The airport was packed. People bustled by, boarding planes, grabbing breakfast– or in my case– kicking a tattered, brown suitcase through the baggage check-in line. A warm, June breeze blew in through the opening doors of DIA as I glared down at my bag. It seemed to enjoy resisting my every effort to move it as I shuffled up the line. I was baffled as to why this suitcase had been brought along for our trip. Patched and dirty, with brittle wheels that can’t steer well, it’d long outlived its usefulness. Fourteen years ago, when this patched and dirty bag was slightly less so, my parents carried it aboard the flight from South Korea to the United States. Along with the suitcase, they carried with them fears of entering the unknown, isolation from family and culture, but also hope in pursuit of the “American Dream”.
Much has changed since that first journey from Korea. I am no longer the sleepy-eyed toddler who entered a strange, new country on her mother’s back– moments before throwing up all over her green parka. I am no longer unaware of the costs my parents pay for the luxury of my life. Every birthday present, dance class, and tooth fairy visit for me meant another night of work for my father. With a Master’s Degree from one of the top schools in South Korea, he quickly realized that education is not as easily transferable as luggage and was reduced to working as a small town auto mechanic. My parents came to the US in hopes of opening American opportunities for their daughter. Yet, upon moving, they faced sharp hardships that punctured the shimmering mirage of America. They found themselves victim to fraud and lies: my father’s cousin had painted a false glamour about the legal facility of immigration and American prosperity. He ultimately took large amounts of money from my parents to pay off his own credit card debts.
After moving to the US, my mother put me in dance at the age of 3– partly because she, as other mothers, wanted to fulfill her childhood fantasies and partly because she wanted to cultivate her daughter’s interest in realms beyond a system of sole education. However, unlike other mothers, mine crossed oceans to make such pursuit of happiness possible. Dance is a connection rooting me to my mother’s past: her former life and hopes at home. Yet it has also grown into a unique part of myself. My mother’s childhood fantasies of ballerinas has morphed into my own reality of identity. Dance became my own dream, and it expands well outside the studio. I now have the freedom to choose my own passions, just as my parents once hoped.
Moving up the check-in line, I look down at the suitcase, lying starkly against the shiny DIA floor. I see fourteen years of coffee stains and ripped canvas, broken zippers and worn handles. Yet despite it all, the suitcase remains intact and continues hefting baggage across immeasurable distances. Now, finally able to head back, the suitcase with which we once entered this country returns alongside us. Resting my foot on the handle, I wondered if the bag could feel that it too was headed for homecoming; I wondered if it missed the time when it had been slightly less ugly, the place where it had been slightly less used. I haul the bag onto the scale and watch as the baggage handler slings it onto the conveyor belt. Turning around the corner, the bag jolts as it bumps into the wall– but I’m not concerned. The bag has made it this far; it can handle a few more bumps and scrapes.