Summary of Facing Poverty

Select one essay in The brief McGraw-Hill guide: Writing for college, writing for life: (2nd ed.) to summarize for this assignment. Choose from the following essays:  “Se habla Espanol” by Barrientos; “Facing poverty with a rich girl’s habits” by Kim; “On becoming a writer” by Baker; “Farm girl” by Hemauer

Write a one and one-half to two (1½ – 2) page summary paper in which you:

1.Identify the source (writer and title of essay) and state his or her most important point in your own words.

2.Summarize the other main points and their supporting details in separate paragraphs.

3.Discuss the (1) writer’s purpose, (2) genre, (3) audience, and (4) tone (attitude),

4.Describe your emotional response to the essay.

5.Use quotations, paraphrase, and summary correctly.

‘Facing Poverty With a Rich Girl’s Habits’


Published: November 21, 2004

QUEENS in the early 80’s struck me as the Wild West. Our first home there was the upstairs of a two-family brownstone in Woodside. It was a crammed, ugly place, I thought, because in South Korea I had been raised in a hilltop mansion with an orchard and a pond and peacocks until I entered the seventh grade, when my millionaire father lost everything overnight. Gone in an instant was my small world, made possible by my father’s shipping company, mining business and hotels. Because bankruptcy was punishable by a jail term, we fled, penniless, to America.

The ugly house was owned by a Korean family that ran a dry cleaner in Harlem. Their sons, Andy and Billy, became my first playmates in America, though playmate was a loose term, largely because they spoke English and I didn’t. The first English word I learned at the junior high near Queens Boulevard was F.O.B., short for “fresh off the boat.” It was a mystery why some kids called me that when I’d actually flown Korean Air to Kennedy Airport.

At 13, I took public transportation to school for the first time instead of being driven by a chauffeur. I had never done homework without a governess helping me. I also noticed that things became seriously messy if no maids were around. Each week, I found it humiliating to wheel our dirty clothes to a bleak place called Laundromat.

One new fact that took more time to absorb was that I was now Asian, a term that I had heard mentioned only in a social studies class. In Korea, yellow was the color of the forsythia that bloomed every spring along the fence that separated our estate from the houses down the hill. I certainly never thought of my skin as being the same shade.

Unlike students in Korean schools, who were taught to bow to teachers at every turn, no one batted an eye when a teacher entered a classroom. Once I saw a teacher struggle to pronounce foreign-sounding names from the attendance list while a boy in the front row French-kissed a girl wearing skintight turquoise Jordache jeans. In Korea, we wore slippers to keep the school floor clean, but here the walls were covered with graffiti, and some mornings, policemen guarded the gate and checked bags.

My consolation was the English as a Second Language class where I could speak Korean with others like me. Yet it did not take me long to realize that the other students and I had little in common. The wealthier Korean immigrants had settled in Westchester or Manhattan, where their children attended private schools. In Queens, most of my E.S.L. classmates came from poor families who had escaped Korea’s rigid class hierarchy, one dictated by education level, family background and financial status.

Immigration is meant to be the great equalizer, yet it is not easy to eradicate the class divisions of the old country. What I recall, at 13, is an acute awareness of the distance between me and my fellow F.O.B.’s, and another, more palpable one between those of us in E.S.L. and the occasional English-speaking Korean-American kids, who avoided us as though we brought them certain undefined shame. It was not until years later that I learned that we were, in fact, separated from them by generations.

We who sat huddled in that E.S.L. class grew up to represent the so-called 1.5 generation. Many of us came to America in our teens, already rooted in Korean ways and language. We often clashed with the first generation, whose minimal command of English traps them in a time-warped immigrant ghetto, but we identified even less with the second generation, who, with their Asian-American angst and anchorman English, struck us as even more foreign than the rest of America.

Even today, we, the 1.5 generation, can just about maneuver our anchor. We hip-hop to Usher with as much enthusiasm as we have for belting out Korean pop songs at a karaoke. We celebrate the lunar Korean thanksgiving as well as the American one, although our choice of food would most likely be the moon-shaped rice cake instead of turkey. We appreciate eggs Benedict for brunch, but on hung-over mornings, we cannot do without a bowl of thick ox-bone soup and a plate of fresh kimchi. We are 100 percent American on paper but not quite in our soul.

In Queens of the early 80’s, I did not yet understand the layers of division that existed within an immigrant group. I preferred my Hello Kitty backpack to the ones with pictures of the Menudo boys, and I cried for weeks because my parents would not let me get my ears pierced. I watched reruns of “Three’s Company” in an attempt to learn English, thinking the whole time that John Ritter was running a firm called Three’s. I stayed up until dawn to make sense of “Great Expectations,” flipping through the dictionary for the definition of words like “Pip.”

More brutal than learning English was facing poverty with a rich girl’s habits and memory. In my neighborhood, a girl who grew up with a governess and a chauffeur belonged to a fairy tale. This was no Paris Hilton’s “Simple Life,” but the beginning of my sobering, often-terrifying, never simple American journey. I soon discovered that I had no choice but to adjust. I had watched my glamorous mother, not long ago a society lady who lunched, taking on a job as a fish filleter at a market.

Before the year was over, my parents moved us out of the neighborhood in search of better jobs, housing and education. As for the family who owned the house in Woodside, I did not see any of them again until the fall of 2001, when Billy walked into the Family Assistance Center at Pier 94, where I was volunteering as an interpreter. He was looking for his brother, Andy, who had been working on the 93rd floor when the first plane crashed into the north tower.

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