Justin’s Column: The world in my name


As immigrants, my parents prided themselves in giving me a Korean middle name to connect me to my roots.

As the oldest son of the family, my dad was financially responsible for his parents’ and younger siblings’ living costs and school tuition upon immigrating to California. Though he owns a company with 30 employees now, he started at the bottom of the company ladder and took a considerable risk when he took over, as the company was inundated with debt.

Likewise, my mom, the youngest of her siblings, was left to take care of her mother in Korea while holding a career as a preschool teacher. She also had to help pay hospital bills for her widowed older sister, all while bearing the pain (in her teenage years and early twenties) of her second oldest brother and father passing away due to health issues.

She wanted to leave Korea and seek new opportunities. She was tired of the mundane life and memories of the difficulties she had experienced there.

Like most immigrants, my parents each had their American Dream. But they knew early on that “success” wouldn’t be easily attained, so they opted for a more realistic dream: to provide opportunities that they didn’t have for their children: my two older sisters and me. These opportunities included cultural experiences, owning the trendiest toys, wearing tidy outfits and gaining a higher education. These dreams were based on their own—learning an instrument, having dad bring home a toy after work ‘just because,’ owning a new pair of jeans, and obtaining financial support for college education.

These aspirations were extended in each of our names.

My full name is Justin Nooree Lee.

In America, the family name comes after the first name, Nooree Lee. But in Korea, the family name comes first, Lee Nooree. The first sequence is a verb and the latter, a noun.

Lee nooree means “the whole world,” and nooree lee means “to enjoy and relish in blessings.” Putting the two meanings side by side, my name means “to truly enjoy and relish the blessings the entire world has to offer.”

My parents have invested their entire lives for their children. They aspire for us to enjoy a better life, without the same struggles they had.

I will be the last in my family to attend a university, and my going to college means that my parents have achieved a goal in life. They live vicariously through our experiences—through the little moments in life they provided for us, but ones their own parents couldn’t afford. These are reasons why my siblings have worked so hard to get to where they are right now. This is why I feel like I, too, need to continue to work hard, even harder than my sisters, because I had more resources to look up to while growing up.

When I go to college, my parents can breathe a little easier, knowing that I have reached a new step in life where I don’t need 100 percent nurturing. It means I am that much closer to being able to provide for my parents, to help them find their dreams, no matter how late in their lives that may be, and support them just like I have been supported, So that they, too, can enjoy and relish the blessings the world has to offer.

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