Proud to be an American?

With this 4th of July now behind me, I wonder if I’m still proud to be an American. Images of people refusing to wear masks, children in immigration detention centers and protesters chanting against racial injustice make me depressed and angry. How did we get here and how do we cope?

My parents came to this country to seek the American Dream. They immigrated from Korea in 1971 with three children and no job, but a hope that their lives would be better here. When my father was a houseboy doing laundry for the American soldiers during the Korean War, he was given a Hershey bar. To him, the chocolate symbolized a country filled with sweetness and bounty, and he couldn’t wait to come here someday.

Fifty years later, I’m not sure my father feels the same way about the U.S., and neither do I. But throughout my life, I have been touched by the grace of so many Americans that I can’t help but feel gratitude to be here. Recently, I read a story that resonated with me because it was about what is possible in this country from individual acts of kindness. My friend’s husband Murray got his name because of the generosity of a stranger who blindly sponsored his father to study in the U.S.

Mr. and Mrs. Work

Mr & Mrs Work

We all have stories of how our lives have been enriched by the kindness of Americans. My parents believed that our first neighbors in this country were sent to us by God because we wouldn’t have survived without them. Lester Work was an elderly military chaplain who lived with his wife Mabel in the apartment across the street from us in Hawthorne, California.  Mr. Work was tall with silver hair and a curved back, and always had a smile on his face. He came over when we first moved into our apartment and asked if we needed help. When he noticed the upstairs light on as my mother worked late into the night sewing, he told her she needed to rest. He drove her to a local high school to take English classes, and later to Xerox where she got a job assembling PC boards. She simply memorized the phrase “I will do my best” and recited that during the interview per Mr. Work’s recommendation.

Mrs. Work was soft-spoken and always offered us things to eat. I remember going to their apartment with my mom and being asked if we wanted tea and cookies. It was the first time I ever held a teacup. She introduced us to delicious American-style fried chicken, and my mother still uses Mrs. Work’s recipe to this day. Our parents were overwhelmed by our neighbors’ generosity and their uniquely American willingness to befriend strangers – a trait unheard of in Korea.


Rosa and Linda then and now

My first American friend was Linda Nelson. She didn’t know where I was from and didn’t care. She lived a few apartment buildings over and we were in the same class at Eucalyptus Elementary School. We watched back-to-back episodes of Zoom together (yes this was the name of a TV show in the 70s) and ate Ritz crackers. Their house always looked lived-in with magazines scattered on the tables and dishes all over. Her parents spoke loudly and laughed openly. They didn’t make me take off my shoes and smoked all the time. Although Linda’s family was so different from my own, they made me feel welcome.

When Linda came over to our apartment, she watched me taking off my shoes and removed hers without asking. I offered her sticky white rice as a snack and she drenched hers in soy sauce. She tried to use chopsticks and my younger brothers giggled at her awkwardness. My grandmother offered Linda kimchi and exclaimed “Uh-muh” in amazement as she watched Linda devour the spicy fermented cabbage. When Linda asked for more, my grandmother beamed and generously filled the small side bowl. She called Linda “yellow hair” and loved touching her blonde curls. My family saw Linda as open-minded and friendly. We all adored her.

Focus on Individual Relationships

To this day, it warms my heart to think of Mr. and Mrs. Work and Linda because they taught me early on that Americans are generous people. They showed me that individuals are generally good, and that moving to America was worth it. I crave that hope again, but it’s challenging when I see our country so divided along racial lines and the prospect of reconciliation so distant. It’s good to remember that although we may be different, we can still be welcoming like Linda, and do our part to help others like Mr. and Mrs. Work. I am still working on my book about my grandmother who took English classes at age 90 so she could learn more about her adopted country. She loved America and greeting strangers in broken English. I think her openness came from meeting American missionaries in her Korean village in the 1920s and becoming devoutly Christian herself. The foreigners she met in her formative years informed her view of people and life, as they did mine.

During these discouraging times, I cherish these early positive influences in our lives. They remind me that kindness is a gift that should not be taken for granted. I have a daily gratitude practice where I call out by name the people who have touched my life for the better. We can learn from them and emulate what they do. Who boosts your spirits and makes you proud to be an American?

