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By Sarah D. Park

I’ve never really understood what it meant to be proud of your hometown.

At church, I remember how my parents would always ask their peers where their hometown was in Korea, and with that knowledge, they could deduce certain conclusions about that person’s education, temperament, and even cooking skill. (What’s up, Jeolla-do.)

I imagine that for similar reasons, my Asian American friends and I also ask this question of each other.

“Where are you from?”

“Irvine.”
“Oh gosh, I’m sorry.”

“Ktown.”
“Let’s grab some good food!”

“Kansas.”
“Are you okay?”

I was born in Los Angeles, but my formative high school years were spent in Cerritos, a small suburb at the furthest edge of LA County that’s known for Guppy’s Tea House, an excellent school district, and the Cerritos Auto Square jingle. It’s a safe place to raise children, with a generous sprinkle of small manicured parks. I didn’t think much of the place as a teenager, save for a longstanding boredom and yearning to get out of there.

It wasn’t until I got to college that my attitude changed. It was there that I discovered I was a person of color, I learned about capitalism (not enough to know what I was talking about), and I adopted a default disdain for middle class comfort.

I distanced myself as far as I could from the choices my parents had made to settle down in Cerritos because I was embarrassed. To be poor was to be a noble fighter against the system. Cerritos with its titanium-clad library and high-end mall suggested that its Asian American residents had sold their souls for capitalistic gain and insulated convenience over solidarity with other minorities of color. They were safe while others were suffering.

That ungrateful little shekki. I moved away and lived in other locales, but the distance let me see my parents’ choices with more compassion. There is a justice to people carving out a home in an unwelcoming land. To flocking to community to survive. To wanting a safe place for your kids to play and actually finding one.

My parents left all they knew because they believed that the world was bigger, a story that so easily loses its power for its ubiquity and yet, it is a galling miracle every time. Who of my generation can say we could do what they did? They all must have a certain steeliness of will and grit to have made it this far, and my generation, we are building our lives upon that foundation, with that same steel in our veins.

But what do we have to show for it? Have we furthered their courage? Are we able to take greater risks and pursue bigger dreams because we have seen what our parents have made possible, in defiance of staggering odds and through painstaking effort? Where has all that steel gone?

So I realize that my relationship to Cerritos is two-fold. I’m proud to claim Cerritos because my parents aimed high and built their lives. They so deserve it and I hope they let themselves enjoy it. But I am not proud to claim Cerritos because of the safety and comfort that has infected me and my generation. Of sons who don’t know what they want for themselves. Of daughters who choose from limited options in their direct purview.

I’m reminded of what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”?”

But the Korean kids of Cerritos are the brightest and overlooked. High-society and abused. Nobodies who have the hollow pretensions of somebodies. Are we weak or are we strong? Are we candidates for being chosen and used by God or have we sided with the enemy? I can’t tell if I’m being chastised or comforted. My parents might have an easier time seeing where they land here, but God’s power was made evident in their lives because they had made room for it.

I claim the steel in my veins, but it doesn’t do the work for me. Though on different terrain, I, too, face the same choice my parents did: to make room in my life for God’s power or not. Maybe one day, I can be proud of Cerritos because that was the land and culture I emigrated out of, carrying its best parts with me in pursuit of a bigger world, a different kingdom.

Sarah D. Park is a freelance writer whose work focuses on the cultivation of cross-racial dialogue with a Christian faith orientation. She is also a story producer for Inheritance Magazine and manages communications for several organizations. She currently calls the Bay Area her home but is an Angeleno through and through.

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