My understanding of freedom is inextricably tied up with my understanding of language. My great-grandfather, in 1940s Korea, was arrested for putting together the first Korean dictionary when the language had been banned by the Japanese government. My great-grandfather believed that words, the medium by which we formulate and share ideas, can bind and break the very ideas they express if the language is that of an oppressor. He fought for the freedom of his people to express ideas in their own words; in so doing, he defended their very right to have ideas.
As I prepare for all the freedoms and responsibilities of adulthood, I remember these definitions of freedom I have inherited, and strive to make ones of my own -- not only as the first generation of my family born in a new country, but also as an American youth at the birth of a new century. Sitting in the hall between classes, my friends and I discuss the faults of our school’s administration, the right to same-sex marriage, the justification for the Iraq war. We feel it is our right to know and evaluate our surroundings, to speak and have our ideas responded to.
I believe that freedom in the 21st century means the liberty of individuals, regardless of age, race, gender, or class, to express themselves in their own words, and to use those words to shape history. We celebrate it, and yet we never stop fighting for it. I am Korean-American, I am young, and I am free. I speak -- not always articulate, not often right, but always in my own words. I speak, and I listen.