Anna Woo and Ann Lombardi

Recorded December 5, 2009 Archived December 5, 2009 01:17:38
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ATL000106


Ann Lombardi, 59, interviews her friend Anna Woo, 42, about her family’s immigration to the United States and her life here since that day in April 1976.


  • Anna Woo
  • Ann Lombardi

Venue / Recording Kit


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00:07 Anne Lombardi 59 December 5 2009 Atlanta, Georgia friend

00:19 Anna Wu

00:21 42 December 5th 2009 Atlanta and friend

00:29 And if where were you born and how old were you when your family came to the USA? I was 8 years old. I was born in South Korea and I immigrated to the United States to Norcross Georgia with my mother father two older sisters and a younger brother. What made your parents decide to come to America?

00:54 Excuse me. I have a I'm trying to get over a cold.

00:59 Well when my father was in the Korean Air Force he had an opportunity to come over to the United States and visit different parts of the US including San Francisco and Chicago does areas and this was when he was about 18 years old and at that moment he had a dream to come to the USA at one point. And of course, you know, the opportunity came up when he was out of the Air Force and he saw an ad in the newspaper saying that they needed some labor workers for leaving Factory in Norcross is that he had applied for work visa and that process took about two years and then when he was accepted that's when we decided to move to the United States. So your dad of course was it was married at the time and in how many of the children were all of your siblings born in in Korea? Yes.

01:59 My two older sisters myself my younger brother. We were all born in Korea. And so then then your dad got the Visa and then he decided to just pack up the family and Ashley tryout America or immigrated to America a huge decision because my mother's side of the family was against it in at the time. There wasn't the internet information wasn't as wide known and so we had no idea if our the Korean families would be here. And so when they came they came with the thought of just starting all over and starting a whole new life. So my aunt for my mother side we're opposed because

02:51 In a travel air air travel back then was it a once-in-a-lifetime? And so when they saw us off to America and it was a very emotional moment because they thought that it might be the last time that you know, we never see each other. So it was with the thought of just immigrating to America May perhaps not ever seen them again. So it was with that thought that they came. So what year did this take place? When did you actually get on the plane to come to Atlanta? We came in April of 1976 in Atlanta of azaleas were blooming and it was just a beautiful sight.

03:34 My parents had to make installment plans with Korean Airlines because we didn't have enough airfare to pay for all of us. And so they managed to set up payments so that as we accumulated some money, we would pay them back and when we came and not knowing that there would be oriental grocery stores and such. My mother packed a month worth of white rice and she brought a washboard in a thinking that because you know, we didn't grow up with you in the washer and dryers. It says she knew that we had to wash your clothes. So besides the clothes on our backs, she bought a washboard and in a month worth of white rice and when we had landed

04:25 We stop by Hawaii first and then we came to Norcross Georgia or Atlanta next and there was a Korean test or waiting for us at the airport. So we just we were just surprised. You know that somebody would greet Us in Korean and so he pretty much his name was Reverend Park and he was a senior pastor of the Methodist Church in Atlanta. And that was one of the first three Korean churches in Atlanta. I think now there's probably more than 2/3 but he's the one that welcomed us and pretty much showed us and drove us around to different apartment complexes to you know, get settled in that is so amazing. So wouldn't the first night that you arrived. How long did you did you stay in a hotel or did you stay with a Korean family? Cuz that's what that's a long flight from Seoul to Atlanta. Yeah. Actually he allowed us to

05:25 Stay at his house and then soon afterwards. We started driving around the area and he helped us find apartment to live in and we stayed at the Knollwood Apartments on actually now, it's on Jimmy Carter Boulevard. Didn't know that part of your story. I knew that you came here when you were a very young child, but you were you were only eight years old, but it sounds like you remember it very very vividly. You have some really strong memories. Do you do you actually remember can you think back that far to what you felt like when you got off the airplane and you what was going through your mind I had that was quite a while ago, but of course that was 34 years ago, so it's a bit hazy. But what I do remember clearly is is once we got into our apartment the pastor had gone grocery shopping and when I open the frigerator it was his

