Home > The Sun Is Also a Star(3)

The Sun Is Also a Star(3)
Author: Nicola Yoon

“Hyung,” I began, using the title younger brothers use for older brothers. I knew it was a big mistake as soon as I said it. His whole face turned red—cheeks, nose, the tips of his ears—the whole thing. He was practically aglow. His eyes darted sideways to where his new friends were watching us like we were on TV.

“What’d he just call you?” the shorter one asked.

“Is that some kind of secret Korean code?” the taller one chimed in.

Charlie ignored them both and got right in my face. “What are you doing here?” He was so pissed that his voice cracked a little.

I didn’t have an answer, but he really didn’t want one. What he wanted was to hit me. I saw it in the way he clenched and unclenched his fists. I saw him trying to figure out how much trouble he would get in if he did hit me right there in the park in front of boys he barely knew.

“Why don’t you get some friends of your own and stop following me around like a baby?” he said instead.

He should’ve just hit me.

He grabbed his bike out of the dirt and puffed himself up with so much angry air I thought he’d burst, and I’d have to tell Mom that her older and more perfect son exploded.

“My name is Charles,” he said to those boys, daring them to say another word. “Are you coming or what?” He didn’t wait for them, didn’t look back to see if they were coming. They followed him into the park and into summer and into high school, just like many other people would eventually follow him. Somehow I had made my brother into a king.

I’ve never called him hyung again.

DANIEL IS RIGHT ABOUT CHARLES. He’s an asshole through and through. Some people grow out of their lesser natures, but Charles will not. He will settle into it, the skin that was always going to be his.

But before that, before he becomes a politician and marries well, before he changes his name to Charles Bay, before he betrays his good wife and constituents at every turn, before too much money and success and much too much of getting everything that he wants, he will do a good and selfless thing for his brother. It will be the last good and selfless thing that he ever does.

WHEN MIN SOO FELL IN LOVE with Dae Hyun, she did not expect that love to take them from South Korea to America. But Dae Hyun had been poor all his life. He had a cousin in America who’d been doing well for himself in New York City. He promised to help.

For most immigrants, moving to the new country is an act of faith. Even if you’ve heard stories of safety, opportunity, and prosperity, it’s still a leap to remove yourself from your own language, people, and country. Your own history. What if the stories weren’t true? What if you couldn’t adapt? What if you weren’t wanted in the new country?

In the end, only some of the stories were true. Like all immigrants, Min Soo and Dae Hyun adapted as much as they were able. They avoided the people and places that didn’t want them. Dae Hyun’s cousin did help, and they prospered, faith rewarded.

A few years later, when Min Soo learned that she was pregnant, her first thought was of what to name her child. She had this feeling that in America names didn’t mean anything, not like they did in Korea. In Korea, the family name came first and told the entire history of your ancestry. In America, the family name is called the last name. Dae Hyun said it showed that Americans think the individual is more important than the family.

Min Soo agonized over the choice of the personal name, what Americans called the first name. Should her son have an American name, something easy for his teachers and classmates to pronounce? Should they stick to tradition and select two Chinese characters to form a two-syllable personal name?

Names are powerful things. They act as an identity marker and a kind of map, locating you in time and geography. More than that, they can be a compass. In the end, Min Soo compromised. She gave her son an American name followed by a Korean personal name followed by the family name. She named him Charles Jae Won Bae. She named her second son Daniel Jae Ho Bae.

In the end, she chose both. Korean and American. American and Korean.

So they would know where they were from.

So they would know where they were going.

I’M LATE. I enter the waiting room and head over to the receptionist. She shakes her head at me like she’s seen this before. Everyone here has seen everything before, and they don’t really care that it’s all new to you.

“You’ll have to call the main USCIS line and make a new appointment.”

“I don’t have time for that,” I say. I explain about the guard, Irene, and her strangeness. I say it quietly and reasonably. She shrugs and looks down. I am dismissed. On any other day, I would be compliant.

“Please call her. Call Karen Whitney. She told me to come back.”

“Your appointment was for 8 a.m. It is now 8:05 a.m. She’s seeing another applicant.”

“Please. It’s not my fault I’m late. She told me—”

Her face hardens. No matter what I say, she will not be moved. “Ms. Whitney is already with another applicant.” She says it like English is not my first language.

“Call her,” I demand. My voice is loud and I sound hysterical. All the other applicants, even the ones who don’t speak English, are staring at me. Desperation translates into every language.

The receptionist nods at a security guard standing by the door. Before he can reach me, the door that leads to the meeting rooms opens up. A very tall and thin man with dark brown skin beckons me. He nods to the receptionist. “It’s all right, Mary. I’ll take her.”

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