WANTING TO BE WHO WE'RE NOT
 

Creative Nonfiction by Queer Writers
Edited by Jim Tushinski and Jim Van Buskirk
Now available from Harrington Park Press

 
 
 

FARMER BOY (excerpt)

by Al Cho

     My father came to Illinois to study agriculture, but he never intended to put down roots. Like many Koreans in the 1970s, he arrived with a simple plan: to obtain a degree in the United States and return to the motherland, where a diploma from a middling state university would turn magically into a ticket to a prestigious and stable future. A hard-nosed, economical people, Koreans risked the precious currency of their lives en masse, buying cheap and selling dear as they exported themselves to the land of opportunity for a couple of years to bring home the valuable technological knowledge of the West. This, not the technocratic narratives of Harvard economists, is the real story of the East Asian miracle.
     But this is not a story about my father, and in any case he broke the rules. When he landed in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, a land of biotechnologically sweetened corn and sweet, corn-fed people, my father met my mother, and other seeds were sown. First my sister developed, a melon-like protrusion on my mother's slight Korean frame, and then I appeared on the scene: fat and round like a suckling pig. When strangers passed my sister on the street, they beamed, exclaiming "What a beautiful baby!" As I trundled along behind her, the inevitable pause: then, "And he certainly looks like a boy."

*


     None of us could have known, back in those days of falling maple leaves, wild alliums, and fenceless backyards, that Korea would become a distant memory for my parents. None of us could have predicted what would grow in the fertile ground we leased for the six years it took my father to get his PhD, because we were never meant to stay. When my father first arrived in the United States, border control officers ransacked his luggage, checking for contraband—drugs and weapons, of course, but above all seeds, for the government was as concerned about plant invasive species as it was about aliens of the human kind. We were potted plants, never destined to naturalize or flourish in the space we temporarily inhabited. My family simply waited for the signal—my father's commencement—that would transplant us from this odd Midwestern climate back to our native soil.