My story is a thread familiar and fundamental to the American tapestry: I’m a first-generation American, born to Korean immigrant parents. My folks were traditional and believed in the values of honest, hard work and family. My father worked in construction before becoming a small-business owner. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. Years later, they divorced. Out of necessity, my mother opened a small swap-meet business. Remarkably, she transformed herself into a true businesswoman — learning inventory management, building vendor relationships, anticipating customers' needs. She spoke almost no English, relying on her children to translate and taking ESL classes in her spare time.
Recently, we drove through LA’s Koreatown and I had to ask her to translate the signs for me because though I speak Korean, my comprehension level is akin to that of a child. It was deeply frustrating to rely on a translator and, with sudden clarity, I realized this is how mom had felt most of her adult life. Curious, I asked, “Do you ever think about moving back to Korea? Wouldn’t it be easier, never having to struggle to communicate? After all, you still have family there and your kids are all grown.”
Her response brooked no hesitation. “Absolutely not.”
Surprised, I asked why. “This country doesn’t look down on those who try to better their station in life," she replied. "Instead, it’s encouraged, even celebrated. That’s the opportunity I wanted for myself and my children, even if it required sacrifices in other areas.”
Those sacrifices gave me opportunities they couldn’t even dream of.
Hanley Wood recently named me as editor-in-chief of Aquatics International and its sister publication, Pool & Spa News. My mother was one of the first people I called with the news. “See?” she said. “There are no limits to what you can achieve if you’re willing to work for it.”