I was born in Seoul, South Korea, the first son of the eldest daughter from a well-to-do doctor’s family in Seoul and the eldest son of a farming family from South Chungcheong Province. My parents and I immigrated to the United States when I was the ripe-old age of six months. Unable to pursue undergraduate studies at home, my parents decided to take a chance on the US, where my mom’s youngest sister had settled in years prior. Luckily, we were able to claim family unification, which was easier in the early 1980s than now certainly. Therefore, my parents and I had the fortune of being one of the lucky few who moved the United States with a Green Card (permanent residency) in hand. After brief stints in Los Angeles, where my aunt lived, and El Paso, Texas, a grave mistake attributable to my father hearing there was work to be had there (and truth be told, there was—but in a dog food factory for the minimum wage, which was $3.25 an hour), we finally landed in our newfound home of the Bronx, New York City by the mid-1980s and stayed in the greater New York City area until 2010s, when my parents return-migrated to Korea to semi-retire after nearly thirty years in the States, and I relocated for my first academic post. My younger brother is the sole remainder.
I grew up in various parts of the Bronx, including Bedford Park, Arthur Avenue, Pelham Parkway and Riverdale, attending New York City public schools (P.S. 81 and M.S. 141) until the seventh grade, when I entered the Ethical Culture Fieldston School thanks to my admission in Prep for Prep, a program that “identifies New York City’s most promising students of color and prepares them for placement at independent schools in the city and boarding schools throughout the Northeast.” After six amazing years at Fieldston, where I played jazz, wrote rap music and encountered Lumumba, Marx, Ellison, Almodovar, Achebe, Baldwin, Baraka, Toomer, Hurston and, most significantly, Jonathan Kozol, I matriculated at Wesleyan University, a liberal arts college in Middletown, Connecticut, with more than half-a-dozen of my close friends from Fieldston. Having had my interest in social science piqued by Kozol’s Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation, which was required summer reading at Fieldston, I sought out sociology and ended up under the tutelage of one of the finest social theorists in America, Charles Lemert.
After completing a double major in Sociology and English at Wesleyan, I returned to New York City to do my PhD at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY), where I sought out Patricia Ticineto Clough, Stanley Aronowitz, Jerry Watts, Talal Asad, Vincent Crapanzano and others. While at CUNY, I taught at the College of Staten Island and Lehman College and was also an Instructional Technology Fellow at the Macaulay Honors College. After completing my PhD, I left to take up a position as assistant professor of sociology at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, where my wife and I still live. But, my heart, accent and sports loyalties still remain in New York.