Moon Sung Gwak

Hometown, Fullerton, CA
When I moved to the United States at the age of two, my Korean roots began to slowly drift away from the cultural identity that I neglected growing up. My school environment, friends, and experiences in a “white-washed” community never urged me to question my identity and the differences between myself and my peers. Until my sophomore year of high school, I started to observe the same pattern among other Korean Americans — our parent’s desire to push their children harder, attend an “acceptable” university, and get a “good” job that usually entailed becoming a lawyer or doctor. These patterns I observed through the lens of a young Korean American made me angry and question the validity of such expectations that we must always somehow conform to. That’s why during the latter half of my adolescence, I rejected my Korean heritage for my American pride. I could never understand why I always felt like I had to wear an ethnic facade about who I was and which culture I represented. Sure, my first expectation at NCLC was to learn about other people and listen to them talk about how they studied hard to be where they are right now, but my actual experience was significantly different than my expectations. The conference was representative of the struggles first-generation Korean Americans faced to survive in a harsh society and how our generation came to idolize success while breaking from the limitations Asian Americans faced just decades ago. Rather than learning to see the revelations and successes in others at NCLC, I learned to understand my culture’s values through my own thoughts and realizations. I found the explanations I searched for a representative of my childhood. I now know to be proud of the culture that I stand for, and how to live a successful life while contributing to the very community that upholds the same values I do.