Remembering, Honoring, and Offering a Voice of Hope

dad abbi Remembering, Honoring, and Offering a Voice of HopeToday is Dad’s birthday.  He would have turned 70 years old.  Last Saturday our family met at the cemetery in remembrance of him.  Carpooling with my sister, I felt a moment of déjà-vu driving along the outside perimeter of the lush but partially frozen grass.  As we drove past tombstones speckled with the occasional bright silk flower arrangements dusted with winter frost, it seemed like only yesterday when we were burying Dad.  It’s almost been two years since he passed away, but visiting his burial place made me feel sad.  The injustice of how he died so suddenly still lingers.

After a brief and somber moment of remembrance, my family all piled back into our cars.  With my sister Joyce driving, my mom in the front passenger seat, and myself sitting right behind her, I listened to my nephew and nieces argue about something so unimportant I injected myself into the conversation.  And then I went there….

“Do you know how fortunate you are?  The kids in Ethiopia walk miles a day to get to school without complaining.  But you’re complaining that you’re being squished.  Maybe you should walk home.  It’s only a few miles.”

My poor 11 year old nephew who had the unfortunate pleasure of having to sit next to me, had no idea I was about to go ‘Tiger Auntie’ on him.

“When we were little, there were no car seats.  Grandpa had a landscaping van, a yard waste garbage truck.  Sometimes we would have to sit on the piles of garbage next to oil cans.  There were no seats or seatbelts.  When he made a turn we all had to hold on to something or we would find ourselves on the other side of the van.  If you were lucky, you got to sit on the tire well. “ 

At this point, my mom and sister were laughing hysterically in the front as I recalled all these crazy memories of my dad and our childhood.

“You have no idea how lucky you are to have a nice car, with leather seats and a DVD player.”  I said, trying to make a point.

My 9 year old niece, who wasn’t impressed by my stories, yelled, “and the DVD player comes with a remote!”

Oh no she didn’t.  But of course, she did.

This is when the Tiger Auntie in me started laying into them about why it is important for them to hear these stories about their grandfather, my dad.  It is because of the many hardships he endured, they are able to live a comfortable life with almost endless opportunities.

“Do you realize when I was in Ethiopia, I met many kids your age who are domestic slaves?  Did you know your grandfather was a domestic slave during the war?  You need to know this!  The reason you are so fortunate today is because he sacrificed for us, so in turn we could sacrifice for you.”  At this point I was just getting warmed up, with my sister and mom still laughing at the whole situation as I attempted to educate the young ones in the car about why we honor my dad on his birthday.

The conversation didn’t last more than 5 minutes.  Between my nephew’s long eye rolls and my niece staring with me with a confused look because she couldn’t decide if I was being serious or not, I ended my conversation with them with this: “We remember because it is always important to remember where you came from and who helped you get to where you are today.  Someday you will have kids and you must pass this on to them.”

I have been thinking about the similarities of my father’s upbringing to the sufferings of people living in third world countries.  When both his parents died, my dad was orphaned, homeless, and a domestic servant (aka modern-day slave) during the Korea Korean War.  Lured by the promise of an education from a shady uncle, he was forced to work long hours day and night as a field worker at age 8.  When his older sister (my aunt) found him, she took him away and they lived on the streets with their younger brother.  Eventually, my aunt became a young war bride to an American soldier and she along with her brothers arrived in Seattle.

I share this story with you for several reasons.  For one, as mentioned before, it’s my dad’s birthday today.  And I’m thinking about him.  When I think about all he had to go through as a child and the lifelong hardships resulting from his youth, I appreciate his tremendous sacrifice to raise six children with my mom so we could have opportunities he never experienced for himself.  Our success was his redemption, joy, and hope.

Two, it is also Veteran’s Day today.  I am so thankful to my Uncle Willie, who served in the armed forces and married my aunt.  Because of them, my dad was given an incredible opportunity to have a better life which otherwise would have been horrible.  I would also like to mention how incredibly proud I am of my younger sister who is a Captain in the US Army and in the process of becoming a Major.  She’s served two deployments in the Middle East with others that I am very thankful for.  To all soldiers, past and present, God bless you and your families.

With the elections over and Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, I recognize all the many things I am thankful for.  I am aware of how much was made possible because of my dad and through my uncle’s service to our military.  I cannot imagine where my life would be today without the opportunity my dad was given to come to this country.
a Remembering, Honoring, and Offering a Voice of Hope
When I think about all the beautiful and wonderful people I met in Ethiopia, many of the challenges they face are the same ones my father faced.  We met plenty of orphaned children whose parents died of AIDS and forced into homelessness or domestic servitude.  I also related to parents working so hard to feed their children.  As a child of two immigrant parents who worked 16 hour days to keep a roof over our head and food in our mouths, their struggles are not lost on me.  Some of their meals reminded me of the rice and water soup we would have to eat when there was no food in our house.  My dad also grew vegetables from seed, so he could feed us in harvest months.  Although my dad was too prideful to accept public assistance, what little extra my parents had they would often give away to other immigrant families who were also struggling.  Working and sharing together became a way of life in our strong Korean community. 

