American Teacher-Parents


Working on this project made me consider and reflect on things beyond just the photographic world.

I had not stepped inside a K-12 school since graduating from high school. Naturally, working on this project caused me to reflect on my own educational experiences. Then as mentioned in a previous blog, a coincidence placed me near the elementary school and the neighborhood in Maryland in which I grew up the first three years of our life in America before moving to Virginia. Visiting that old neighborhood brought back faded memories stored deep in my mind.

A week after completing the photography for the project, my dad fell ill and I made an emergency trip back to Virginia to look after my folks. Taking care of my dad at the hospital then at home flooded me with thoughts and emotions. I was occupied with the present moment of getting my father better, but I couldn’t escape the thought of what will happen in the immediate future. Then seeing him in the present condition, I couldn’t help but think of him back in his younger days.

The one photo that really spoke to me about the three different time periods was the photo of my parents next to their then brand new car.

Mom and Dad, 1985

The photo was taken in, I think, early 1985. My parents are dressed in their Sunday clothes, standing next to the brand new light blue Ford Tempo outside the apartment in Maryland. There is snow in the background. By this point, we had been living in America for one year. I remember this photo as the photo of my young dad and mom when we first came to the States. I now realize parents weren’t that young. My dad was in his late forties and my mom in her mid forties by the time this photo was taken.   

So why am I writing about my parents and our life in America in a blog about a book of teachers?

The reason why my family moved to America was for the same reason many people move to America, for the chance of a better life; To have a job, provide for your family, for your kids to have opportunities that you did not have. And key to all this was and is education. America had better schools. Better schools meant better jobs. So my parents, like many of their countrymen, and like many people from all the different nations at different point in history, left everything they knew, left behind their families and friends to settle into a new life in a strange land for the hope of providing their children a better life.

The move was made more difficult because they were in their forties by the time we came to the states. In their middle ages, they were starting anew; new land, new language, new customs, new job, new food. All this for the promise of something better. All this so that their kids could go to good schools which would allow them to get good jobs which in turn led to wonderful families in big houses. Prosperity, The American Dream. And the key part of this dream is education. Without a strong education system, the American Dream is no longer.

The middle aged couple in the photo standing proudly besides their new car is still brimming with hope and possibility. In two years, they will lose their daughter to that ugly twin of American Dream that is endemic to our country, Violence. Their son will choose a life of Arts, an act that is a betrayal to the unspoken compact-“we will sacrifice our lives so that you can have a high paying job making our sacrifice and hardships worth it.”  And they will now forever exist in that strange middle place where they are not completely “American” but they are also no longer completely “Koreans”; their only companions fellow denizens of this middle land.

Mom and Dad, June 2013

Two months after the second photo, Dad passed away from lung cancer. Did my parents’ American dreams come true? Does the current state of our education system allow the American dream to be a regular possibility? not only for us Americans but also for those who wish to come here to have a chance to dream that dream?