06:25 Full of food and just vegetables and fruits and growing up in Korea. We didn't have frigerators and just opening up that just was was Heaven and I felt like me and you know, this is a lot of food and and I felt like you know, this is the closest thing to Heaven, you know, so I just remember it being this gorgeous because Atlanta was going through it so seasonal change welcoming the spring so flowers are in bloom and trees were in Blooming in Atlanta has like the Rolling Hills and and it's all green. So everything was just very Lush and you know when I went into the apartment it was full of food. So as a 8 year old, I felt like I wasn't, you know near have a that's great. That is really great. So you went right into the school didn't you for what grade? Did you enter when you came to Atlanta in Norcross?

07:24 I went into second grade. And since it was April, they were about to finish second grade. And of course that Pastor he helped us, you know getting to school register and all that. In fact my name he has suggested that we have a Americanized name because Americans would have a hard time pronouncing are real Korean names. We just say your name is quinoa and my name is Wu so in Korea that you pronounce the surname for us to be young and you know, I have had friends in the past. If I told him my real name, they would really tear it up. He'll say Kilroy even in a very different from the true name. I don't I didn't want them to torture my beautiful name so I know which means the sower of Peace young is Young means the field.

08:24 Benoit is harmony or peace and so my mother named all of us, you know, it started with my oldest sister Jung jinyoung in can walk down time, but double chin is sore of Truth gang in a store of Goodwill. And of course, my name is sort of peace and my brother is solar of praise and glory.

08:52 But the way our names turned out it has you know really is far from our tree meetings. But you know Anna is a whole lot easier than Gilmore the pastor just randomly assigned you all names. He he said okay, you will be Anna your older sister will be Susan your second sister will be Lillian after a Lillian Carter. I assume named after Jimmy Carter. I think those are the popular names at the time but I have to say that being the stubborn person I was and I wanted to choose out my own name. So my mother helped me we went to the Bible and shows at Anna from the Bible. I see and that she always had a name for my brother ever since he was born but David and cream is that wheat and that weed is not a common name in Korean, but she always wanted that name for him. So those two names were given by my mother.

09:46 But you know, I was wondering how long I know what the time you arrived in in Georgia. They didn't have what they now call English as a second language classes. So you didn't have the benefit of being put in a special class to learn English. You were young at that time. Very young at that time. How long was it before you really do? You remember how it was learning English and how you began to feel comfortable in speaking and I do since there were no ESL classes at the time. I remember going into an English class and it was that time there was a teacher that always took me until supper classroom and she had little cards on one side. It was a picture on the other side was the word. So for example, there be a picture of a ball and the other side would be the letter b a l l and so as the other students took English classes, I will always put in there and just had one to one drill.

10:39 And so, you know, it was my brother and I were the only Asian students in that Rockbridge Elementary School Norcross at the time and said I guess we sort of help them get started in the ESL language program because they didn't really know how to handle us. And so if if we were the only Asians and inside so they knew that we were siblings, but my memories of trying to learn English what was interesting because I was always considered a special kid because you know, I was only non-caucasian a student and there was actually one African-American student but we're the only they were very very nice and they took me by the hand and if I said a new word, they would take me to the the teachers that you know, and you know, it has learned a new word. Guess what she can say and in my mind.

11:39 What time thinking I know so many more words than both. So, you know, I feel sort of like at that time. I was thinking in Korean, you know, and I'm thinking and I know a whole lot more weight kind of thing, you know, but they're very very kind and just try to show me everything so it wasn't that traumatic for me. I think that's great in in in you are still bilingual in in Korean in English. I mean, you kept your coming up all these years, right? Yes, and that's partly due to my parents not being able to speak English because of the age that they came. My mother was 40. My father was 41 they had

12:30 They didn't have a whole lot of ESL programs then and there was so busy working on the time. They didn't really go into English classes. And so they pretty much relied on us as their mouthpiece as our translators when they had a mechanic business transactions, but growing up in the household, you know, we had a regular family services and it was all conducted in Korean. And so at the time I felt like, you know, why do I need to learn two languages? But I'm so grateful now that my parents are you know, I know why force me to continue the language. So I've read from the Quran Bible we were you know, we've prayed and cream we sing hymns and Korean and so because of that I still have a can you know, right and speak and you know and communicate in Korean, so I'm very very thing.

