Wednesday, January 02, 2008


When my family immigrated to America 26-years ago, it was just the four of us. A young couple and their two young kids in search of the American dream. Despite the isolation, language and cultural barrier, and the ever present prejudice, we learned the language and assimilated into the culture while simultaneously trying to preserve our traditions that identified us as Koreans.

My parents quickly found other Koreans and created friendships and found ties to a local church, but the holidays meant it would just be the four of us. With all of our relatives back in Korea, the large family gatherings of uncles and aunts, cousins and grandparents were suddenly gone. And the holidays felt stark and naked.

But despite this, we found that our little family of four was drawn closer together and that we developed stronger ties to one another. The concept of "us against the world" could not have been more true.

We were poor, we were lost when it came to understanding the American culture, and we were often singled out for our differences: my dad at his workplace, my brother and I at school, my mother at the grocery stores. But at dinner time in our little apartment, we were surrounded by the warmth of our love and the comfort that came from such strong family bonds. The happiness we created nightly at the dinner table gave us the strength and courage to go out the next day, and to work hard for that ever elusive American dream.

As time passed, my brother and I both left the house in search of our own dreams. Although our family was separated by hundreds of miles, we would all come back together during the holidays, and it was as if we never left home at all.

When my mother passed away, the three of us felt suddenly isolated. We came back home for the holidays, but things felt disjointed. We couldn't ignore the emptiness.

Then my dad got remarried, and our small family of three suddenly became an extended clan of 14, and we were welcomed in with open arms. The first few holidays were awkward. My brother and I felt out of place in our newly expanded and adopted family of uncles, aunts, and grandparents. It took us a while to find our nook, to find our place in the order of things. But like all things, it became easier as time went by. And before I knew it, I considered those previous strangers my family, and I grew to love them as if they were always mine.

Then I got married to Nathalie, and my family grew even more. All of a sudden, the holidays started to feel like how they were back when I was growing up in Korea. Big. Loud. A little crazy. And full of love.

With each passing year, my family grows a little more. A beautiful baby niece and nephew. The wonderful girl that married my stepbrother. The great girl that's going to marry my brother-in-law. And the best thing to happen to my brother who'll one day join our family.

During dinner one night several nights ago, I saw a certain look in my dad's eyes. I couldn't place it immediately, but during the long drive back home to New Orleans I realized that it was the look of happiness. For the longest time I thought the American dream was about monetary success. We'll, we are far, far away from that.

But I saw it in my dad's eyes.

He's achieved the dream.

Well, almost. I guess a grandchild would be the icing on the cake.