I carry a green card. It’s not actually green, but it means that I am a legal permanent resident of the United States of America. I can stay as long as I stay out of major trouble and the US government says I can stay.
My parents and I immigrated to the US in 1971. The Republic of Korea was undergoing enormous change, and martial law was feeding unstable political flames. I’ve asked my parents several times why they chose to leave their families behind. They have repeatedly said that America was where they wanted to raise their children.
My parents packed a few suitcases, including a box of instant noodles and party dresses. My mother had had the dresses made out of the beautiful silks and brocades she had received from her in-laws as part of traditional engagement and wedding gift exchanges. My mom once told me that she fully expected to wear those party dresses in her first year in America. Most of them hung unworn in her closet and forgotten until I coaxed them and their stories out of the dust.
My green card combined with my ability to speak my second language better than my first has meant access & privilege – things many “Americans” born into citizenship may never consider as such. I don’t know. Nothing is a given when you are an “alien” amongst “native-born”.
After 9/11 my father begged me to get my citizenship. After Virginia Tech, my father called me up again asking me why I hadn’t applied. There were legitimate, deeply philosophical reasons behind my maintaining legal Korean citizenship, but as things in my adopted homeland continued to look at immigrants with raised eyebrows my father’s wisdom kept gnawing at me.
Step 1 – fill out 10 page application complete with legal signature, photographs, copy of green card and a check for $675 will be in the mail no later than Friday.
I have spent my life living in between cultures, but today it seems all the more so.