It’s official, after 43 years
by Victoria Kemper
Local resident, Suk Cooper, can officially say she is a United States Citizen, after a ceremony held a few weeks ago at a courthouse in St. Louis.
It was always a dream of her late husband, Loy Cooper, for Suk to become a citizen. After his passing in February, she decided to complete the process in his honor.
“I lost my husband back in February and he wanted me to become a U.S. citizen many years ago,” Cooper said. “I thought about it, but you know, that’s a big event and when you’re not 100% sure, so I kind of hesitated.”
Cooper said her hesitation was not because she did not want to become a citizen, but rather she was not ready to say goodbye to her Korean citizenship.
“I just wanted to stay a Korean citizen because that way any time I’d go back to Korea to visit I could stay as long as I wanted to, without a visa,” Cooper said. “Another thing too, when I go back to Korea and if I’d happened to go to the hospital I could be qualified to get a service as a Korean citizen.”
With those reasons in mind, Cooper was not in much of a rush to become a U.S. citizen. Over their 30 years of marriage Loy would bring the subject up often and as the years passed so did their son, step-children, and even grandchildren.
“He would say ‘come on, come on, do it, just do it, after all this, just get on with it,’” Cooper said. “I finally said ‘I will,’ and so I started the process a few years back.”
Cooper said she started the application before Loy passed away and there was a little delay during that difficult time when he got sick, but she stuck with it.
“I haven’t gone back (to Korea) for a long time,” Cooper said. “I used to go back periodically, and then you know, as my family got bigger and more stuff going on here. I haven’t gone back but my family in Korea actually have come here and visited me.”
Cooper said her mom loves visiting Fredericktown. She loves all the trees, open fields and fresh air.
“Korea is very populated, and my mom loves country life,” Cooper said. “As a matter of fact, she decided she’s going to sell the home in Seoul, and she moved to a little town outside of Seoul, more countryside and she loves it.”
Cooper came to America 43 years ago. She then met her husband in St. Louis. The two wed in 1992, where she was welcomed by three step-children and later brought another son into the family. Over the years, the family has grown to include 18 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Loy, originally from Fredericktown, and Suk moved back to the area after he retired and Suk still resides as an active member of the community.
When asked why she thought, after all these years together, Loy would think it was still important for her to gain her citizenship, she said, it all came down to connection.
“Well, he is American and we have our son and he was born here,” Cooper said. “So naturally, he was American and I guess he felt like I had one foot out. After 43 years he knew, but he thought, you know, I wouldn’t be so totally committed.”
When asked about the difficulty of becoming a citizen, Cooper said the process was not hard, and once she made up her mind, she knew she would make it happen. She said the hardest part was filling out the application.
“Some of the questions, I wasn’t sure how to answer and didn’t want to answer them wrong,” Cooper said. “Like, I just wasn’t certain how to answer it. I mean, they asked some questions. I didn’t think were relevant. But they asked it, so you’re answering.”
Cooper gave an example, saying one question asked which port she entered the country in. This could be answered many ways as she has been in and out of the country many times over the past 43 years.
One of the other steps towards citizenship included the civics test, yes the one most of us took in middle or high school. Cooper said she studied 100 questions and during her interview she was supposed to be asked 10 random questions verbally. A 60% was all Cooper needed to pass and when she answered the first six correctly the officer went ahead and stopped the test. She had passed.
“It wasn’t bad at all,” Cooper said. “The questions they asked I thought were pretty easy. I mean, they asked me six questions and then said ‘okay, you passed.’”
Cooper said the officer who interviewed her said people always go in for their interview and get really nervous. She said she confessed to the officer she was also nervous, but the officer said, “well you passed with flying colors and have no reason to be nervous.”
“Well I didn’t know I was gonna get through with flying colors,” Cooper said. “You know what I mean? So she said, ‘oh, there’s no reason to worry, but everybody gets real tense, and nervous and all that. Unless you got something you’re hiding you’ve got no reason to be nervous.’…you know you want it and once I decided I’m gonna go for citizenship, yes, I want to get through the first time. I don’t want to have to retake the test.”
Cooper said she was also nervous about passing because she didn’t want to reapply and pay the more than $700 in fees. She said it was hard to come up with it when you are on a fixed income, so she did not want to waste her investment by being declined.
Luckily, she did not have to stress very long. Cooper passed every step saying “it was a breeze.”
Cooper said, becoming a U.S. Citizen was not something she did on a whim. She seriously thought about it. She said, the age difference between Loy and herself was something she never noticed years ago, but as they aged the gap shortened.
“I used to think maybe if anything happened to him, I thought maybe I would go back to Korea one day,” Cooper said. “But that kind of, you know, went south. I mean, I have kids, grandkids. I’m not going anywhere.”
Cooper said, it was never just her husband who wanted her to do this but her kids were right there bugging her to do it too.
“My husband, with his wish, I said my God, I’m gonna do it,” Cooper said. “You know he really wanted me to and I just wish I would have done it while he was alive.”