My parents met in California, and I was born at a San Francisco hospital on January 31, 1988. I was fortunately born healthy, without any major complications.
My entire narrative as a child was this — how my parents sacrificed so much to come to America, in order to give me and my sister a better life, with more opportunities. My parents came from an educated, middle class background. But when they arrived in America, their education degrees and training was not honored, they had no social networks, and had to build a life from scratch.
I knew that I was fortunate to be an American. I knew how much it sucked to be a Korean child— how much harder they worked back in Korea, for fewer opportunities and rewards. I am grateful for my parents to really instill in me their work ethic. They taught me the importance of excelling in school, and helping the local community. They wanted me to get into a good college and be ‘successful.’ They taught me that I could control my own destiny, and that if I worked hard enough, I could achieve anything I put my heart to.
Not only that, but I am so grateful for my American public-school education. My teachers were encouraging, and taught me to think for myself, to innovate, to take risks, and to not fear failure. I was given many opportunities to express myself creatively — through writing, through poetry, through drawing and art, and through music.
I was lucky to be afforded many opportunities as a child growing up. I grew up most of my childhood in Alameda, California (near Oakland) which was full of mostly Asian-American immigrant families. Even when I spent some of my childhood in Bayside, Queens in New York — most of my friends were the ‘rainbow crew’ (my best friends were all immigrants— being Spanish, Jewish, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Black, Brazilian, etc).
In my childhood, I was active in my local Boy Scouts troop, where I learned the importance of public duties, civil service, and helping the local community. My leaders in Boy Scouts taught me the virtues of leadership, of respecting nature, and of serving others.
I am also so fortunate of all the governmental support I got growing up. My family struggled a lot financially when I was growing up. My mom worked part-time jobs, in menial-labor positions, to make a living for our family. She worked as a seamstress, waitress, cleaned houses, took care of the elderly, and taught kids. Each month we could barely pay the bills. Because of this, we could never save any money — and the future was always uncertain. I remember my mom telling me a lot in middle school/high school, “Eric– we don’t have enough money to pay for rent this month. Just know that we might have to go to a shelter, because we might be homeless.”
Therefore it was scary growing up as a kid — not having any sense of security. This is what actually taught me: nothing in life was given to you on a silver platter. You had to work hard to achieve success.
At the same time, I learned a lot about gratitude. We received support from our family networks, our local community, and the federal government. I was able to take my “A.P.” (advanced placement) tests for free in high school (which would have otherwise cost us about $100 a test), I got free application fees to apply to the U.C. (University of California) schools, and I also got free/subsidized lunch at school.
Through a combination of hard work, support from the government, my local community members, local community organizations, my parents, family, friends, and everyone else who guided me — I was blessed enough to be accepted into U.C.L.A. for college.
When I went into college, I studied Sociology, and it opened up my mind. There was no way I could have afforded college— if it weren’t for the U.S. Governmental grants, scholarships, and loans I got, as well as being accepted into the ‘work study’ program — which paid my bills.
Studying at UCLA, I met these world-class scholars and professors, who challenged my traditional way of thinking. I learned all these sociological theories, concepts, and ideas— which liberated and enlightened me. I took out a $5,000 federal loan because I was never able to have a savings but wanted to travel and to learn. I used that loan to support a boot-strapped backpacking trip through Europe — where I learned new cultures, concepts, and ideas— which I brought back home with me.
As first generation immigrants, my parents struggled to make a living and to create a home for their kids. Through advocacy organizations, my parents received citizenship and I was lucky enough to be born as an American citizen. The sacrifices of my parents and the generosity of the community and social programs have made me who I am today.