Like most immigrants, my parents bought the idea of the American Dream, the popular but misguided belief that hard work would yield benefits that far outweigh the cost. But the hardships they faced were never expected—no access to healthcare, language barriers, racism, social isolation, and poverty.
Upon entering Stanford University, I thought the safest and best bet toward helping my family would be to choose a career with financial security. Thus, I wanted to be an engineer. But when I joined the Stanford Asian American Activism Committee (SAAAC), my eyes were opened to the harsh realities of the underprivileged and unheard Asian Americans who have felt the brunt of a racially divided, capitalistic society. I heard stories from a cousin who due to his immigration status cannot continue his studies to a friend whose parents worked at a sweatshop to make ends meet. Through SAAAC, I found that my worldview and life plan changed; I decided to work towards achieving institutional changes on the policy level to improve the lives of minority groups. Furthermore, I believe that I can best serve and empower (enable) my community through public service.
This summer, I am volunteering with the Korean Resource Center in Los Angeles in coordinating their annual Summer Youth Empowerment Program (SYEP) geared toward first and second-generation Korean American high school youth. SYEP is a program that exposes the youth to various social issues and equips them with the ability to be leaders that affect concrete change within their community. In this program, I work closely with students who previously had little exposure to community organizing, and social justice work. Throughout the course of SYEP, the students are given an opportunity to discover for themselves how to approach the issues facing their community, their families, and their daily lives.
I want these students to discover what I discovered. I want them to discover that they can be leaders themselves despite what they may have seen in the classroom, on TV, or in their government. I hope that through this program, the students can become global citizens by being critical of both their society and themselves and learning that they can create a more humane world.