13:30 Anna before you go on can you just acknowledge your parents and share with us their names, please? My mother's name is nam du Chun. That's her. Maiden name. My father's name is Sue. Kwanwoo.

13:48 And your parents your dad is still living but your mother died not too not too long ago. She was quite a character. I remember her at the dry cleaners. What a strong woman never hesitant to express an opinion. She was a little hot potato tell us more about your memories of your mom and she is totally a memorable character. In fact for everything. I am today. I owe it to her because she was such that she has such a fighting Spirit the first memories of you know, her commitment or her conviction. Is it in Korea on Sundays, you know, we would they would work Monday through Saturday. I never remember my mother staying at home and she was always trying to supplement the income but on Sundays or Sundays were very special. She saved the crispest dollar bills.

14:48 Korean dollar bills called 1 Korean Won and she was save the Christmas dollar bills for all of the children and put it onto this envelope and you know handed it that out. And you know, what does sinful Sunday gear and so we are always shower. Do you know on Sunday and Korea? We didn't have you no hot running water is so we had to go to the public baths, maybe you know once or twice a week, but we always go on Saturday evenings to try to prepare the need to look our best on Sunday. And so we were all squeaky clean on Sunday and have the crispiest dollars and then after Sunday school, you know, she would treat us to a nice lunch or have like a little nice snack. And so when we came to America, you know, I they were both of my parents had factory jobs. My mother took a job at the sewing Factory in Lawrenceville. My father was working in Norcross and with one car at the time my father had to pick

15:48 Syrup and then drop her off and then pick her back up. So when I got up for school, nobody was around my two sisters went to middle school. It was me and my brother and I was in second grade. He wasn't. Well, he called at Readiness kindergarten and so wake him up dress and feed them and when it was like a special day at picture day at school. I had to go pick out a outfit for him and make sure that if he brought a report card that my parents on the report card and and the days that we missed the school bus. I thought you know, it's going to die because you never miss school. That was always, you know adamant that my parents are you go to school. If so, what I ended up doing was we lived at an apartment complex. I'll go and knock on the different doors and see who open the doors and I would ask. Can you take me to school?

16:39 And you know, you know if I if I knew the dangers back, then I would have done it, you know, but I was just I was not even I just thought I need to get to school or my parents are going to kill me. And so and I managed to find in a driver to school.

16:56 But I'm going back to my mother. Of course, you know, she knew that, you know, we work very very hard. And so when she would see me staying late up at night. She would tell me and I just go to bed and do that in the morning. And this is very unusual from parents because grandparents really Drive kids almost too much to Excel and overachieve, but she always told me, you know, go to sleep sleeping is more important, you know, and then and so

17:32 Afterwards, you know, we went through elementary school high school and college and I think her biggest achievement my parents because of student was sending all of us through college and because not many kids who immigrated at the time got to go through college. And and so that was I think she was she was very proud of that that she knew she was able to get us through school and tell it it tell me again where you went to school to to college and foot you graduated in. Yeah, I went to Georgia Tech and I was a industrial engineering major and I went there for six years, but to about two years was a clapping and and so my parents were struggling at the time.

18:27 With money, so I started clapping and pretty much paid my way through school. So I graduated from Georgia Tech in 1992. That is amazing and sent and then you've been working with Lockheed right? You work for IBM? Yeah during my college Years. I worked I come up through IBM and then throughout us friend. I think they're called War come now and then right after school. I had an opportunity. I was picked as one of the 50 Engineers nationally to go to Japan as a International Exchange program where we they took an American students and expose them to the Japanese way of doing business. And so we spent the summer of 92 traveling through different parts of Japan going through different companies and taking field trips there.

