How does one live a life of no regrets if one is honest with themselves and have truly lived?
I... I have a lot of regrets, only if I could go back... but at the same time, I believe in destiny and we all must pay for the sins of our fathers. Literally.
My life was laid out for me before I was born. I am a Korean-American; a daughter of immigrants. My mom, a second generation Korean-American and my dad, FOB except he landed on a plane with wealth and dreams.
My father is a Kwon. That means nothing in America but in Korea, it is a well-respected, revered name like perhaps the “Kennedy’s” of America.
“Kwon” translated into English means “power” and Kwon has only one family unlike the Kim’s, Lee’s... where they have many sects.
That name was given to us by the king and we bore kings. Kwon family were the first on Earth to record on paper our genealogy and that was B.C. One of our ancestor was also a Korean warrior that saved Korea from Japanese rule and he may be a super hero. He defeated an attacking force of about 30,000 Japanese with only 2,800 troops during Siege of Haengju (1593) making him a Korean national hero.
Our family owned all the land of Korea and even had our own town “An Dong” then the war happened. My dad lost his dad, my Grandpa, when they drew the 38th Parallel. All our land was taken from us overnight when Korea declared itself a democracy and laid down an edict that if you did not live in it, the property went to the government.
All this happened in my dad’s generation. He was the last Kwon to have had a taste of Kwon’s power that lasted few thousand years and I was the first Kwon to pay for their sins.
My dad loved cowboy westerns, freedom, the ocean. He met my mom here, married and had me. My parents marriage was rocky and short-lived to say the least so I was being raised by my Grandma in Korea.
In hopes of reuniting the family, my Grandma brought me to America. I think she thought it would be a temporary trip but it wasn’t. She stayed to raise me when it was evident that my parents would never be together.
My mom left permanently when I was 8 and that was the last time I saw her. Before that mom sightings were spotty at best. My Grandma had taken over her duties since I was born.
War does horrible things to a person.
My dad was a kid when he went through the after math of the Korean war. The country was in ruins. He had lost his father to the north... He suffered from PTSD, anger and he was a narcissist.
Life for me was rough growing up in America.
My dad squandered the last of Kwon’s wealth, unable to fit in or have a steady job in this great country where all men are supposed to be created equal.
He faced racism, was demoralized and de-emasculated ￼which only added to his already many demons.
He was never able to shut them up...
and his family had to pay for it and I was to pay for my father's sins.
I got kicked around from place to place, having no home or support.
I grew up in poverty.
America was a beginning of my Grandma’s nightmare as an illegal immigrant, displaced and unrecognized and all she ever wanted was to be with her family.
My Grandma lost her infant daughter and her husband during the Korean war and her only family to survive was my dad. He was all she had... and she was all I had.
My Grandma was my mom, I never belonged anywhere.
In Korea, as soon as people heard my name - Judy Jean - I was special, foreign, untouchable.
“So you’re American? Tell me something in English”
and in America, I got
“Where are you from? You Japanese, Chinese... What are you?”
My dad had a Korean-American video store when I was a kid for about 5 years, appropriately named “Kwon’s Video” in KoreaTown, Los Angeles.
I was the free child labor and I grew up there watching lots of American movies and Korean TV dramas. There I felt at home with the good old VHS and betas.
So years later when I tried to figure out what to do with my life, I naturally chose the film Industry and I got my start as an actress.
I had been a performer through my formative years and was an over-ambitious kid.
I went to Bancroft Jr. High for the Performing Arts in Hollywood where I played cello and bass in the school orchestra. I played cello with the Jr. Philharmonic of CA. I was in the dance team even though I had no beat. I sang in competitive choir. I acted in drama productions. I was an honor student and ran for vice-president, you get the gist.
All so I could get the hell out of my home because life with my dad had reached a boiling point.
My dad was a destructive narcissist and like the Tasmanian devil, he destroyed everything in his path. He was going through his second divorce, loosing his house, his business... and it was all my fault.
Just like his failed marriage with my mom as I recall when I was 5 years old, he told me “It’s your fault, your mom left.”
Granted, I did not get along with my stepmom but that is story for another day.
So I left my family with whatever I could fit in my golden Oldsmobile Cutlass and ventured out on my own to be an actress when I was 18 but the rest as they say was not history.
