When I was in elementary school, having the right sneakers was a big deal. They looked cool as hell, gave you social clout amongst your classmates, and were a part of your being. Of course many people, myself included, got into the shoe game through kicks branded with the name and likeness of “His Air-ness,” Michael Jordan. However, I never owned any Jordans until I was much older because they were so expensive. Most brand name sneakers that people cared about were hitting for upwards of $100 for kid’s sizes, which was a lot to pay for a shoe that was eventually going to be outgrown and beat up in a couple months.
The first sneaker I really wanted was a pair of Reebok Pumps. I remember seeing the Michael Chang commercial on TV and immediately wanting the shoes. The Pump was so ahead of its time technologically, and the energy surrounding it was crazy. One day my family was at Foot Locker, and I asked my parents to buy me some blue, black and white Pump AXTs. When I told them that the shoes were $84.99, they gasped and told me that I was out of my damn mind. My parents, who immigrated from South Korea to the U.S. with little to no money, were modest and frugal, and couldn’t fathom why a 7-year-old kid would want such expensive-ass shoes. My parents were so shocked that they even thought that my American upbringing was a bad influence because it was teaching me to be materialistic.
I wanted the shoes more because I couldn’t get them, and I begged my parents. I even told my parents that they were Michael Chang’s shoes with the hope that I would win points with them for wanting shoes marketed by an Asian-American. It was a bad look all around. Until then, I had never owned a pair of brand name sneakers. I only had off-brand sneakers from bargain basement stores that were struggling imitations.
I made a deal with my parents to get the shoes on the guarantee of excellent grades, and I eventually got the shoes for my birthday. I thought they were incredible, and I will never forget the feeling of breaking them in. I wore the shoes into the ground, but I still have the box at my parents’ place in Houston. Every time I see it now, I greatly appreciate how lucky I was to get that shoe and how much my parents had to go against their own principles to get me such a ridiculous gift.
This story appears in Mass Appeal Issue 52. Read more stories from the issue here.