My story is a thread familiar and fundamental to the American tapestry: I’m a first-generation American, born in Hawaii to Korean immigrant parents. My folks were very traditional and believed in the values of honest, hard work and family. My father worked as a jack-of-all-trades in construction before becoming a small-business owner. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. Years later, they divorced. Faced with the need to support herself and her children, my mother opened a small swap-meet business. Remarkably, in the span of a few months, she transformed herself from being completely dependent to becoming a true businesswoman — learning inventory management, building relationships with vendors, anticipating the needs of her customers. At the time, she spoke almost no English and relied on her children to translate. (Hawaii’s large Korean community made it easy to have minimal interactions with the English-speaking world.) To combat the language barrier, she took ESL classes.
Recently, we drove together through LA’s Koreatown, where all of the signage appears in her native tongue. I asked her to translate them for me because though I speak Korean, my level of comprehension is akin to that of a child. It was deeply frustrating to rely on a translator and, with sudden clarity, I realized that this is how my mother had felt most of her adult life. Curious, I asked her, “Do you ever think about moving back to Korea? Wouldn’t it be easier, never having to puzzle out signs or 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. She paused before answering. “This country doesn’t look down on those who try to better their station in life. 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.”
I’m grateful to my parents for making those sacrifices to give me opportunities that they couldn’t even dream of. I’ve followed their ethos that with hard work, anything is possible in this country. I’m also proud to be part of an industry that’s filled with businesses, small and large, that embody American ingenuity and entrepreneurialism at its finest.
Hanley Wood recently named me as editor-in-chief of PSN and its sister publication, Aquatics International. 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.”