From Hopelessness to Opportunity

Describe the world you come from -- for example, your family, community, or school -- and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

At an age when most young girls spend their days watching Sunday morning cartoons and playing with Barbie dolls, I was struggling with the emotional turmoil that was my family. Growing up in the slums of L.A., my living situation was abominable: I could never have invited my friends over to my cockroach-infested cupboards and sparse closets. My father was rarely around to support us, and the memories I do have of him are mostly repressed visions of nights filled with violence and horror. My mother disappeared most nights, slaving away to feed two growing children. I became a latchkey kid, forced to grow up early.

Ignoring reality, I played within the safety net of my imagination, desperately envisioning my dad’s return so that we could finally be one happy family living the American Dream. Yet being Korean-American made the stigma of poverty especially difficult to deal with. No other Korean I knew suffered from the same lower-class humiliation. I became painfully aware of my “difference,” but I could never confide in my comfortably affluent peers about the hellhole I lived in. The tides finally turned when Mom transferred me into a magnet program in the Valley; it was a far cry from the L.A. schools I had attended, and my hopes...

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