Long story shortened, I did find a place as a working actress in commercials. I worked a lot as the smart, quirky Asian. I was breaking grounds and setting new marks for Asian actors. Before I came into the picture, Asians were playing the stereo-typed Asians from Asia, FOB then I came in representing Asian-Americans... the tech, the hip, the cool, the relatable. ￼
My career was on full speed and I was getting noticed but it was not meant to be because I was leading a double life. I was a “hot actress” in Hollywood but my true reality was quite different.
My dad was now homeless, making my Grandma homeless.
He wanted a hand-out but I vowed I would never take the co-dependent role my mom and my grandma had taken where they kept giving and my dad kept taking, ungratefully.
He would have to make it on his own, without me. I found a home for my Grandma but not for my dad. I found Korean-Catholic nuns that took my Grandma to live with them but my dad was out on the streets... actually, in his boat that was parked on the streets. However, the nuns had one condition, that I would get my Grandma her Greencard.
There it is. They might have just asked me to be president. It would have been easier. “The Greencard” had been a sore subject in my family for over a decade.
FACT: US law stated at the time that only U.S. citizens could petition another immediate family member for legal status. Immediate family members are - mom, dad, daughter, son. And guess what? Only person that could make my Grandma legal is - drum roll here - my dad.
All my Grandma wanted was to be recognized as a person in the United States and she wanted my dad to get her a Greencard.
I heard my Grandma ask my dad for it everyday for years but my dad refused. You see, his pride was hurt because he had taken the test twice and failed.
Being homeless and having nothing, my dad agreed to take the U.S. citizenship test again.
The day my dad took the citizenship test, I was giving him a ride back to his boat when he asked me to take a detour to his friend’s restaurant. In the parking lot, we had a blow out and he disowned me. My dad tried to sell me to a Korean guy for a $2000 used van. What?! Used? At least get a brand new van! That was the last time I saw him alive.
Shortly after the fight with my dad, I ended up in the hospital. It was all too much for me and it caught up.
I was only 27 years old, with no family support, no extended family, I was carrying everything by myself.
I was skin and bones. I had stopped eating and I was a skeleton in all sense. I had multiple panic attacks that I couldn’t control and got myself to the hospital. There, a social worker came to see me and told me to “get rid of all my stressors”.
That to me was my family, my grandma, my dad, the Greencard... ￼
After, I got out of the hospital, it must have not even been few weeks when I started getting calls, not just for modeling jobs since they like sickly, skinny girls but I got a call from another hospital that my dad was in.
He had had a heart attack. I ignored the calls.
I was getting rid of my stressors... No. He didn’t die there, not in the hospital.
That would not be my dad. That was too easy. Too simple.
He died in Mexico, Baja California.
As I mentioned, my dad loved the sea, the ocean and he had been a fisherman for decades, driving back and forth from Baja and spending half of his time there and the other half in LA. After his heart attack, having no support (from me) and being homeless, he decided to go live in Baja full-time.
I was told by the coroner, my dad “was fishing, had a heart attack, fell into the ocean and drowned”, all this at the crack of dawn.
Do you believe it? I don't.
I just know my dad was never an early riser.
Months after his funeral, I got a letter from the state.
My dad finally passed his citizenship test but due to polygamy, the United States of America could not give my dad his citizenship.
Fact : My mom and dad filed for divorce in Korea and not in America.
Odd how the paperwork didn’t translate from Korea to America since she served as an American soldier in the US army base in Korea when my parents divorced. You would think the army would have had all those records... but I am not in communication with her so -
and even in death America refused to acknowledge a human that has lived here longer than his home country.
My Grandma had survived the Japanese occupation, the Korean War, World War 2, being a single mom in a misogynist society and time where you couldn’t do anything without your husband’s approval ... but she too did not survive the American immigration system.
My Grandma lived past 10 years after my dad's passing as an illegal immigrant.
I even took her to immigration court. There she cowered, head down as if she was a criminal and did something wrong because ALL SHE WANTED WAS TO BE WITH HER FAMILY AND BE RECOGNIZED AS A HUMAN BEING.
Well, I believe everything happens for a reason and there are no coincidences in life. I have to.
I was put on earth to share my experiences and I got something to say...
and I create to heal.
“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” F. Scott Fitzgerald And regrets... Yes, I have a lot. I believe regrets are lessons learned the hard way.
written by Judy Jean Kwon