Who are you grateful for?  Leave a comment below!

What I’m reading

When Things Fall Apart book coverWhen Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

This book helped me to deal with the despair I was feeling about the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty of the future. Chodron is a Buddhist nun who invites the reader to surrender to our uncontrollable situation and get comfortable with fear in order to learn and grow. We don’t know why things fall apart, but letting there be room for not knowing is important. The more we become in tune with negative thoughts and emotions, the faster we can let them go. I now meditate with these ideas in mind and feel more hopeful, thanks in part to this transformative book.

Stillwater book coverStillwater by Mary Jo Hazard

This heartfelt coming-of-age story set in the 1950s explores what happens to a girl and a town after the girl’s father commits suicide. The message is timely and so relevant to today: you are not alone and reach out if you need help. The author is my dear friend who is a licensed therapist and proponent of removing the stigma of mental health in our country. Order your copy today on Amazon, where it was the #1 new release in teen and young adult books about suicide.

2020-12-14T15:37:48-08:00July 17th, 2020|Inspiration|

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  1. Jennifer Townsend July 18, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    Wonderful hope-filled article on the power of kindness and service even in these challenging times. Your stories about Linda and Mr. Work were heart warming and brought back memories of those people in my own life and the power of Christian love. Thank you Rosa.

    • Rosa July 18, 2020 at 9:41 pm

      Thank you Jennifer. Your stories of how people helped you find grace inspired me to write this. We all need extra hope these days!

  2. Barbara July 18, 2020 at 4:11 pm

    We share in common the experience of moving to the United States as small children with our family. And having parents who did not have the ability to speak English fluently. Our family was also extended many kindnesses from people who became life long friends.

    I remember when living by “The Golden Rule” was held in high regard and am saddened by the general lack of kindness and gratitude shown one another these days.

    Your writings are always enjoyable.

    Continued health to you and your family.

    • Rosa July 18, 2020 at 10:45 pm

      It’s nice to hear that you and your family were also extended much kindness when you arrived in the U.S. Most of us have similar experiences and it’s important that we remember them at this divided time. Thanks for sharing.
      Your food posts during this pandemic have been mouth-watering and fun. Keep eating well and be safe!

  3. Soon Yetasook July 18, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    It is a heartwarming story you shared here. This story reminds me of my own Linda,Mr. Work. This Pandemic forced me to reflect on my own action onto others especially at work place. I always love and celebrate the generous, free spirited American life in general. Only now I am having such a feeling of force to be kind and generous spirited American after reading your story. I always enjoy and love your generosity and kindness. Thanks for sharing.

    • Rosa July 18, 2020 at 10:32 pm

      I’m glad this story inspires you to be more kind and generous at work, like the free-spirited Americans you’ve met here along the way. The patients you see as a frontline worker, and we as a society thank you!

  4. Nikki July 18, 2020 at 9:49 pm

    Thank you for sharing, Rosa. Yes, in spite of all of the division and ugliness that we are currently seeing in our country, the fact is that there are many more Mr. and Mrs. Works and Lindas out there. I have come to see that while there is bad there is much more good out there; we only need open our eyes to see it.
    I am grateful for all of the Works, Lindas and all other kind, amazing, people that are out there.

    • Rosa July 18, 2020 at 10:27 pm

      Hi Nikki, I think you’re absolutely right that we need to open our eyes to see the good. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope all is well with you and your family.

  5. Nikki G Lennertz July 18, 2020 at 10:02 pm

    Thank you for sharing, Rosa. Yes, in spite of all of the division and ugliness that we are currently seeing in our country, the fact is that there are many more Mr. and Mrs. Works and Lindas out there. I have come to see that while there is bad there is much more good out there; we only need open our eyes to see it.
    I am grateful for all of the Works, Lindas and all other kind, amazing, people that are out there.

