Diana Lee

Black Panther is Undocumented

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Diana Lee

Cypress, CA

My family immigrated from South Korea to the United States when I was seven years old.

I thought I was going to live in a Disney castle. When my parents first announced that we would be “visiting” our aunt and uncle in California, I was excited. I told all my friends that I was going to go to Disneyland and eat hamburgers everyday though I was told not to tell anyone. I couldn’t conceal it. At that age I believed that America was where all the princesses lived. Going there was like a dream come true. My aunt and uncle were really great people. They took us to Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, San Francisco. We have pictures but I don’t remember it. The age seven through ten I remember being told that I couldn’t see my friends in Korea anymore and that I was to make new friends here. I remember moving into a small apartment near our aunt and uncle where I shared a bed with my younger sister. I remember going to thrift stores and pawn shops and a community pool with my dad. They were really good memories. This wasn’t a vacation anymore; I didn’t feel out of place, I didn’t miss my korean friends, I felt like I was home. Everything was as it should be. I belonged here, we belonged here; or at least, that how I felt.

In 1997 my father’s business had failed because of the financial crisis going on in Asia. My parent’s marriage was on a downward slope and my mom’s part time job wasn’t enough to keep the family fed. With the help of my aunt and uncle my parents were able to come over to America with a business visa. They obtained their social security number and worked legally, learned to pay taxes, and found a place to rent. It was their last attempt at saving their marriage and our family and the move saved us all.

Around 2002 to 2003 complications began to arise and the visa was dissolved. I don’t know anything beyond that and I have been afraid to ask It was in my sophomore year of high school that my parents sat me down and told me. I didn’t understand. So what did this mean? I was fine with not being able to get my license, I didn’t care for driving, but I didn’t imagine how big of an effect it would have on my education.

It didn’t hit me until senior year. I had been studying studio art beginning sophomore year. I had always wanted to pursue art as a career and had begged my parents to get me lessons. I drew on my own constantly but was never satisfied. I felt I could do better. In freshman year, the promise of art lessons if I kept good grades motivated me to become a better student. I worked hard enough to get A’s and B’s and if I’m proud of anything in my high school career it’s that I never missed a day of school except for senior ditch day. Though I was a rather mediocre student I did very well in my art classes and soon made plans to go to an art school in the west coast. It was a possibility for me. I had even won the student of the year award in the arts at my high school. I had hopes for a scholarship. I could work part-time. I could apply for financial aid. My parents couldn’t break it to me. They let me live in my fantasy until the college applications came around when my mom defined my legal status more clearly. I couldn’t get any sort of financial aid. I couldn’t work. Scholarships were a no go. A second before I lost all hope they told me about the AB540 and how state funding would be available if I went to a state school. I shared this with my art teacher who was helping me build up my portfolio and he encouraged me to try out an art program in the state that offered BFA degrees.

And it’s like at the age of seventeen, I grew up. No more princesses, no more living on my own out in the west coast, no more. I understood. This was the reality. Still, I didn’t let myself down. I complied with the circumstances, applied to a state school, got accepted into the honors program, received recognition for being on the honor list my first two years, and kept making art.

I’m twenty now and I am a studying artist. I’m working harder than ever and have kept my GPA above the 3.8 mark. I stay hopeful and enthusiastic. I have hopes for a great future. My friends and family are supportive. I have fun and I love to laugh a lot. I won’t let this take me down. I am a hard working American. The United States is my team, my home. Even though a lot people don’t think so, it won’t change how I feel about my country. I’m a fun-loving california girl and I’m not giving up, ever.

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