Monday, December 1, 2008

National Day of Listening Story

As part of Moonrat's National Day of Listening request for stories, I want to share a story with you. My parents were down for the holiday and we were talking about old times. My Dad reminded me of what happened on one of our old family trips.

Life was pretty hard for my parents when they moved to the states. They were poor graduate students studying at Georgia Tech University until graduating and moving to New York City, where they were poor post-graduates desperately looking for a job. My mom had a mechanical engineering degree but it was useless for her, being a woman in a male-dominated industry. My dad studied business, but it was not quite his calling either. They both suffered at various businesses, many which were disastrous failures. I remember those lean years as times when I would walk into the kitchen, a hungry little girl, and find absolutely nothing to eat. I relied on the free breakfasts and lunches of my public school to feed me during the day. For sometimes, dinner could be hit or miss. I went to bed hungry too many nights to remember.

But in my early teens, my parents were doing a little better. Enough so that we could, on occasion, go on a short family vacation in our car. My Dad loves to drive and we would drive all over the northeast region. On one such family vacation, we drove south, past Washington, DC (which we visited often) and headed south into Virginia. We had been driving all day and all of us were tired. I must have been 13 and my sister was 5. My father saw a large motel sign with the vacancy sign lit brightly. We pulled in and watched my Dad go in to rent a room. He came back a few minutes later, started the car and drove away.

"No vacancy," he said.

"But the sign..." my mom started.

My Dad just shook his head. A few miles later we saw another motel with the word Vacancy clearly lit. Once more my Dad came out, his face tight in anger as we drove away. This happened many more times that night. It was very late and we had been driving well past dinner and bedtime. My sister had fallen asleep whining of hunger and my parents were very quiet. Finally we found another motel, much smaller and a little tucked away from the main highway. My Dad got wearily out of the car and walked over one last time to the motel office. He was gone alot longer this time and when he reappeared, he drove the car down to the farthest corner of the motel, although it was clear the motel was quite empty.

We all got out of the car, me carrying my sleeping sister, and entered the small room. It was ugly but clean and we were all so relieved to be out of the car. My Mom started making some noodles for our very delayed dinner on our little portable stove top as my Dad laid down on the bed. They argued for awhile over whether or not to continue our trip further south. My Mom wanted to go home and my Dad refused. We were heading for Savannah, Georgia and then to Atlanta to meet friends. He was not going to let racist rednecks spoil his family vacation.

"Dad," I asked. "Please, can we just go home? I don't like it here."

"We're just passing through," he replied.

"But they hate us!"

"They hate what they don't know or understand," he said tiredly. "We are too different."

"I hate them too!" I yelled. I was tired and angry. "I want to go home!" And while there was plenty of racism in NYC, at least the fact that there were so many other minorities around you kept you from feeling alone and insecure. Here in this very white area, I felt we were terribly exposed. But I never forgot what he told me that day.

"If you let hate and fear rule your life, you will never enjoy living," he said. "This is not even that bad. We've seen worse hatred (yes unfortunately this is true - but I'll save it for another post) and we will probably see more. But no matter what, be proud of who you are and stand up for yourself. We have to teach these people about who we are and then maybe in the future when you grow up, you will never have to see this type of ignorance again."

He gave me a hug and said, "Despite what you feel right now, never forget that this is a great country."

So now we come back to the present day, and as we sat in the living room, after the huge American meal, with a few token Korean dishes for my Mom's sake, my Dad brought up this old incident to contrast it to our world now, where we have for the first time ever, a black President-elect. Something he never thought could happen, but which gives him great hope for the future.

"Isn't this a great country?" he said.

Yes, it most definitely is.

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