  6. Carline Louis-Jacques July 19, 2020 at 5:03 am

    How beautiful your stories are. You and your parents were blessed with beautiful open-hearted people who guided you through your assimilation journey in America. My family and I are immigrants as well and when we arrived in America, we found a Haitian community that made our assimilation that much easier. However, it was the priest, Father Peyton, a white priest, who opened a Haitian community center who made it happen for us. We used to laugh at his attempt to speak Haitian Creole as kids but oh boy, did we all love him. I am still friends with friends I met at the center to this day and even when we are miles apart like they are in NY and I am in CA, and we may not see each other often, but we are all bonded by the love of Fr Peyton. That is the America I believe existed and for a long time felt I was a part of. The deterioration of humanity that we are seeing these last few years is disheartening considering that America elected a Black Man not that long ago. It just goes to show you how easy it is to spiral into hate, but usually what is worthwhile to achieve usually requires a little bit of work. I am confident that there is more love in this world for each other than hate, and that as long as we continue to believe that, and do our best to partake in achieving this goal, light will shine through, love will help us find our way again.

    • Rosa July 19, 2020 at 7:23 am

      How beautiful your story is! Father Peyton sounds a lot like Mr. Work. They were truly great people who took strangers under their wings and made them feel welcome. I too believe there is more love than hate in this world and we should remember those who accepted and helped us so we could do the same for others. Thanks Carline!

  7. Malachy Grange July 21, 2020 at 5:15 am

    Hi Rosa , Thanks for your stories and pictures. Well done. What wonderful people you and your family were blessed with in your childhood! The kindness and openess the Americans showed you made such a difference for your family and is inspirational, as well as the ability of your parents to be open and compassionate as well. I agree: focusing on individuals and families tells the real story. I would have loved to know Linda and the Works and your parents. Oh, BTW, I love chocolate too!

    Gratitude: In one commentary of the Tao te Ching, a wise woman called Sono, teaches that the attitude of gratitude and acceptance leads to peace of mind and compassion. Her counsel: Every day and many times a day, say, “Thanks for everything, l have no complaints whatsoever.” Challenging, but possible to some degree.

    Book right now: The Collected Short Stories of Jean Rhys. She was born in the West Indies and did most of her writing in Paris in the 1920s and 30s. A very skilled writer. I love that her early stories are really short: 3 to 5 pages. Good for someone with a short attentiion span like me:)

    Proud to be an American? I am proud of our Bill or Rights,, even though they have not always been followed in our history, and are currently being eroded. Yet many Americans stand up for them now as well as in the past, and for that I am grateful. I am grateful for the kindnesses of many Americans, as noted in your stories above. So many Americans donate their time and money to helping those less fortunate. I am not grateful for the genocide of our Original Peoples or the enslavement of Africans that America sanctioned and profited from. Re: our Wars: ‘Follow the Money.’ Not always, but often.

    I am looking forward to reading more of your work. I hope I followed your prompts above.

    • Rosa July 22, 2020 at 3:13 am

      You answered all of my questions and more! Thank you for reflecting on my piece and offering your own thoughts. I love the Tao te Ching commentary. I learned in meditation to breathe in all suffering and breathe out relief for all. I think it’s similar to saying “Thanks for everything” everyday. I will look into the short story collection of Jean Rhys you recommended. Thanks for following my writing. It’s nice to “meet” you virtually.

  8. Anne Severns July 21, 2020 at 11:21 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful stories, Rosa. I agree that this 4th of July was a strange one. It seemed to blend in with all of the other days. These days have all begun to feel like Thursdays somehow. I appreciate your focus on gratitude and the ways in which each of us is truly blessed. All my best to you and your lovely family!

    • Rosa July 22, 2020 at 3:17 am

      It’s so nice to connect again Anne. I too think everyday is Thursday. I literally woke up this morning and wondered what day it was. Thanks for reading and remembering to focus on kindness as much as possible.

  9. Mary Jo Hazard August 6, 2020 at 12:20 am

    Beautiful article! I’m grateful for you and our friendship. And I’m grateful for your openness and the way you share what is in your heart, and of course I’m grateful for you sharing my book. Thank you, my dear friend.❤️

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