Opinion: The '200-pound bag' some immigrants are given en route to Detroit

This column originally appeared in the Good Government newsletter distributed to Detroit residents, and was reprinted in Model D with permission.

As a child, growing up in South Korea in the 1970s, I was taught both at school and at home that any actions I take in life would reflect my family and community. In fact, I remember just shortly before my family immigrated to the U.S., a customs officer at the airport telling me that from that moment on, I would be representing the country of Korea to the rest of the world.

I was only 10, but I understood what he meant: people will judge how good or bad Korea is based on my conduct. I remember feeling important, but I also felt as if he had just given me a 200-pound bag to carry for the rest of my life. 

Back in 1975, there weren’t that many people who looked like me in Detroit or in the Metro Detroit area. So, everywhere I went, I stuck out like a sore thumb and every time I stepped out my house, I carried that 200-pound bag everywhere I went. And, each time I encountered a new person, I remembered the words the customs officer told me. It still reverberates within me.

After 49 years of carrying the extra 200 pounds, I should have gotten used to the extra weight, but for the fact, the weight of the bag kept increasing over the years.  That is how life is for those of us who carry the bag. We carry the weight of the bag, because sometimes, it is an honor and privilege to be given the bag. So, each time the bag feels heavy, I remind myself that while the bag had been given to me, ultimately, it is I who chose to take on the weight and carry it. 

I must however be honest in this, as in times of despair, there were moments when I thought I would be crushed by the weight and there were moments when I wanted to unload.  But, in reality, the weight did not crush me, rather carrying the bag for all those years had made me stronger. I did not unload the weight, because over the years the weight had somehow become a part of me. 

So, to my fellow bag carriers, I say, until we can’t, let’s continue to take on the weight given to us and carry the bag, as far as we can go.  

Detroit Inspector General was appointed by Detroit City Council on July 31, 2018. Born in South Korea, Ha immigrated to Detroit in 1975, at age 10. She learned English as a second language at McKinney Elementary School, attended Taft Middle School and began her high school years at the Detroit Renaissance High School.
Ha received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor campus; and a Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Detroit School of Law in 1991. She began her legal career at the City of Detroit Law Department during Mayor Coleman Young’s administration as a Junior Assistant Corporation Counsel.
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