Above, Eugene Kwon and Maria Isabel Decolongon compete in the finals of the annual Letter to My Parents Contest. The two students from RFK’s School for the Visual Arts and Humanities won top honors for their entries.

Their stories are of abandonment and hardship, redemption and hope.

And through their heartfelt letters to their parents, students from L.A. Unified and neighboring districts expressed their hurt and resentment, gratitude and love.

Of the more than 80 entries submitted in the annual Letter to My Parents Contest, top honors went to two written by students from the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities on the campus of Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.

Eugene Kwon received the Bravery Award and Maria Isabel Decolongon won the Proposal Award in the contest, which aims to improve and maintain healthy family relationships. Each of the students received a $500 prize.

“There are stories of immigrants, stories of a single parent, stories of a challenging obstacles – each of these stories reflects the society we live in,” said Katsuko Nakagawa, a member of Reiyukai America, which co-sponsored the contest with the Rotary of Historic Filipinotown. “At the same time, once again, we have confirmed that all you need is one letter to bring a positive impact to the family.”

Students from 22 schools across Los Angeles County participated in this year’s contest, including Belmont, Canoga Park, Jordan, Garfield, Los Angeles, Sylmar, University and Wilson High schools and Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet.

Kwon wrote to the father who abandoned him and his mother seven years ago in their native Korea, and the despair, loneliness and “righteous wrath” that followed. His letter describes how they are “living in a simple 2-room house with happiness and sadness in our lives,” his mother’s bravery and sacrifice, his own determination to succeed.

“To truly pay off all the work she has done for me, the only way to compensate her is to become the “perfect” dream child that she had always wanted to have,” it says. “I will do anything to achieve that dream.”

Kwon’s letter seeks to establish a relationship with his father, even though the man had previously left the family once before,

“Life is beautiful, which is why the fact that I am your son cannot change and I want you to at least be proud of me as your revolutionary son,” he wrote. “Once again, I ask you to send me a letter; even if you live far away from us, please support us so we can support you. A family could never stand straight if a family is spread out like this. Despite your fear and our hatred, let us reconcile and restore that love once again, please. Let us change for a better future.”

Decolongon wrote to Nanay, her name for her mother Ruby, who left the youngster behind in the Philippines while she came to the United States to work. They were reunited a decade later when Maria got permission to come to Los Angeles, where her mother works six days a week as a sales clerk in the Jewelry District.

Some nights, I hear your phone calls with your friends and you tell them how badly you need a higher-paying job,” she wrote. “I hear you tell them that you want to give me both my wants and needs but you can’t because there’s not enough money. I hear you tell them how fortunate you are to have me because I don’t ask for anything, but you’re wrong because I’m the one who’s fortunate to have a mother like you, a mother who would give everything and anything even if it will leave you with nothing.”

Decolongon writes about the cultural difference that now divide them, and her desire to carve out the time to build a relationship that bridges that gap.

“You are my inspiration, Mom. You motivate me to strive hard and do better. I can’t thank you enough for all of your sacrifices for me,” she wrote. “I love you so much.”