Carrying the Responsibility
Harry Weon’s immigration in 1982 from South Korea to the United States of America
essay written by Benjamin Weon
Harry Weon was born on October 17, 1950. He is the oldest of four sons and immigrated to America in hopes of leading a better life and pursuing the American Dream. Weon immigrated at age thirty-one and married Goldie Kim in 1988. His experience in America helped him broaden his thoughts and ideas to a more global level because of the diversity in America. His immigration to California also helped him attend church more often and increase his faith in God.
It was his responsibility—as an example to his brothers—to journey to the Land of Promises—the United States of America. Harry Weon was born in Seoul, Korea and lived there for the first thirty-one years of his life. As Harry Weon grew up in Korea, he and his parents perceived the good opportunity in immigrating to the United States of America. He remembers, “My father said that going to America would be good.”1 Taking his parents advice in immigrating to the States, he arrived in Los Angeles, California on February 7, 1982. During the following weeks, living in America was a great challenge for Weon. He strived to catch a well-paying job while living with his uncle, who had immigrated twenty years before him. When he finally got hold his first job, Weon’s life was solely working, eating, and sleeping. As time passed by, his life became easier as he got different jobs. In July 1988, Weon met his future wife, Goldie Kim, and they were married five months later on December 17, 1988. Throughout his experience of immigrating to America and adjusting to the American lifestyle, he has learned the positive and negative aspects of both the Korean culture and the American culture.
Weon was born as the oldest of five brothers, but his relationships with his brothers were not as strong as he would have liked at the time. Harry said about Korean culture, “…the first brother has some authority, [which makes it necessary for him to become] a little strict, so there [is] a small amount of friendly talks and playing with the younger brothers.”2 All of his brothers had a certain personality that set them apart from each other while they were in their youth, and Weon distinguished them with these characteristics. The second brother, who was born when he was five years old, was a hardworking and diligent person, but he died in a car accident after Weon moved to America, contributing to the already increased pain and hardships he felt while in America. When he was seven, the third and fourth were born. The two were twins, but they had complete opposite characteristics. The older of the two was optimistic and got along very well with all his friends and Weon saw the younger as a less-happy person that was “so-so with his friends.”3 When Weon was ten, the youngest came into this life. He was a very persuasive speaker and was able to win his friends over easily. Weon was most friendly and closest with his youngest brother. Furthermore, he saw his mother as a forgiving and soft person. He said, “Even when I did wrong, [she] forgave me, understood me, and encouraged me.”4 In comparison, his father was a strict man and would scold him for many things. Nonetheless, as Weon grew older, his father’s understanding and compassion grew as he gradually accepted him.
Going to school filled much of Weon’s childhood. During his elementary and middle school years, the overall income of his family was minimal because his father was somewhat weak in the area of finding and obtaining work. Because of this, he was not able to ride the bus and had to walk about four miles to get to school. He also went without lunch many times during the school year because of the income restraints. While his peers went on field trips, he was not able to go. He also could not buy many of the things he wanted. Even during summer break, he could not even think of going on any trips or vacations. However, as he entered high school, the Weon family was able to gain more income, and life for him became a little easier, but not much. As Weon said, “We were bottom low, and we went a little up to low,”5 but he was then able to ride the bus to school.
There were many differences between South Korea’s and America’s schooling strategies. At this time, Korea had a six-day school week where Saturday was only a half-day. During his free time, Weon would intermittently go to church; he would hang out with his friends; he would go on trips to the mountains, ocean, or city; he would watch television and study for tests. Another difference between the two schooling techniques was that, instead of being organized by last names, the students in the class were organized by height. Weon, because he was in the taller side of the spectrum, always sat towards the back of the classroom. Asked about the most memorable part of this period of time, Weon remarks, “I remember the long walks and how tired I was. Watching the high school kids play baseball was another memory. Also, when I went on field trips, it was fun, [and] when I went to watch movies—from fighting movies [to] documentaries like World War II and Germany’s Hitler or Japan’s Hideki or Italy’s Mussolini—[which] was fun.”6 In school, Weon’s favorite subjects were math, electronics, and history, while he extremely disliked English class because of the difficulty in understanding the complex and confusing grammar. Another difference between the schooling systems of the two countries is that the youth begin studying for their major in high school, which consists of three years—there are electronic, industrial, commercial, and other types of high schools.
