Column: Building a life in America as an immigrant

‘I grew very close to my grandma. She is my idol, my icon I look up to for inspiration, and I admire her to the moon and back.’


Rae Godwin

Shin Chong Suk with her grandchildren Rae Godwin, Emily Godwin and Caitlynn Godwin.

There’s something satisfying about the way her hair drifts through the wind, like a feather, so free and calming as she stands there, with her bags in hand, ready to take the first step into her new life in America; her new beginning. 

After Japan invaded South Korea in World War II, Chong grew up in a hardship home, dealing with the loss their country had been through. It wasn’t easy, she was the oldest in her family and had to take care of her youngest sister while her brother tended to the family most of the time. 

Nineteen years later, she decided to apply for a green card and marry my Grandpa Danny. Being the only member in her family to leave her home country in Seoul, Korea to start her new life in America at 19 years old, the odds of the universe being on her side were slim to none. 

It wasn’t easy at first, English was a hard language for my grandma to learn, but my grandpa had helped her as best he could, as well as her classes at her high school. With learning English, my grandma had the opportunity to open up her own deli, Konnie’s Korner, a few years after living in America. 

Konnie’s Korner was formed in a building in Dallas; it wasn’t the biggest deli, but it was perfect for my grandma. Growing up, her mother helped her learn how to cook mostly Korean foods, given she grew up in Korea; taking those tips and tricks she put them into learning more about food and its culture. She became a successful deli owner, moving to her own place in Dallas for over 25 years. 

I remember going over and sitting in the back while watching a movie or two while my mother helped her with the ongoing customers. Being behind the counter, making wonderful foods that made your mouth water was the best part about going. She’d even give me raw cookie dough cookies without my mother knowing, saying it was our little secret. 

Her entire family from Korea moved to Texas after my grandma. She was the leader and proof to her siblings that it was possible to live a better life. My grandma’s younger siblings built a life of their own here with the help of my grandma, thus bringing her nieces and nephews and grandchildren that brighterend her world more and more.

The love she had for our family had impacted me the most. My grandma was a strong hard working individual who put her life in her own hands and created an art piece, and she is the sole reason I am who I am today. 

Even with her life going the way she wanted it to, career and family wise, it wasn’t always that way in her private life. Grandpa Danny was an amazing man who my grandma fell in love with, but as he got older his alcohol addiction grew. At first it wasn’t horrible, though the reason for his drinking problems remain unknown, or that is what grandma wanted to believe. 

A few years later, my Uncle Tony  was born and that was the best gift my grandma had received throughout the confusing years with my grandpa. Aunt Christine, was born not long after, though she was born with a disability, that never changed the love my grandma had for her children. My mother had come into the picture after my grandma took her in under her wing when a family member couldn’t take care of her own daughter. 

Tony was a handful growing up, but my grandma always said he was like his father with his stubbornness, but a loving man at heart. My grandma learned all the ways of being a parent and loved it. 

My mother was 16 years-old when my grandma and Grandpa Danny got divorced, and a few months later Jose Teixeira had entered into her life. My grandma loved Grandpa Danny at some point in her life, but after everything she went through, the love died down until she met Jose Teixeira; that love had blossomed into beautiful roses and she found the love of her life. 

Her love for children had been passed on to my mother, later coming to me over time. I was never a fan of little kids, but because of my grandmother I learned that I love them enough to have some of my own.

With Jose, my grandma got to live her life of traveling around the world with him; to exploring the seas, to walk in the streets of Rome. 

Sadly, a week before quarantine, my grandpa Jose had passed away due to old age. The impact left my grandma heart broken, and my family had taken it upon ourselves to move in with her so she wasn’t alone. 

I grew very close to my grandma. She is my idol, my icon I look up to for inspiration, and I admire her to the moon and back. When I first heard about her story, I asked her what it means to her that she got to live the life she worked hard for and she said, “When you come from a small home, you tend to strive for the bigger picture, and my bigger picture was me living my life in America and building a home for my family.”