19:24 And then when I returned it was in the early nineties and there was a economic depression and so, you know, a lot of my friends they continued with their education and got higher degrees, but I decided to start working and my first job was with westvaco envelope company. That's right. They merged with Mead but just a fantastic group of people and I worked there for five years and one of my co-workers her name is Sharon black. She encouraged me to apply for Lockheed Martin at the time because they're hiring a a lot of Engineers and she thought that I would have a longer career with that company and so I've been with Lockheed Martin 4/11 years now that is remarkable. One thing that always impressed me about your family is how hard all of you worked and how you all work together as a family and I remember that when you

20:24 Shortly after your your parents got their own business. Didn't you have some sort of vegetable and fruit business at the farmers market tell us about that and what you running about helping with that visit super early age. Yeah. In fact my parents after their to factory jobs. In fact there factory jobs, they would come back and we would always have dinner together as a family and an after dinner, they would run off to their second jobs because they knew that we love music and other job was to take the dents out of brass instruments like trumpet and tuba and since it was their second job. They were they ended up putting more dense into the instrument because they're nodding off in their sleep.

21:15 Because of that job they were able to provide a piano for us. That's how we still have that piano. We still have till this day and it has sentimental value so we can't get rid of it. But the work was so hard and you know, they're thinking at one point of maybe moving out to California because they're more of a Korean Community but we got word that there was a vegetable store in the historic downtown area of Municipal Market of Atlanta and we had bought a produce stand and it was just a little stinky space and you know name it, you know, all the southern kinds of vegetables, you know, collard greens turnip greens yams and different kinds of a vegetables but my parents had to actually go out and drive to the State Farmer's Market every morning to get the fresh goods. So they were hauling this big U-Haul like

22:15 And so to get the freshest fruit, they would have to go sometimes as early as 3 or 4 in the morning and then our store would open at 7 in the morning and went was they brought the truck and we have to get all the cards out and you know set it up on our stand and then and then sell it to the different people that came but I started working there when I was in 5th grade elementary school. So on Saturdays, I would go and work on my school days, but then it during the summer months. I'd go there from Monday through Saturday. And that was my full-time job while the other kids were in a going off to gymnastic camps and you know involved in Girl Scouts. I was out, you know working at the Fruit Stand and it's probably child labor.

23:07 I understand that, you know your parents can use you and in that in that moment not others, but you know at the time I thought that's what you know kids. Did I didn't feel like man. I wish I was off doing that. You know, it was just you know, when I went out there and thought you know, I'm going to try to make more money than I did yesterday and say it's hot up the kids at early start in you know, what the value of money is and how hard it is to make the money. And so that was our life for about a good seven years. Did your dad have a stroke during that time or he had a stroke when I was in 10th Grade and in high school and that was a big blow to our family because if he was the main driver for the produce and at the time my oldest sister Susan was in college and my mother really didn't have anyone to turn to so

24:07 She asked a reluctantly to quit school for a little bit and then take on the responsibility of you know what my father used to do. And so Susan, you know sacrificed her hurt her time in in college, but we have no other way of trying to meet meet our ends. So Susan volunteer to drive this humongous vegetable truck and and you know brought in the goods that my father used to do and he had an aneurysm in brain and so the doctor was very shocked that he survived that and there's some remnants of his illness till today his right side as it was paralyzed and he had to relearn everything and still he's he's got some, you know pain in his body affected him mentally as well as my mother.