Weon went to Gwan-un Electronic High School for three years, and he later received a scholarship allowing him attend a college called the Central Vocational Institute. There he studied electronics for two years and graduated with a major in electronic engineering, including a major in teaching. At twenty years old, young men are required to enlist in the army and contribute three years of their life for the good of the country. After one year in college, Weon was drafted into the army and assisted Korea by being an airplane service mechanic. He was in the department where he repaired and serviced airplanes they would use. After being employed for three years in the army, he returned to school to finish the remaining year left of college. During college, Weon lived in a dorm, and he would occasionally return to his parents to stay for the weekend.
The changing weather in Korea formed a somewhat prominent impression on his mind as well. Korea’s weather was usually humid during spring, summer, and fall, while the winter was very cold and there was much snow. As he lived in Korea, the people who greatly influenced his character were his parents, his teachers, his friends, and, while going to church, God. After graduating from college, he worked as a teacher in a high school teaching electronic engineering to students for six years.
At age thirty-one, Weon decided to immigrate to the States. His father encouraged his first son to immigrate to the United States of America and to lead a more promising life. With his parents pushing him to travel to America after hearing the infamous ‘American Dream’, he decided to emigrate from Korea to Los Angeles on February 7, 1982, at the age of thirty-one. He remembers that his father said, “You should go because you’re the first, go to America and try to live a good life and be successful”7 and that he had a certain necessity to go for the sake of his younger brothers. Before he went, he expected the United States to be full of success and overflowing with peaceful people. He expected that opportunity would knock forcefully at every door he would set his eyes upon.
As he arrived to the States, there were no complications in the immigration progress except that immigrants did not have the same benefits as the citizens of America. Weon came to America by getting a visa to visit the States. The complication that did occur was the difficulty in getting a job, partly because it was illegal and partly because of his inability to speak fluent English. Weon remarked of another hardship, “You can’t go on long-distance trips; you can’t go to Korea, because you can’t come back in. Other than that there’s nothing.”8 He could not go to Korea and see his parents or his brothers back at Seoul.
When Weon arrived, he saw America as a strange place with a completely different way of life. He moved into his uncle’s house when he arrived because he had nowhere else to go. Because he had no important engagements planned for the first few months there, he passed the time relaxing and enjoying free time sightseeing the beauty of California. As he put it, he “just wast[ed] time…going to the parks,… [and] riding the bus [to go] downtown [and] Disneyland.”9 He had heard of Disneyland in Korea, but he was able to go when he moved to Los Angeles.
After wandering aimlessly for three months, Weon was able to apply for a job at a small shop. He moved out of his uncle’s house when he got the job and moved into the back room of the shop, where he laid a bed down to sleep in. It was a small car stereo repair shop with five people working. They included the boss, the salesperson, Weon—the technician—and two helpers or interns. There, he earned 700 dollars a month and a place to sleep. After that, he was able to get a better paying job, which paid 1,500 dollars at a large electronic import company with about forty people. He found it looking through the classified ads in the newspaper. The company hired mostly Korean employees, so the interview was also held in Korean, making it easier for Weon. UNITECH, now gone, imported many electronic devices, from Walkmans to DVD players and telephones, from the Asian market to the American market. He said, “There were salespersons, buying persons, repair persons, delivery persons, warehouse persons, and more. I was in the repair group.”10 He worked there from 1983 to 1986, until the company bankrupted. Before the bankruptcy, Weon was promoted to supervisor of the repair group. Then, with one of the salesmen he worked with, Weon decided to form a joint-company, or partnership, between them, and they are still working for that same company to this day. He was able to bring in more income, thus making life much easier in the States.
After moving into another apartment, the next door neighbor was the sister of his future wife. The sister brought the two together and they met together on July 1988. After five months, on December 17, 1988, they were married. Before Weon and Goldie married, Goldie had come to America in 1986 and had been working at the main warehouse of an auto parts shop. They had a modest wedding in a church with about one hundred and fifty people attending. He remembers that he proposed to her while they were eating at a restaurant. He said, “My wife said yes, and we promised to get married one month later.”11 Because he married his wife, he was able to receive his citizenship. After they married, they decided that she should become the housewife and he the breadwinner.
