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Goeun Park: For better or worse, nothing can change the fact it’s where you came from

There are three questions all college students should be able to answer in their sleep: name, major and hometown. I stumble through all three.

“Goeun Park. Like you’re going somewhere, y’know? Goeun-to-the-Park, if that helps.”

“Gosh, I don’t know. Maybe Biological Public Policy? Last week, I was thinking about majoring in Cognitive Science but this week, Classics sounds really interesting so…”

“Minnesota. Before that, South Korea. But mainly Minnesota. No, not the Twin Cities. I’m from a small town in kind-of-northern Minnesota. It’s about an hour east of Fargo — do you know where Fargo is? Yeah, it’s pretty up there.”

Let’s talk about that last answer.

When people ask where I’m from, it’s not meant to be a loaded question. Most of my college friends can answer it in a heartbeat: Portland, Seattle, Boston. Their hometowns are etched on mental maps and need no further explanation.

Detroit Lakes is a different story. Detroit Lakes is a story they haven’t heard altogether.

The thing is, people don’t actually want to hear my story; they want to be polite. Still, I tell them. I verbally vomit pieces of my childhood on their nice shirts. I can’t help it.

I tell people about spending summers scratching mosquito bites and winters wishing for snow days. I tell them about camping trips to Itasca and mandatory swim lessons. I tell them about forests and farms and fresh air. About Minnesota Nice.

I tell them that when my friends and I felt decadent, we went to Perkins or La Barista. I tell them that we usually got cheap cappuccinos from M&H. I tell them how my brother and I would pick out a DVD from Central Market every Friday pre-Netflix, and how my friend April and I tried to go to the flea market every Sunday last summer. I tell them about frozen lakes and frosted windowpanes.

I tell them about the cold.

I believe that a hometown is more than a place — it’s an extension of who you are. It’s baggage, but it’s your baggage. It’s your treasure.

Likewise, DL is my baggage and treasure. I carry the memories I made there and I cherish so many of them. I make sure to tell people the good parts, but sometimes the bad slips out. I can’t help that either.

I tell them what it was like to be a minority in a town that was over 90 percent white. I tell them what it was like to stick out like a sore, yellow thumb. I tell them what it was like to be the token Asian friend and what it was like to laugh at petty racist jokes at my expense. What it was like to laugh and be offended anyway, be hurt anyway, be ashamed anyway. What it was like to be ashamed of being ashamed.

I tell them about the cold.

When I came back for winter break, I felt at home. I still knew the roads, the buildings, the people — and this place still knew me. At least, the part of me that I left behind. I don’t take that for granted.

It’s nearing the end of the column and I don’t really know what I’m trying to say. Maybe it’s this: Detroit Lakes is my hometown, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. I can’t change what happened there in the past seven years either. But I hope, even if given the chance, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Goeun Park graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends college in California.