Twenty years. That’s how long I spent working multiple jobs, often 14 or 16 hours a day, to raise three daughters as a single mother, all so they could have access to the countless opportunities this country has to offer.
At 20, I already had a “hard working gene” by the time I arrived to the US. I was humble and determined. That’s how I was taught. But the reality here was tough: I didn’t speak much English, and I was in a completely different world culturally.
Moreover, as a single mother with three daughters, I didn’t have time to do anything for myself. I couldn’t take any sick days because I worked every day to feed my daughters, send them to school, and pay the bills. My life didn’t seem to be close to the American Dream. Without letting my daughters know, I would dry my tears quietly, remembering my childhood. I missed everything familiar from my homeland.
But I never, never gave up.
My family came first. I did everything to provide a better life and education for my daughters. Once my two oldest daughters grew up, they helped me a lot and took part-time jobs. They worked and studied hard. They were the reason I went through all the hard times, and ultimately were the ones who helped me push through.
Once their dreams had come true, they said, “It’s your turn, mom. You sacrificed everything for us. Now follow your own passion and dream.” They told me that otherwise our American Dream was not complete. After I married my husband, he encouraged me as well. He was an inspiration to me.
Finally, I decided to do something for myself. Thanks to my husband and daughters, I went back to school and studied with students who were the same age as my youngest daughter. But I finished my degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and received a Master of Fine Arts at American University. Years later, my big dream came true — teaching at MICA, where I’ve worked for the last 10 years.
That’s my story. It’s an American story — and it’s the story of so many of my fellow Asian Americans.
From coast to coast, we have worked hard, served our communities, started businesses, and raised families here, often while struggling to learn a new culture and a new language. As a result, we have become an indispensable part of this country. We contributed to building America.
However, there is something that has not changed.
We, Asian Americans, still face discrimination and racism.
Many Asian Americans and most first-generation immigrants have experienced it at least a couple of times. Some may share common experiences — no support or response was provided by the police when hate crimes or incidents happened; their windows were broken by aggressors; discrimination or bamboo-ceilings prevented them from being promoted at work; they were asked where they “originally” or “really” come from; their children were bullied and told they “smell bad” due to their lunch box with Asian food; they were insulted with slanted-eye gestures.
We Asian Americans are a proud people. Instead of fighting back or speaking up against this hate, we worked that much harder to prove our worth. We focused on the problems right in front of us — finding ways to make ends meet, feed our families, and educate our children.
But now, as our nation grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, hurtful words have too often escalated to brutal acts of violence.
The time has come for us to speak out, and demand action.
But institutions and laws are not enough. Asian Americans are both explicitly and implicitly discriminated against. Some who ask us, “Where are you from?” do so genuinely, but ultimately alienate and label us without evil intentions. Regardless, we are judged on whether we are American enough all the time. Our society should evolve to the point where Asian Americans are considered Americans without any questions.
This country is the envy of the world because of its diversity. That diversity makes us stronger, and it is built on embracing, understanding, and enjoying the differences among us.
We will not stay silent anymore. But we will also not respond with vengeance. Instead, we will love each other more, we will support each other more, and we will stand together. We will make sure the overwhelming outpouring of support from leaders turns into real and lasting action that protects our children and grandchildren.