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Eun-Ha “Katherine” – New York
My Korean name is Eun-Ha, but I was given an American name, Katherine, the day my family and I came to America. We first arrived to the US a few days before Christmas Day in 1994. I remember walking in a park with my dad, and seeing all the Christmas lights and the huge tree in the middle of a park. In fact, my first picture in America was with a Santa Claus in a park in New York City, where we lived for a few months before moving to Minneapolis with my father’s cousin. I was just 5 years-old, the youngest of three girls. My sisters were 12 and 17 at the time.
I was born in Daegu, South Korea. My dad was a music teacher and my mom a seamstress. She made the prettiest dresses for me and my sisters. A couple of years before I was born, my grandmother moved in with us. That was in a way a blessing for my family, because my grandmother helped raised my sisters and I when my mother was forced to take on a second job to make ends meet.
I remember my grandmother as a very sweet old lady, who taught me my first words and my first song. She was my father’s mom, and I think my father inherited his love for music from her. I really think my grandmother could’ve been a great singer in Korea and all over Asia, but she never had the chance to pursue that career. I think that’s why she was always very supportive of my father studying music in school, instead of going to medical school as was my grandfather’s wish. My grandmother passed away a few months before we moved to the US, and while I was only 4 years old, I remember very clearly what she taught me – to listen to my heart and follow it no matter what. Perhaps for many years, that was the only thing I remembered of Korea. I forgot the language, the costumes, almost everything.
The day we boarded the plane to “go to Disney World”, which I still have not visited, my mother told me very carefully that my name was now Katherine, and that I should do my best to learn English and be a good American girl. My mom meant no disrespect for our Korean culture, but she knew that we were not coming back to Korea, and that we would have to hide in order to avoid being deported. Learning the language and getting accustomed to the costumes in America was not as difficult for me, as it was for my sisters. I went by the name of Katherine until it changed to “Kat” in high school, to try to fit in and be as cool as the other kids. For years I forgot why my parents had changed my name, why I couldn’t visit my cousins in Korea, and why my mother insisted that I don’t speak Korean. Then the truth was revealed when I insisted to have my parents sign a consent form so I could take a driving class, since I was still a minor. My father, who had always spoiled me, kept dismissing my request and seemed to get upset every time I brought up the subject. Finally, my mother told me the real reason why it made no sense for me to take driving lessons, she told me our tourists visas had expired years ago, shortly after we arrived to the US and that we were in the country “illegally”.
Learning about my legal status was heartbreaking, it meant that my dream of becoming a great fashion designer would never materialized, or so I thought. After days of crying myself to sleep, I decided to confine in my art teacher, which I now think was perhaps one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Senior year wasn’t what I thought it would be. I began working at a local retail store, applied for every scholarship I could think of, applied to a community college and braced myself for what was coming. The day I graduated from high school, I found a package in our living room, it was a gift from my sisters. The note read “Life might not be perfect; It might now be what you wanted…but the great thing about this is that now you get to put together those little pieces to make life as beautiful as you want. Hope this helps you put those pieces together…” They bought me the most beautiful sewing machine. That made me realize that my sisters had dreams too, but unlike mine, their dreams would never be able to materialized. Well, maybe there is a way…I just hope they are happy and satisfied with their lives.
I’m now on my junior year in college, studying fashion design and music. I guess I take after my parents…I am after all the daughter of a music teacher and a seamstress. I know that making it in the fashion industry is not easy, but I do feel like I’ve won half of the battle; I didn’t give up when everything seemed so bleak. I have a mission, a heart to follow, and a dream to chase. That’s what I learned from my grandmother!
- Eun-Ha aka Katherine.
PS: I am also taking Korean lessons, and I watch Korean shows to learn the language. Someday, I hope to open a fashion show in Daugu and have my beautiful mother and sisterm model some of my creations.