Season of Thanks
Seven Minnesotans share their stories of hardship—and how those challenges shaped them for the better
(page 4 of 4)
Jon Huston, Buffalo
In 1971, I left Korea. I was adopted by a family in Buffalo, Minnesota. They already had three biological children, and, at 6, I became their youngest.
My biological father was an American soldier who left Korea to fight in Vietnam. He died there. My mother tried to raise me by herself, but she was poor. In Korea back then, Amerasian children were relentlessly picked on, their mothers shunned. My mom decided to give me up for adoption so I could have a better life.
I remember when my mom took me to the orphanage; I stayed for a week for screening and physicals. Then she took me back home, and I lived with her until I left the country. She actually took me to the airport the day I came to America.
I grew up a happy Minnesota boy, raised by a wonderful family. I never even thought about finding my birth mom until my first child was born 13 years ago. My early life was a puzzle; I wanted to put the pieces together so that I could tell my daughter about her heritage.
For 12 years, I searched on my own. Then a friend told me about a Korean reality TV show that helps reunite families. He sent in my documents and photos, and I was invited on the show. I used a webcam to tell my story.
A week later I got a call: They’d found my mother. I went back on the show via webcam. My birth mom was there. She had one of my baby pictures. It was the first time I’d seen a photo of myself before age 6. It was a really emotional moment.
A few months later, on the 37th anniversary of the day I left for America, I went back to Korea, where I was reunited with my birth mom. Don’t get me wrong: I love my family in Minnesota. My adoptive mom and dad are my parents, my adoptive siblings my siblings. But I immediately felt a strong connection with my biological mother.
I’m thankful for the friend who got me on the show. I’m thankful for my family here. But most of all, I’m thankful for my birth mom. Even though it broke her heart to do it, she gave me up so I could have a better life. The first time I went back to Korea, I stayed with her. She showed me albums she’d made of my photos. She sat and watched me sleep. I have never felt so loved, and for that, I’m thankful.
A Place Called Home
Rena Moran, St. Paul
Ten years ago, I decided to move to Minnesota. I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. I love the city, but I wanted a safe, stable environment for my seven kids.
After giving it some thought, I decided to move my children—except my oldest daughter, who stayed behind with an aunt to finish her senior year in high school—to Minnesota. I left a place of security for the unknown.
I had a nephew here. He picked us up at the bus station. I told him I didn’t want my family to be a burden on him, so he dropped us off at the Sharing and Caring Hands homeless shelter.
We lived there for four months. It wasn’t an easy place to live, but it was a good place. Volunteers came in to help us. It was my goal to be in our own home by Thanksgiving, and by that time, we had moved into a duplex in St. Paul. Things were looking up.
My first job was cleaning at Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America. I have a degree in early childhood education, and I eventually found a job in the child-care room at the Midway YMCA. Later, I worked as an administrative assistant at a commodities-trading firm.
I eventually bought a house. I was welcomed by my neighbors, a community of strong families that share my passion for justice. My activism was born when the city, after constructing a library nearby, paved only half the street, even though the entire street was assessed the cost. I collected signatures for a petition I then presented to city officials. The city paved the rest of my street.
After that, I got interested in politics. Last year, I went to the 65A Precinct caucus, and when I heard Cy Thao wasn’t running for reelection, I decided to step forward. I’d been thinking we needed someone who could represent the community at the capitol—maybe I was the one I’d been waiting for.
In August, I won the primary against Jeremiah Ellis, the party-endorsed candidate. If I win the general, I will be the first African American state representative elected in St. Paul. I’m ready to make history.
I’m so grateful to live in a state where good people were willing to help my family achieve our dreams. I’m also thankful I was able to purchase a home and keep my family intact. And I’m thankful for the voters of District 65A who have gotten me this far.
Andy Steiner, a Minneapolis freelancer writer, profiled Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in the September issue of Minnesota Monthly.