Yearn Hong Choi’s autobiography Song of Myself: A Korean-American Life is a memoir that details an inscrutable Korean-American immigrant life. In 1968, Mr. Choi immigrated to the United States of America, specifically to Seattle, Washington to taste adventure. In 2010, Mr. Choi is still in America; however, he has moved to Fairfax Station in Virginia and now has the optional title of Dr. Choi since he has earned his PhD.
When he first arrived, he arrived during the time of the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Movement, Sexual Revolution, and Beatlemania with $70 in his pocket. He was lucky to receive support from a young couple to whom he felt indebted to for life. He worked several odd jobs, with each new job increasing his prestige. Eventually, he found himself working for the government with a secret clearance and a lot of knowledge about nuclear waste.
As an immigrant, he traveled back and from between South Korea and America, spending most of his time in South Korea when his mother was dying. It is this back-and-forth movement that many American immigrants can relate to, whether they are Hispanic, Black, or White. No matter where immigrants come from, they all have a lifetime feeling of intransigency and being between worlds with one foot in each.
Mr. Choi was lucky to come from a family that encouraged artistic expression, such as poetry. Throughout his travels as a poet he has come across the famous Allen Ginsberg, as well as African-American poets E. Ethelbert Miller and Gwendolyn Brooks; the latter passed away a few years ago. Among the notable non-poets, he met Mr. Mark Keam, the first Asian-American in the Virginia House of Delegates, a well regarded politician. Mr. Mark Keam, as well as Martha Vickery, editor of The Korean Quarterly, and many others, had rave reviews of Mr. Choi’s work in this autobiography.
To celebrate his book, a wonderful bilingual book signing event was held in Woo Lae Oak, a restaurant recently graced with the likes of Hillary Clinton and Lisa Ling from The View. Performances to celebrate the book’s release consisted of a harmonica player, a traditional Korean fan dance, and harp players. It is apparent that Mr. Choi is well regarded in the Korean-American community, especially among Korean-American poets. This should come as no surprise to those who know that he was a former president of the Korean-American poetry group in the DC metro area.
Dr. Choi has written Moon of New York (2008). He also helped compile Surfacing Sadness: A Centennial Korean-American Literature 1903-2003 (2003), Fragrance of Poetry: Korean-American Literature (2005), and An Empty House: Korean- American Poetry (2008). He has always cared much about the Korean-American community and supported compilations by Korean-American poets in order to give them a chance to publish their poetry and get their voices into the world.
His life is a life that illustrates that one reaps what he sows. If there is such a thing as good karma, Dr. Choi certainly has it. One might also think of the movie Pay It Forward (2001) with Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey, and Haley Joel Osment. He kept the memories of the young couple he met in Seattle and has since lived a giving life where he has helped other writers get on their feet. It should come as no surprise that he has much support.
Even though he is already a prolific writer, this is his masterpiece book, the one to top all others. I imagine that writing this book has been scratched off of Mr. Choi’s bucket list of things to do before dying with a sense of accomplishment. To anyone who reads his book, I also imagine that the readers hope that he finds the young couple he met in Seattle before he dies too so that they can see how he “paid it forward.” We should all be blessed that Mr. Choi has brought his voice into the fold of American immigrant true life stories. His life has further enriched America’s written collection of immigrant life.