25:07 The time how to cope with my father's illness. And also I guess the guilt of having to take my sister out from school, but you know, we had to manage and we went through all that. I have this picture of your little your sister your older sister in a 5 ft tall 85 pounds soaking wet driving this huge vegetable truck. She's another Trooper. She inherited just like all of you that spunkiness from your mom. That's right. That's right. And the thing is as you know growing up here and that that's how we thought that life was, you know, we didn't have any grandiose ideas about you know, life is going to be you know, this Hollywood Life that there's you see it in movies and you know, we just went when we were told to do something, you know how to do that. I remember

26:00 After we sold the vegetable store, we took gone. I didn't think it was much easier, but dry cleaning and we were one of the first crime families to own a dry cleaners and I wouldn't know anything about the business for probably the first three months, you know, once we opened it, we were pressing until 11 or 12 at night to try to meet a customer deadline and you know, when the customers came and sometimes and wouldn't have the clothes ready for them. The customers would get angry.

26:35 And you know the difference between the fruit market and this was once you sell the fruit and vegetables, they're gone, they're happy but with this and if they don't you don't get a stain out or if the clothes isn't ready on time in a customer's bicker and so we didn't have that experience and it really tore us up because we didn't like to displease anybody and I remember just cry and you getting together in a crying and I know is that the cleaners, you know with a pressure on and what we would did that, you know for probably a good year or two and then we can't became real professionals. I mean, there's not a place that we can't press, you know and bring Any Garment. I mean we can do it now, but I remember a particular incident in I think I was a junior in the high school. My father came to the school and you know through this classroom intercom basa and it will please come to the front office.

27:35 Call me is because the parents want to take you out to a medical appointment, but my father comes in and in Korean says the president show up if that's okay. It's of course, I turn around to the school for Security Administration said I have a medical appointment out of school to go impress goodness, really and so and this is something that my parents hated doing, you know, because they didn't want us to take a take our time away from school. But on a few occasions, they had to do that and you know, they had to operate the business. So I remember doing that and then of course after my school at I would go directly to the dry cleaners in and and Out close to the customers until we closed since I did that until and I went to college that is amazing in your at your older sister Lillian in her husband. Still run that same cleaners nothing.

28:35 They were fortunate and it's still doing very well and we still have that business and they're running it really well. So we started that business in 1984 and is still going on today. It's called professional cleaners in Lithonia, Georgia on Panola Road. That's so it will very good.

29:04 Good good, and we have to be up 10 more minutes. You have 10 more minutes. I was wondering because in in my career, I've taught English as a foreign language and I wondered did you do you feel like being one of the first Korean families to come to Atlanta? You're one of the first command families that settled in Atlanta. Now how many Korean Americans are there in Atlanta, says, I would have to probably Google that but

29:37 I mean 30,000 40,000 more maybe because I mean pretty much Buford Highway Duluth area that area is just infatuated with Korean and when we had come there was one green grocer and they operated from their own house. We had never envisioned that you know, Atlanta would become such a huge multinational City and I think a lot of it is due to the exposure that I got in the 1996 Olympics. But yeah, we feel like we're one of the Pioneers in Atlanta again, you know, there were only three Korean churches and you know, my mother started like the first Korean choir at the Methodist Church and she was a choir director the president of the Women's Club. My father was a Elder of the church and my second sister Lillian she weigh

30:36 The Pianist of the church and she started when she was 12, so we pretty much you know, there wasn't a church oftentimes we would meet at our house and you don't have service in the basement. So my father would be officiating my sister with in a play the piano and she would be the first Secretary to because she typed up the bulletins for the service meetings and and I remember having church people over at our house like almost every Sunday and just cooking and cleaning every Sunday. So that was our life and Monday through Saturday was school and work and Sunday was all about church.

31:21 How you going to act just also another picture of my minded about your family is your mom in the kitchen chopping up chicken or making these huge huge amounts of Korean food, which is is really wonderful. Was that an adjustment for you? Did you find it hard to adjust to to the American food and everyday life when you were away from your family or did you have no problem with the with the food?

