Food. Food. Food. The aroma fills the empty spaces and permeates the walls. I can smell from miles away. My stomach turns and rumbles. My mom and dad are amazing cooks. I have many favorite dishes, and my parents are always trying out new recipes. Every day, I come home from school and expect to see dinner laid out on the table. I feel very fortunate and grateful to have a loving family, a warm home, and delicious food waiting for me. I can’t help but think how that’s not the case for my parents growing up.
My grandparents and their children, including my mom, immigrated here in the 1990s from Vietnam in search of freedom and a better future for themselves and their children. I don’t know much about the history of the Vietnam War, but from what I know, in short, my grandpa fought the communist and lost the war. My grandpa would often say, “I fought hard, but the bad guys won. They jailed me, and I almost died in the jungle. ” I could see the sadness and disappointment in his eyes as he said and recalled. My mother would often tell me stories about how it felt to be here for the first time when she arrived in Des Moines, Iowa.
She remembered vividly when she landed on an airplane and got driven along Fleur Drive on the way from the airport. She breathed the fresh air. She was excited and nervous about starting her new life here. She described the lights of downtown as a sea of sparkling stars and said that it was like she had entered a dream, but living in a new country had its ups and downs. Immigrants have to face many obstacles in the beginning. Jobs are hard to find since many jobs require high school and college diplomas which many immigrants do not have.
My grandparents, my uncles and my mom did not know any English, so getting a job was difficult. Who would want to hire non-English speaking immigrants? They had very few options. The only option that they had was housekeeping at motels and hotels which required no or very little English. They spent their days cleaning bathrooms and making beds. They were making minimum wage, but it was better than nothing. They told me how excited they were to see a couple of dollars left by the guests when they went to clean the rooms. Despite the financial circumstances, they always felt grateful and never discouraged.
They knew that they had to start somewhere, even if that meant, the very bottom. They felt lucky that, at least, they were free and had jobs. They knew that if they worked hard and saved up, they would eventually have enough money to buy a house and start a better life. My grandparents knew that their children, my uncles and my mom, would have a better future if they studied hard and worked hard. Education is another obstacle to immigrants. Most immigrants cannot speak English, so coming over to a foreign country and then having to go to school is very intimidating.
My mom told me that when she entered school for the first time, it was a completely different experience for her. Schools back in Vietnam were old and small. School buildings were usually tarnished. Classrooms had dirt floors. Many kids had to walk several miles every day just to get to school. Books and paper were very scarce, and many families struggled to afford the basic school supplies for their kids. Here, school supplies are abundant. Buses take kids to schools. Schools are big, and classrooms are equipped with heating and air conditioners.
My uncles came over as teens, so they were able to pick up English quicker and did well in school. My parents were in their early 20s, so it was harder for them to learn English. Tam the oldest of three children in my family, but my upbringing was harder than my two younger brothers. My parents used to live in an old and small apartment. My mom was pregnant with me while attending DMACC. Growing up, the clothes I wore were gotten free from charity places, bought from thrift shops or hand-me-downs given to my parents by their friends.
We had nothing nice, and my parents worked hard every day to pay the bills. I would sometimes get envious of the toys and clothes that other girls had since I did not get new things. I realized as I got older that my parents tried their best. My mother became an accountant, because it was an easy job and education was short, not because she enjoyed the career. As a little girl, I quickly found out that I was different from other kids. I had black hair whereas they had blonde and brown hair. Their first language was English, and mine was Vietnamese.
At first, I just wanted to fit in, but as I got older, I came to accept that being different was ok. I started embracing my native language, my culture, and my uniqueness. I am proud of who | am. Many children that come from immigrant families often feel out of place, because many economic and cultural differences can isolate them from their peers. These kids then grow up wanting to fit in with their peers, and they soon lose their culture, sometimes not even able to understand or speak their own native language.
I remember as a child asking my parents why we did not eat the same things my American friends ate. Last year, I hosted my 16th birthday party. I invited my friends over, and they all became excited when I mentioned the food was home-made. We had an array of food, from egg rolls to pizza. In the United States, Chinese and Mexican food are widely popular and many people enjoy it. Restaurants that serve food of different cultures are usually very popular, as many people enjoy getting a taste of different cultures. Many early immigrants helped shape the culture and the environment of the United States.
I could drive around town and come across many different types of restaurants, from Thai to Mexican food. Immigrants as a whole, have contributed in many ways, whether it be food, culture, idea or creativity. Many people enjoy attending local festivals dedicated to Asian culture or Hispanic cultures. These festivals have many ethnic foods along with traditional dancing and singing which are very entertaining. The life of an immigrant family is not easy, and as a child, I have always thought of ways to try to help other families similar to mine be better off.
Employment and education were probably one of the biggest challenges my parents faced. They both could not speak English, so attending school was difficult. The highpaying jobs were usually hard to get, so many immigrants headed towards easier jobs like, production, accounting, beauty, etc. For most of them, the career choices were limited. My mom told me that it was tough working and going to school at the same time. She carried around a dictionary to learn new English words. One of the major obstacles for immigrants is the language barrier.
Helping them learn English will help break down that barrier and help more immigrants be successful in school and work. If my grandparents did not immigrate, life would have been completely different for me. I am thankful every day that they did make the decision. Compared to the past, my parents are living a much more comfortable life now, and I am grateful that everything worked out for the best. My parents taught me many valuable lessons growing up. They taught me that I could achieve anything if I was determined and willing to work hard for it.
When I get older, I intend to help more people with their challenges in life. I’d like to help those like my grandparents and parents who once struggled. In today’s society, our everyday lives are shaped by the contributions of immigrants. We are all immigrants since we all had ancestors that originated outside of the country. Unless you are Native American, you can probably trace your family history back and discover many surprises in your family tree. The word “immigrant” does not only mean people of Asian or Hispanic descent. We are all immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants.
We welcome all. We all come together and work hard contributing our expertise and talents to make this nation the best nation in the world. We all yearn to breathe the air of liberty, regardless of where we came from, as described in the following excerpt from the poem written by Emma Lazarus graven on a tablet within the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! “