What does USA mean to me?
USA means home, the place where I was born, the place where I grew up. It informs the language I speak, the values I keep, the ideas I believe.
USA means opportunity. My parents came here from Korea and found opportunity for a better life. My brother and I have far greater resources than we would have had we remained in Korea.
USA means separation and connection. In pursuing after economic opportunities, my family became disconnected with my extended family back in Korea. I have never celebrated a holiday with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins. Yet in this country, I found others with whom to celebrate, a new extended family.
USA means strength in South Korea, in both good and bad ways. The US-South Korean relationship is important, but also complicated. The US played a key role in South Korea’s economic vitality, but also played a key role in the division between North and South (along with others). I still have family members in North Korea, although I have no idea what has happened to them.
USA also means tragedy. For some of my friends, their families did not choose to come to the US, but were brought by force. For others, their families were already here, and the US brought disruption and violence. Still others came with visions of opportunity, only to have those visions dissipate in broken promises and broken dreams.
USA means contradictions, complexities, and paradox, just like any group of people. It is a people of high ideals and great nobility, but also crass vulgarity and mindless violence. To extol its virtues does not mean neglecting its flaws, and to critique its weaknesses does not mean undermining its strengths.
So on this day, I say that I am grateful to live in the USA. I will also say that I will endeavor to make it a more just, merciful, and compassionate place. I hope that others will do the same.