Conversations with Mother

음.. 맞아. 정치를 하는 목적은 정권쟁탈. 사업을 하는 이유는 이윤추구. 우리 사회는 고쳐야 할 문제가 많지. 다만 남을 바꾸는 것은 어려고 강제로 할 수는 없다는 일이라는 걸 알아둬. 그들을 물가로 데려갈 수는 있지만 오로지 그들만 물을 마시겠다는 선택을 할 수 있어.
운동권을 할때도 내 갈 길이 바빠서 참여할 수 없었어. 한번 들어갔다 나오면 내 살 길이 없어지기에. 내가 같이하지는 못했지만 진짜 응원하고 성공했으면 하는 애들이 있었어. 그 반면에 다들 시험을 거부하라고 부축이고 나서 진작 자기 행동은 자기 이익을 버리지 못하고 시험을 보러간 애들도 있었어. 걔네들은 남을 다 선동을 하고 시험을 떡하니 보러간거야. 그런 애들은 정말 죽이고 싶었어. 나는 애들 앞에서 내 장학금을 포기하지 못한다고 시험 거부 못한다고 해놓고 교수가 교실까지 끌고 갔는데도 마음이 아파서 못들어갔어. 애들의 연설을 들으면서 제들이 왜 저렇게 하는지 이해가 가기에, 배신하고 싶지 않았기에 결국 시험을 보지는 못했어. 나도 그들이 나라의 울분을 가지고 뭔가를 하자는 흐름을 모르지 않았으니까… 작은 마음으로 보태며 살아가야된다고 생각해. 그러는게 세상을 서서히 변화해 나가는거 같아. 떵떵거리면서 말하는 것 보다 조그만 행동으로써. 엄마는 네가 그렇게 계속 생활했으면해. 남이 알아주든 말든.
***

One of the better conversations I’ve had with my mother, which are surprisingly becoming more frequent . Of course, there will always be incredibly hurtful remarks and arguments, but leaving college gave me more space to appreciate the stories she holds and simultaneously, her venture into graduate school gave my mother a lot of personal experiences of racism & sexism that now lend her more insight into what my childhood was like in Minnesota. She has a pretty nuanced perspective of racial hierarchy in the United States, just from a couple of years teaching in public schools, and sometimes her absolute confusion or hatred around racism reminds me how illogical and horrible it seems to the outside eye. Sometimes I forget that this type of treatment isn’t normal.

Today, she shared a story about her time in college during the 1980s student democracy movement in S. Korea. Hoards of students protested the military dictatorship and called for democracy in Korea. She recalled the class/exam boycotts that had taken ahold of college campuses across the nation. I remember her telling me that everyone hated her for still attending class, not understanding that she didn’t have the financial cushion that other students did, if they were to get kicked out. Her scholarship depended on her grades, and she would never have been able to graduate from the university, which she had fought her “why do women need a college degree” family tooth and nail to attend. “Include people like me in your movement,” she told me once. I silently nodded.

I think about her a lot when our movements leave immigrants behind. I know we as a family have a lot to fix and unlearn, but I don’t want the revolution if my mother isn’t in it.

***

Quote Translation:

Mm.. You’re right. Purpose of politics is to seize power. Purpose of business is extracting profits. There are too many problems for our society to fix, but always remember that changing people is’t easy nor something that you can force on another person. You can take them to the water, but only they can choose to drink from it.

I was too busy following my own path to participate in the student movement. I knew that once I went in, I would lose my source of future livelihood. I couldn’t stand alongside them, but there were folks I cheered on and definitely those I hoped would win. Then there were also those who rallied others to boycott exams and go take the exam themselves, unable to suppress acting for their own benefit. They led others to boycott then simply strutted right in to take the exam. I just hated people like that. I had stood in front of students to say I couldn’t boycott the exam because of my scholarship, but when the time came, I didn’t have the heart to go into take the exam. My professor had even dragged me to the entrance, but I couldn’t do it because from their speeches, I understood why the students were doing this. Because I didn’t want to betray them or their cause, I didn’t end up taking the test. I, too, understood that we existed in a point in history where change was possible and being propelled by these students’ pent-up anger and frustrations… I believe you should lend your hand in small ways throughout life. That is what is going to slowly change the world, not making grand speeches. I hope you continue living in that way, whether others acknowledge it or not.

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