Where were you in 1969?

May 1969, I had arrived in the States from Korea for the first time. Prior to my coming to the US, I had lost my entire family: My parents, my brother and my beloved grandmother, who died of sickness and starvation. My first years were spent in an orphanage run by an American missionary. After my grandmother died, I lived briefly in foster homes until I was adopted by Americans.

July 20, 1969, I landed in Cleveland, Ohio (after a whirlwind tour of Tokyo, Juarez, Mexico; Honolulu, Washington DC, Pecos, Texas). People - supposedly my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, parents, sisters, brothers - were gathered around a small black and white, staticky box called a television. They were glued to their chairs: some of them with their white knuckles bared, their hands gripping the edge of a soft cushion, holding onto a blanket, someone's hand. Some of them were sitting on the floor, legs crossed, hands clenched to their sides, as if at any moment they might be flung off the floor onto the ceiling due to some kind of anti-gravity spell.

On the televsion were white figures in balloon outfits, heads encased in domed glass, bouncing on a crescent-shaped, powdery object pockmarked with craters. Then the crackling voice, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," and all hell seemed to break loose. Everyone - white-haired, brown-haired, yellow-haired, red-haired - jumping up and down, giddy, screaming, yelling something incoherent, a wild flurry of hair, hands, and tears. It was a chaotic moment of joy and elation. Someone had finally made it to the moon, and it was the Americans, the American Flag, the American Dream! I burst into tears because I didn't understand this unspeakable sadness that welled up in me as I watched these people celebrating the moon-landing, something so out of reach as to seem surreal, and so far removed from the broken country I had just left.

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