Three, I am grateful the United States government and their commitment to foreign aid in developing countries.  With the recent East Coast devastation and aftermath brought on by Hurricane Sandy, I have heard of amazing stories of people coming together to help each other out.   It is in that same spirit of helping others I would like to ask you to join via ONEMoms, to lend your voice on behalf of mothers and their children who cannot speak for themselves. 

As I have written before, ONE is a non-partisan, non-profit organization (co-founded by Bono of U2 ) with the goal of encouraging national leaders to support international development and relief programs through advocacy.  It is very critical and crucial that our collective voices be heard because of the “fiscal cliff” our country is facing at the end of the year.  Because of this fiscal cliff, devastating budget cuts will be made.  By signing this online petition, you are joining a multitude of voices urging congress to NOT make across the board budget cuts which will hurt those who depend on it the most.  Make it clear to our national leaders to not reduce the already the less than 1% funding (of our national spending) to developing countries like Ethiopia by signing this ONE online petition today.

To lend your voice is to lend a hand of hope where there was none.

As I reflect on my dad today and remember everything he had to go through in order for his ceiling to be our floor, may the promise of a better future be a continuing anthem of humanitarian compassion the world can know us for.
Please partner with ONEMoms by lending your voice and not your pocketbook today.

Here’s a beautiful compilation video of my recent trip to Ethiopia produced by ONE.  I hope it encourages you knowing YOU DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

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  1. says

    Alice, this makes me think back to our conversation on the bus, and the seeming absurdity of our similarities… but what really kills me… the photo. It makes me miss my Dad so much too. Sending huge hugs.

  2. says

    Alice, thank you for sharing your beloved Dad with us. He reminds me of my Babbo, my maternal grandfather, Nazareno, who came to this country at age 5 speaking only a Scicilian dialect, dropping out of school in the 8th grade to help support his family, and working three manual-labor jobs until the day he passed away. He used to delight in the accomplishments of his children and grandchildren. As you said so poignantly, “Our success was his redemption, joy, and hope.” I can also relate to your frustration in impressing upon your niece and nephew how fortunate they are and because of the sacrifices your Dad and family have made for them. I am sending you tight hugs and love from Fog City. ~ Rana

  3. Becca says

    I understand how you feel. My Daddy has been gone for three years and almost 5 months. He served during the vietnam war, stationed in both Korea and Germany. His death was sudden and unwarranted. He was diagnosed with colon cancer on June 1 and by June 30th. Although his cancer wasn’t the cause of his homegoing, it still makes me think every day of children who lost their parent early, of how hard it is to lose a parent at 34-35.

    I will be thinking of you and yours, and sending blessings for your family during the holidays and after.

  4. says

    I love what you’ve shared here and how you’ve honored your father, the veterans, and the women of Ethiopia. There are so many everyday heroes whose strength, dignity, and character go unsung and unrecognized by the vast majority of the world. Thank you for sharing their stories and giving us a glimpse into the lives of these amazing individuals. Btw, I’m sure your father was beaming from heaven as you lectured your niece and nephew: “That’s my girl.” :)

  5. Tracey says

    Alice, you brought back so many memories, from me and my sister arguing in the back seat over stupid stuff to my father and his stories. He told *lots* of stories. :) I miss him terribly, but I know he would be proud of me–just as your father would be so very proud of you.

  6. SuzyMcQ says

    As always, Alice, your post is eloquent, poignant and thought-provoking. I too, was reminded of my youth and the love of my parents. My father has been gone almost three years and would have turned 90 last August. His loss remains so profound and deep and I miss him more today than I did that cold winter day when I said goodbye. He was a veteran, a navigator for the Army Air Force and was intensely proud of his service. He attended college on the GI Bill and worked many years at a job where he was undervalued so that he could make a good life for my mom and his kids. But, he was such a proud man, a good person and loving and caring father.

  7. Deb says

    Alice – It is so right of you to try to teach the next generation! There are many things that so impact our lives in a negative way, but one positive one is to have a thankful heart and that is something that you teach by example, but also by gently letting someone know that others may not have such a good life as we. May God comfort you in your sorrow, but may I also say, how blessed you are to have had a wonderful Father, who in spite of the hand he was dealt, led a life filled with love and grace.

  8. says

    Hah! I can so easily imagine you jumping into the conversation with your niece and nephew. I would have loved to watch you in action.

    The words about your father are beautiful, Alice. I lost my own father when I was pregnant with my first baby. I love telling my kids stories about him. The stories are so important.

  9. says

    Thanks for sharing this, Alice. I can so relate to your “Tiger Auntie” moment! I also grew up the first generation American child of two immigrants and often feel overwhelmed by how much more my children have compared to their own grandparents, not to mention many of their peers both abroad and right next door (like in the still Sandy ravaged neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens). It’s hard not to burst—sometimes in frustration at their (and my own!) entitlement, and other times with pride for my parents who sacrificed so much so that their grandchildren could be exactly where they are today.

    I’m going to hop on over to OneMoms now. Thanks for making it so easy. Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving. xo

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