31:47 We're big eaters and we pretty much eat anyting but and we have iron stomachs. We were always hot to eat everything because food was very valuable and create you don't waste anything. And so I remember when I first checked into my elementary school when I first got here, they had a huge cafeteria and the first meal. I remember was grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of vegetable beef soup, and and I went to the line and you know, I ate all my food and I realized some of the other students across didn't eat their food, but yet took their tray to the the trash

32:33 And I and I stopped him I said, you know, I'll take care of you know, I'll have that if you're not going to have it, you know, but it was just a foreign idea that food was thrown out in the in the cafeteria because that was unheard of

32:47 Angry at the time. They didn't have a cafeteria where food was served to all the students and when we have started because of our lack of income. We were free lunch students inside of you. They allow the free lunch students to go first in line. At least you don't have any income but they took care of you kind of a thing and instead of people who couldn't pay they still the first in line for 4 for food and you know, you had all this food and of course, you know, when my parents were able to support us on their own, you know, we went off of that program, but that's one of the first things that I thought America is such a rich country, you know, they provide for people who are need and give you the

33:44 The tools to really make it and so it is just when I think of the United States as the land of Bountiful plentiful just a land of opportunity really and in the tree is very interesting because I know from your suit your older sister Susan telling me about the Korean word for America. Maybe you could explain the word in Korean for American foot that mean translates to in in in Korean. If you need I think it means the like the the Land of Plenty of rice or something like that. I think Susan to told me that I could be wrong, but I know that means I like country cuz Korea is hungry. So that's why I think a lot of Americans call it works because we have everything group.

34:43 Is soup and soup is a big part of the Korean.

34:50 Meal and I think a lot of the G eyes when they went to like Korean War as you know, I think they just so used to hearing something in then with Coupe exactly exactly. But a lot of Awards in the end in Guk of courses of pejorative term for Asian in general. Did you ever SS of a newcomer to America or even in your adulthood? Have you ever felt any kind of prejudice as an Asian person Asian American person?

35:26 Living living in me being 42 years old. I think you realize that you have to consider the source at the time. They weren't that many Asian kids as I told you before but you know what the early remembrances of maybe kids picking on me is when I would ride the bus and I'd be the only Asian kid and you know, they'll do things like, you know Chinese Japanese, you know Vietnamese look at these, you know, those kind of remarks and

36:00 Obviously that hurt me because I still remember it but I consider the source and often times and I feel like you know, they're ignorant or they don't know me. Anyway, I totally don't buy that in my heart. I said it hasn't really affected me. Now with that being said that. That was about the extreme of any Prejudice because I assimilated very quickly because my parents lack of English because of the lack of other Asian people around me. I had to quickly learn the language and try to understand, you know, what was going around me and said because of the early assimilation, I think it was easier for me down the road.

36:44 And so even today I've had jobs where I had I was a customer service rep and me and they always want to put like a d after my last name and make it would because they think I'm some, you know Western American and when they meet me on this 5 foot 2 in 110 pound Asian girls, so they think they think you know, they're meeting somebody in a Husky and penis strong and big and so, you know the lack of this Asian accent sometimes my friends at work. So you need to work on your age and ask because I don't have one is just I guess it's kind of an Asian person speaking with a you know, without an accident. I was curious if you gone back to Korea in the past five six years and what was it like for you going back as if I know Korea has changed dramatically and is really

37:44 Gelatin to a major world power. What do you feel like going back to Korea as a korean-american for one thing when I'm there? I just don't stand out at all. Cuz we all look alike over there. And so there's a level of comfort and a level of well, I don't feel special anymore because work in the life of the United States. I've always been authors that Asian girl, you know, and so I have to say I have to have some special treatment and over the years. I've enjoyed that, you know privilege but there's also something to be said about you not being homogeneous and not sticking out and of course the food and and the culture you don't have to explain anyone to her, you know it to anyone there. But you know, I think it's nice to go for a visit, but I know that my heart lies here and my home will always be in the United States.

38:39 Well, that's just wonderful and thank you so much for telling your story today. It's it's been great. Thank you. I've enjoyed it.