My American Immigrant Life Story

Dear friend,

I want to share with you my personal American immigrant life story:

My Korean-American Immigrant Narrative

My father came from an educated family, was passionate about English, business, and finding opportunity— and came to America with the hope of building a better life for himself and his family.

My father was the first to come to America, and helped sponsor and financially support my uncles and aunts. His passion for English led him to studying business at Berkeley, where (I believe) he received a masters in business.

My mom also came from an educated background. She studied Physics in Busan, and was a school teacher. When she was about 30 years, she came to America for new opportunities and to find a potential husband.

She was looking for a life of potential and opportunity.

How I came to be

My mom at the site of her childhood home in Busan

My parents met in California, and I was born at a San Francisco hospital on January 31, 1988. I was fortunately born healthy, without any major complications.

My entire narrative as a child was this — how my parents sacrificed so much to come to America, in order to give me and my sister a better life, with more opportunities. My parents came from an educated, middle class background. But when they arrived in America, their education degrees and training was not honored, they had no social networks, and had to build a life from scratch.

I knew that I was fortunate to be an American. I knew how much it sucked to be a Korean child— how much harder they worked back in Korea, for fewer opportunities and rewards. I am grateful for my parents to really instill in me their work ethic. They taught me the importance of excelling in school, and helping the local community. They wanted me to get into a good college and be ‘successful.’ They taught me that I could control my own destiny, and that if I worked hard enough, I could achieve anything I put my heart to.

Not only that, but I am so grateful for my American public-school education. My teachers were encouraging, and taught me to think for myself, to innovate, to take risks, and to not fear failure. I was given many opportunities to express myself creatively — through writing, through poetry, through drawing and art, and through music.

I was lucky to be afforded many opportunities as a child growing up. I grew up most of my childhood in Alameda, California (near Oakland) which was full of mostly Asian-American immigrant families. Even when I spent some of my childhood in Bayside, Queens in New York — most of my friends were the ‘rainbow crew’ (my best friends were all immigrants— being Spanish, Jewish, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Black, Brazilian, etc).

In my childhood, I was active in my local Boy Scouts troop, where I learned the importance of public duties, civil service, and helping the local community. My leaders in Boy Scouts taught me the virtues of leadership, of respecting nature, and of serving others.

I am also so fortunate of all the governmental support I got growing up. My family struggled a lot financially when I was growing up. My mom worked part-time jobs, in menial-labor positions, to make a living for our family. She worked as a seamstress, waitress, cleaned houses, took care of the elderly, and taught kids. Each month we could barely pay the bills. Because of this, we could never save any money — and the future was always uncertain. I remember my mom telling me a lot in middle school/high school, “Eric– we don’t have enough money to pay for rent this month. Just know that we might have to go to a shelter, because we might be homeless.”

Therefore it was scary growing up as a kid — not having any sense of security. This is what actually taught me: nothing in life was given to you on a silver platter. You had to work hard to achieve success.

At the same time, I learned a lot about gratitude. We received support from our family networks, our local community, and the federal government. I was able to take my “A.P.” (advanced placement) tests for free in high school (which would have otherwise cost us about $100 a test), I got free application fees to apply to the U.C. (University of California) schools, and I also got free/subsidized lunch at school.

Through a combination of hard work, support from the government, my local community members, local community organizations, my parents, family, friends, and everyone else who guided me — I was blessed enough to be accepted into U.C.L.A. for college.

When I went into college, I studied Sociology, and it opened up my mind. There was no way I could have afforded college— if it weren’t for the U.S. Governmental grants, scholarships, and loans I got, as well as being accepted into the ‘work study’ program — which paid my bills.

Studying at UCLA, I met these world-class scholars and professors, who challenged my traditional way of thinking. I learned all these sociological theories, concepts, and ideas— which liberated and enlightened me. I took out a $5,000 federal loan because I was never able to have a savings but wanted to travel and to learn. I used that loan to support a boot-strapped backpacking trip through Europe — where I learned new cultures, concepts, and ideas— which I brought back home with me.

UCLA graduation photo with Cindy

As first generation immigrants, my parents struggled to make a living and to create a home for their kids. Through advocacy organizations, my parents received citizenship and I was lucky enough to be born as an American citizen. The sacrifices of my parents and the generosity of the community and social programs have made me who I am today.

My contributions to society

As an individual, I have contributed much to the ‘open source’ community (at least in terms of photography). In the US schools, I learned English, which is the primary language of the internet. I learned how to write, read, and compose sentences. I learned fluency, which helped me (eventually) write free and open-source books on photography, as well as many free articles and videos that can teach anybody in the world to be a good photographer.

But once again, I wouldn’t have achieved anything without the U.S. / American concepts of freedom, individuality, hard work, ‘rags to riches’, or access. If my parents weren’t allowed to immigrate to America, I would have never been created, and all of this information I’ve created wouldn’t have existed.

What is ‘America’?

America is a country of immigrants. Nobody is truly ‘native’ to America, except perhaps the Native Americans.

The first settlers to America came here to escape the persecution of the British. The founding fathers guaranteed all who came to America the pursuit of happiness, liberty, and freedom.

I am proud and honored to be an American. I know that a lot of my friends from all around the world would die to have an American citizenship.

I am blessed to be an American, because I can travel across most of the world freely, without being hassled or being stopped at borders.

I also know that America’s principal strength is from outside and immigrant ideas, concepts, and cultures. I know much of America has benefitted from the amazing cuisine of the Italians, from the confucian-hard-work-school-education ethic of the Asians, the Zen aesthetics from the Japanese, the music from Africa, the faith of the Jewish, and hundreds of other cultures I can’t think off the top of my head.

A practical example: Elon Musk was an immigrant. Steve Jobs was born of an immigrant father. The founding fathers were all immigrants.

All of America’s greatness wouldn’t have existed without immigrants.

Change yourself before changing others

There are a lot of politics I don’t understand fully yet and I will work towards increasing my awareness.

However in the meantime, I can work towards changing my own perspectives and build a culture of acceptance and kindness.

And so can you.

Open is better

All societies thrive from openness. From sharing ideas, cultures, and allowing the free-movement of information, people, and ideas.

The reason why Android is the most-used mobile operating system is because it is open-source.

The reason why Linux is used on billions of devices is because it is open-source.

I think we need to also open-source freedom. We need to open up borders, not keep them closed.

If any country wants to thrive economically, politically, or socially — the more open, the better.

We are all citizens of the world

I’m nothing but a mere photography blogger. I can’t change much in the world, but I can change myself.

I want to continue to keep my information free, open, and easily-accessible to others — hoping that this information will help empower photographers from all around the globe.

We don’t belong to one country or nation. We are all citizens of the world. Humanity is one big brotherhood. When we help others, we are helping ourselves— and when we help ourselves, we are helping others.

Be the change which you wish to see in the world

Regardless of who you are, your nationality, or your background — you are an individual who can make a positive impact in the world.

Let us start off by opening up our hearts by promoting tolerance, compassion, empathy, and love for all of our brothers and sisters in the world. Let us all be the change which we wish to see in the world.

Eric Kim (A Korean-American child of immigrant parents)

Share your immigrant story

If you are an American immigrant, or born of immigrant parents, share your story below:


Cindy and I donated $100 to the International Rescue Committee and another $100 to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). After doing extensive research, we felt that these two organizations can both support refugees and immigrants directly as well as advocate for political change.

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