Credit: Kimberly Su
I am the child of refugees.
And being the child of refugees carries more weight than anyone could ever realize. My parents both struggled in their lives to come to America, to escape the hellish environment of their beloved home country. They fled to to a country that had promised help their homeland, only to watch from the sidelines as their new home withdrew from the war and left a mess behind. My parents were refugees of the Vietnam War.
Children of refugees are constantly told about the struggles that their parents went through to give them the life they have. I can’t describe how many times my parents scolded me for wasting precious moments of my privileged life, as if I didn’t understand what their hardships were worth. It’s sad to say, but as a kid, I really didn’t. I remember one day, sitting and staring out the window, watching the bright, California sun. I wanted to be out there, playing in the grass of the front lawn instead of being inside doing multiplication tables.
I whined my head off to my parents. My mom scolded me fiercely for taking my life for granted. She would go on about how I was lucky to have this free time to focus on my studies. I never understood why she felt so strongly about those multiplication tables. I can still hear her scolding me–in a voice full of anger, frustration, and a hint of wisdom–tell me time and time again about her own childhood. How she barely had time to study because she had to arrive home from school and immediately clean the house, cook meals, help her four younger siblings, and every other chore my somewhat absent grandparents doled out to her.
Getting older and going to college teaches you to appreciate so many things. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand so much more of my family’s history. I’m a first generation American, and although my dad went to college in the U.S., he had to supplement school with numerous jobs: working at a library, in a mailroom, as a janitor, as a tutor, and other meagerly-paid jobs. He told me stories of endless lunches of cheap white bread sandwiches with cheap off-brand mayo. Stories of wearing shirts until they practically fell off his body before buying new ones from Ross clearance racks. Stories of living with eight other people in an apartment made for two, so as to avoid paying on-campus housing. My dad got a good education in computer engineering around the time the field started picking up in popularity so he could help his parents and sisters. He worked hard every day of his life and saved every piece of spare change in a water jug since the day he left his home in Vietnam. He wanted to create a future that would be better than the life he was living.
My mom was no different. She couldn’t get a college education due to finances, so she worked a cubicle job at a company that made computer chips. A dead end job of long hours and taking plenty of overtime so she could save for the future of my brother and I. Growing up I rarely saw my mom, as she left home early in the morning and didn’t return until well after eight or nine at night, often working during the weekends. I vividly remember hearing her car start up at five, staring out the window to watch her leave for work. I remember thinking, “Why is Mommy leaving without saying goodbye again?” Well now I know the answer. It’s because she wanted to make sure I could get a good education, so I’d never have to face the same difficulty when I had my own child.
Ever since my junior year of high school, around the time I started to look for colleges, an anxious terror has taken over a part of my mind. A fear that grows every day and makes me reevaluate every little detail of my life. I sit in class, in my room, and everywhere in between, feeling the fear sink its claws deeper into my mind.
It asks, “Are you doing enough for them? Is this the best you can be?”
After all my parents went through, I am currently attending college for free. My parents are paying for the entirety of my education. That knowledge is terrifying. I am constantly afraid that I will not honor my parents’ hardships and struggles. That if I choose wrong then I might render their sacrifice worthless.
I don’t know if what I’m doing in college is truly honoring what my parents had to struggle through to get me this life. I’d like to think that as long as I make the best of the life I have, I am doing them justice. If I take pride and make sure I have no regrets at the end of the day, I am on the right path. Maybe that’s good enough and maybe it isn’t. I can never really know, but I can always keep trying.
I’m lucky enough to get that option.
By: Kimberly Su