On behalf of ontd_extreme, I’d like to introduce you to an incredibly righteous and relevant dude named Simon Cho. In the midst of all the rage-inducing news revolving around the immigration debate in the U.S., Simon has proven to be an awesome ray of sunshine for those who support improving the American immigration system to the benefit of everyone.
Simon Cho was born in South Korea. His father moved to the United States to work and planned to bring his family into the country shortly afterward. However, the wait for green cards was seven years long at the time, and he missed his wife and children. So, when Simon was four years old, he, his little sister and mother crossed the border from Vancouver into the United States through a muddy field in the middle of the night. He, his mother and sister were undocumented immigrants until 2004. This past February, he was part of the short track U.S. Short Track relay team that took home bronze. You can read more about his incredible story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/26/sports/olympics/26cho.html
Since the Olympics, Simon has been incredibly active in raising awareness about the human aspect of the immigration debate. He’s spoken about his experience in front of members of Congress on behalf of NAKASEC (The National Korean American Service and Education Consortium), and behind the cut is an opinion piece he wrote for the Baltimore Sun that was posted online today. Not too bad for an eighteen-year old, eh?
Long story short: Simon Cho has become a bit of a hero and inspiration to us at ontd_extreme, and I’d like to share him with you.
Five years after leaving my hometown of Upper Marlboro, I returned to my elementary school to speak about being an Olympian.
Everyone knew I'd helped the United States speed skating team win a bronze medal in the 500-meter relay. But there's another important part of my story I don't always talk about: I'm a Korean immigrant who grew up in the U.S. without immigration documents.
I was 4 when, clutching my mother's hand, we crossed into the U.S. from Canada. My father secured my U.S. citizenship and passport when I was 11, but I remember little of the process.
When I was a child, my parents ran a small seafood takeout shop, worked 365 days a year, and came home late each night. Even with all their hard work, we barely scraped by. Growing up, I was the only child I knew who never had a family vacation, even on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day or New Year's. On days I helped my parents at the shop I came home exhausted, and I couldn't believe they worked this hard every day.
Then my parents made an even bigger sacrifice for me.
I'd started speed skating as a child and showed a particular aptitude for it. Later, to support my skating, my parents depleted the family resources, and we moved to Salt Lake City for my training. Without any job waiting for them, they risked everything so I could skate and dream big.
There aren't a lot of people of color in speed skating. When I came to skating, I came not just as a kid who wanted to compete but also as a Korean American who knew how challenging it could be to live as an immigrant, with all the hard work and insecurity, especially given that we still weren't citizens.
At times, seeing all the sacrifices and risks, I wanted to give up. I even took a break from skating. But my friends and schoolmates encouraged me to return, and I also got lots of support from older skaters of color, people like Apolo Ohno and Shani Davis, who told me I should cherish the journey.
This winter, I was a member of the U.S. Olympic short track speed skating team, and I brought home a medal. I reached my dreams. And driving me on was the sacrifice my parents had made.
America's always been my home. Yet returning from the Olympics was when I first realized I was truly an American and felt accepted. We flew from Vancouver to San Francisco, where we had a layover, and when our team got off the plane, a bunch of passengers gave us an ovation.
It's been an amazing journey. I was thrilled to be able to return as an Olympian to Stone Mill Elementary School. I spoke with all the children at the school, from kindergartners to fifth-graders, and saw the teachers who had helped build my character. It was great to share my story, which is unique but also typical. We all have dreams and hopes.
As important as skating continues to be for me, it's not the only area in which I want to succeed and make a difference. I want to help remove some of the challenges immigrant families face because I know that our immigration system doesn't reflect the best that we can be.
This year, President Barack Obama has an opportunity to reform our immigration laws. I hope my story will inspire him and countless others to go full force and have no regrets. It's time to bring that medal home.
The Choverlord thanks you for your time.