Friday, October 26, 2007

Park welcomes new U.S. citizens

There was a time when Southern Californians playing in the NHL were as rare as, say, South Koreans. There just weren't any. Fast forward to 2007, and the Islanders have a two-fer in Richard Park -- a South Korean native who grew up in California.

Park detailed his journey from Asia to SoCal to Toronto to Uniondale at Friday morning's Citizenship Celebration, held at the Charles B. Wang Center at Stony Brook University. Park was the keynote speaker at an event that saw dozens of people from more than 20 different nations take the Oath of Allegiance, officially making them American citizens.

I had the honor of attending the ceremony, which featured remarks by Congressman Tim Bishop as well as Stony Brook University president (and avowed Islanders fan) Shirley Strum Kenny. Bishop noted that for the United States, "It is in our diversity that we gain strength," and Park echoed that sentiment when he took the stage.

Park, one of four children born to South Korean parents, is only the second Korean-born player to ever play in the NHL. He explained how he grew up in California but ended up playing ice hockey, surprising his parents. He eventualy moved to Toronto at age 13 to pursue his dream, living with his sister while his parents remained on the West Coast.

Park said that as a kid he never gave much thought to his citizenship, until he started representing the U.S. at hockey tournaments. He played on a U.S. team at a tournament in Switzerland at age 16, and it was then that he felt the pride of representing his country. He added that his "proudest moment" was when he was named captain of Team USA at the world championships several years ago.

"Pride, honor, respect, dignity - these words come to the forefront when I think about this country," Park said. He added that he has a family of his own now, making his off-season home near Los Angeles with his wife and two children. "There's no other country I would rather raise my kids than the U.S." he said.

Park later invited America's newest citizens to come out and cheer on the Islanders this weekend. Of course -- he's a team player!

No comments: