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The American Dream is More of a Nightmare

I finally watched Minari directed by Lee Isaac Chung — the cinematography told a beautiful story of the lengths people will go to achieve the American Dream. The story follows the Yi family, as they move from city life to a rural farm in Arkansas in hopes of starting a farm to grow Korean crops. The film portrays all the typical themes of immigrant families such as loss, conflict, and perseverance, but captures them in a unique and personal way.

Although my family’s story is not at all similar to the Yi’s, every immigrant family shares the struggle of assimilation into a new way of life. Jacob Yi, the father and main protagonist of the film, pursues the American Dream of going from rags to riches through his farm. The American Dream is quite a paradox, though, because immigrants like Jacob and Monica (the mother) suffer more of a nightmare to cling onto oftentimes false hope.

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My parents never openly told me about their experiences adjusting to a foreign country, so I never understood the scope of their sacrifices. The biggest reason my parents decided to immigrate was because of my grandfather’s debt in Korea which would pass down to my dad. Wanting to start on a clean slate, he made the decision to begin a new future with my mother. As I think about it now, I can’t imagine moving to another country and leaving the familiarity of my neighborhood, friends, language, and so much more.

In Minari, as David and his sister Anna navigate life in their all-white rural town, they are looked down upon by their peers, enduring comments about their strange looks and language. When Monica’s mother comes to the Yi family’s trailer home to help take care of the children, David immediately feels a strong dislike for his somewhat overbearing and old-fashioned grandmother. He feels ashamed to be related to her and expresses strong disdain for her.

This feeling of shame is all too familiar for children of immigrants. When my mom packed me Kimchi fried rice for lunch in middle school, I immediately closed the lid of my thermos in fear that my classmates would smell the heavily fermented cabbage. When I looked around my classroom and first noticed my features were different from my white classmates, I began to form self-hatred for my identity. When my parents would meet my teacher for the annual parent-teacher conference, I awkwardly sat in the middle, trying my best to translate English into Korean.

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One experience after the next, I grew increasingly embarrassed of being Korean and wanted nothing more than to be part of a white picket fence family. In this image, my family lived in a lovely two-story house, both of my parents had reputable professions, and we truly “fit in.”

After growing older and educating myself on issues like systemic racism and the deep-rooted impacts of capitalism, this shame I was conditioned to feel seems absurd. I regret the resentment I held towards my parents for not being like “other” families because I am more than thankful for the life they were able to provide me within America. Ridicule, criticism, and constant belittlement of their efforts are just some things immigrants undergo in this country. We must support the ambitions of every individual in this country and acknowledge their contributions to our melting pot.

Chelina is a third-year Communication and Sociology major at UC Davis. She loves binge watching Parks and Rec and considers herself an ice cream fanatic. After graduating, she hopes to work in public relations, marketing, or consulting.
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