of us and for us. 

I never got to ask: What were your dreams before having children and immigrating to a foreign country? What did you want to pursue? Do you regret any of this? Because I would.

I am sorry.


Your daughter