The essay “Facing Poverty with a Rich Girl’s Habits” is non-fiction and it as an autobiography written by Suki Kim. Suki Kim tells her story about how she and her family went from living a wealthy life to being bankrupt and having to start over in America after her father lost everything he had in South Korea. Suki and her family moved to Queens, New York form South Korea in the 1980’s.
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Suki describes how she lived in a crowded apartment which was nothing like the mansion that her family owned in Korea. She also writes about the challenges that she faced due to her struggles and the adjustments she had to make while in America and how she overcame her struggles. It is truly hard to imagine how tough it was for Suki to have to deal with her new lifestyle, living in a new country, making new friends and facing a language barrier.
Suki writes about how the first English word she learned was “fresh off the boat” (Kim, 2004, November 21). Certainly, the language issues mentioned above are not the only barriers that Suki had to face as soon as she started plunging into the U.S. life. The social barrier was just as hard to overcome as the one concerning the language.
As a matter of fact, it seems that the two are pretty much related to each other. Indeed, language has a lot to do with a nation’s culture, values and pace of life. Therefore, by speaking a foreign language among the natives, one is most likely to be credited as a stranger or, worse yet, an outcast, which Suki’s experience shows in a very graphic way: “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” (Kim, 2004, November 21).
Related to the previous issue rather strongly, the problem of alienation is also brought up. While the American children seemed to give Suki a cold shoulder, she and the other children, who started studying English as a second language, also started feeling their superiority and showing it to the newcomers.
There was, however, little fault of Suki in it; she could hardly change the way in which the immigrant society worked, seeing how traditions among the Koreans who moved to the U.S. have been cultivated for five generations running. The given problem raises a number of peculiar ethical questions, among which the ones regarding acculturation and social hierarchy should be mentioned first.
To start with, the change in attitude towards the Korean newcomers that Suki and other Korean immigrants who started learning English displayed might be the sign of losing their touch with their culture. Consequently, a dilemma of either losing one’s culture and becoming one of the U.S. citizens, or retaining the culture and becoming a social outcast appears.
As for the issue regarding hierarchy in society, it would be peculiar to find out if the aforementioned attitude towards the immigrants of the new wave could be considered the so-called “social valve.” Since, as Suki explained, in U.S., she and other once wealthy Koreans were reduced to doing menial labor, they actually might need someone of even lower social background to maintain self-respect.
Thus, an interesting feature of human nature is revealed to the reader. Speaking of the formal features of the story told by Kim, one must mention that the article belongs to the genre of autobiography and seems to be intended for both general audience and the people who are thinking of migrating to a foreign country or already have.
The tone of the article is neutral; while the author admits that she made mistakes, she also notices the flaws of the American society. Finally, Kim’s purpose for writing this article seems to revolve around making the reader think of how people build relationships with strangers, and how fast a once powerful person can be brought to the lowest of the low, as well as how one can survive such painful experience and carry on with his/her life.
Personally, I feel that the given story offers its readers much to relate to. With one of the running themes of the article concerning the issue of teenage outcasts, the story speaks to the minds of the readers from all walks of life, since at some point of being a teenager, everyone must have felt lonely.
In addition, the specifics of the immigrant society, especially concerning the ways in which its members treated the newcomers, revealed a lot about human nature. Finally, revealing the problems of adapting to a new social status, the story turns remarkably complex, which also lends it a certain charm. All in all, Kim’s article feels like a mix between a love letter to her teenage years and an essay on immigrant issues, which definitely makes me interested in the story.
Kim, S. (2004, November 21). Facing Poverty with a Rich Girl’s Habits. The New York Times. Web.