When he first came, Weon was able to gain friends from church and work, so he had plenty of helping hands. However, living here for the first few months was difficult for him. He wondered, “How should I live and what should I do… [and] could I live here?”12 These were the main concerns Weon had upon arriving in America. The person who helped him the most was his uncle. Living at his house, he “slept there, ate there, looked for jobs from there, traveled, got his driver’s license and opened a bank account,”13 all with his uncle’s help. However, there was nobody aside from his uncle and aunt—question of being able to live well was a great concern to him. Fortunately, church and work helped him become a part of the community in the United States. Another outlet that helped him feel welcome in America was his high school alumni. After they graduated, many moved to America to pursue their own dreams, and those who immigrated would get together once in a while to catch up on old relationships. Another difficulty living in America was learning English. He was supposed to study diligently, but in school, he disliked English the most. He said, “I had a lot of work, and I was tired after work, so I didn’t have much time, but I finally tried to learn English with books and I’m still trying today.”14
The dilemma of his kids living and growing up in a different culture than the one he grew up in gave him many doubts as well. Although it is not the same, he perceives this change as okay. He disliked the influence of marijuana, smoking, drinking alcohol in America. He also said, “Socializing with bad people and wandering, that’s what I’m concerned about. [When] one doesn’t do what he has to do and does other things instead [or] dislikes what he has to do and [does] other things [that] are fun…, those are definite no-no’s.”15 In his eyes, these aspects of America are more problematic than those of Korea. He believes that the school system is much better in America than Korea, more specifically their method of teaching. The negative part of education in Korea is that the focus is mainly on memorizing, whereas America allows the use of your own mind to think while instilling memorizing skills in the process. A negativity of Korea is the amount of smog in the air due to the numerous cars on the streets. Another benefit of America that he appraises is the liberty, the richness, the abundance—the view that all are seen equal. By equal, he means that one should not look down on another but respect each other. The old should not undermine the young, while the young should not disrespect the old. He says of the Korean culture: “While on the bus,…if an older person comes on, the younger get up to make room for him or her.”16 Furthermore, Weon dislikes the unhealthy food habits of America. The food culture, he believes, is one that is destructive to the body. In America, meat and steak are a large part of most people’s diets, while in Korea, vegetables and grain make up most of the citizens’ diets. Also, much food in America is made delicious by oil, but Korean food keeps the taste with the benefit of less oil. He warns of the inevitable obesity if one constantly eats American fast food.
On the present-day issues of America, he believes the cause of the economic crisis in the world was instigated by the selfish nature of many Americans. He says, “People have to lie less [and] have less pride and selfishness [because] that’s how problems form…so America has to take much of the blame; they should be more careful…and lead more moralistic lives.”17 Throughout his experience from living in Korea to immigrating to America and striving to lead a successful life, Weon has a few feeling pertaining to his path of life. Although he does not have the opportunity to strengthen his bond among his brothers, he is thankful that he was able to lead a decent lifestyle in America. The better education has given his children much more opportunities than he has ever had. It has been a long journey for Harry Weon and he plans to live the rest of his life content of the decisions he has made.
1. Weon, Harry. Personal Interview. 24 May 2009. 4
2. Weon, 24 May 2009, 1
3. Weon, 25 May 2009, 22
4. Weon, 25 May 2009, 22
5. Weon, 24 May 2009, 2
6. Weon, 25 May 2009, 19
7. Weon, 24 May 2009, 4
8. Weon, 24 May 2009, 16
9. Weon, 24 May 2009, 6
10. Weon, 24 May 2009, 7
11. Weon, 25 May 2009, 19
12. Weon, 24 May 2009, 11
13. Weon, 24 May 2009, 11
14. Weon, 25 May 2009, 21
15. Weon, 25 May 2009, 17
16. Weon, 24 May 2009, 16
17. Weon, 25 May 2009, 18