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It was two years before parents could bring kids to the U.S.

H.J. Chee
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H.J. Chee grew up in South Korea the son of a wealthy businessman. But when Chee was 14 the business failed, and his father fled to America to avoid loan sharks who were threatening his life. The family lost everything but their house and even the house was stripped to the walls. Two years passed and Chee’s mother decided she had to go to America to help her husband move the immigration process along. So at age 16, Chee became the guardian and provider for his two sisters, 12 and 14, and his 8-year old brother. It would be two long, difficult years before his parents could bring their children to the United States.Gallacher: So, how did you get by?H.J. Chee: Barely. It was tough. You had to be very resourceful. We lived with relatives’ help. We also lived in a very large house when my parents were still in business. So, at least we had a place to stay, we had a roof over our head. But the biggest problem was daily food and also the wintertime especially, the heating was the biggest problem because sometimes South Korea can get bitterly cold.Gallacher: How would you stay warm?H.J. Chee: The heating was pretty primitive in most Korean houses at that time. They used a lot of charcoals and wood to burn as heating sources. Obviously, we didn’t have any money to go buy charcoal, which was readily available at public sources. So we went around the house and tore down the windowsills and door frames and whatever was available to survive during those cold times. Sometimes we would not be able to heat the house, but we somehow managed.Gallacher: Where did you get food?H.J. Chee: Remember, my dad and mom were here in the United States. So they were trying to get us immigration status in the United States at the time, which was not easy. They did whatever they could to send us things and sometimes money. They mailed us money orders, cashiers checks, but sometimes when that was not available mom and dad sent us small household appliances like blenders, mixers, toasters and things like that. And when we received these things, we went out and sold them on the Korean black market. And that would last us a few months until they sent us something else. Sometimes those things came regularly, sometimes they didn’t. How we survived, I don’t know.Gallacher: When you were 16, and responsible for your brothers and sisters, and alone in Korea, what was it that kept you going?H.J. Chee: I think, not knowing. I think that kept me going because sometimes if you know too much it is overwhelming. I didn’t know any better, and I could handle the situations and circumstances day by day. And before I knew it, a month had passed and then a year.Gallacher: Do you remember a particular time when you didn’t think you were going to make it?H.J. Chee: Almost every day. Yes, almost every day. But each day the sun comes up, just as the sun sets each night. And then the next day, and the next day. …


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