Arnold Schwarzenegger: My American hero

To celebrate Fourth of July, let’s talk about what it means to be a foreign-born American

It was my friend’s birthday- a group of us, all Americans except me, went to watch a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Growing up on Schwarzenegger classics like Predator and Commando, watching his movie on a big screen was almost mandatory. But as we watched the film, my friends started laughing. “His accent is funny” they said. Their reaction caught me off guard. As a child growing up in Korea, I never realized that Arnold spoke in “broken” English; all English sounded the same to me.

My middle school was divided into two- between those who were born in America and those who were “fresh off the boat.” My fluent English skills, developed from a young age, and repeated viewings of the movie Clueless helped me adapt into the crowd of Americans. When they asked about my birthplace, I often told them that I was an American. Though I came to America in 7th grade and spent my whole life as a foreigner, I viewed myself as somewhat better than the other immigrant kids. They couldn’t understand what the teacher was saying. They didn’t know how to play football. I didn’t want to be associated with them.

But seeing my friends mock his Austrian accent made me realize that Arnold, the man who single handedly constructed my ideals of an American hero, was also an immigrant. Arnold! Arnold Schwarzenegger, probably one of the most American people in the history of America wasn’t even born here. The Hollywood legend never tried to hide his thick accent, nor did he need to. It was the pride he had with his immigrant heritage that spoke to me.

Just because I knew how to pronounce R’s and L’s, I was abandoning my roots and judging fellow immigrants. This fear of expressing my identity had to go, as it drove me to distance myself from other “fobs” of the school. Seeing Arnold deliver all the cool one- liners, it struck me that being an immigrant was nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, opening up to my fellow immigrants helped me to fully embrace myself. It started from translating for kids who didn’t understand the textbook to helping them order the right menu at the cafeteria. Though seemingly small tasks, they made a big impact with my new friends. I knew I will never be as ripped or cool as Arnold, but in my own ways, I was offering hands of help just like T-800.

In the summer of 2015, I went to Korea for a vacation. I learned that Arnold was attending a red carpet event for his new Terminator movie. I didn’t think twice before I got in line and waited for five hours. Getting his signature or shaking his hand wasn’t my intention. I just wanted an opportunity to look right at him. And I can swear, as he walked past me, the man noticed my eyes. Though split seconds, it was more than enough to tell him “thank you, Arnold.”