In 1985 my family started our journey to the US from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. We left because my family feared repression under the communist regime. We were capitalist and as Chinese, an ethnic minority that the government was purging from the country. Those like us had businesses confiscated and were sent as agricultural workers in the New Economic Zones (state farms) set up by the Government.
My parents wanted me to grow up in a country where I would have equal access to opportunities and would not be thought of as less because of our ethnic background. My parents had tried to leave by boat several years earlier, but were unsuccessful having their hard earned money taken by the boat handlers only to be handed over to the communist government. My dad spent several months in jail as a result of this attempt to flee. Other family members managed to reach Indonesia by boat and were placed in refugee camps for 18 months before getting granted asylum in the US. We were the lucky ones, we left by plane as family sponsored immigrants to the US, benefactors of the hard journey taken by other family members.
Even as one of the lucky ones who got to leave by plane, our journey was not easy. We first flew to a refugee camp in the Philippines as part of the resettlement process. We were there almost a year to complete health screenings, await bureaucratic processing, and to take Work, Cultural and Language orientation classes . My mother was five months pregnant when we arrived in the camp and nearly lost her life giving birth to my sister. Health services are limited in the camps; my dad was responsible for cleaning up the room after my mom delivered my sister. Again, we were the lucky ones- we gained refuge to the US, the whole family intact.
I have been in tears since I read the story of a Syrian family of two parents and four children who have been in a refugee camp since 2014 and were scheduled to fly to American today, but now no longer able to. I wept for the Iraqi family with three children who resigned from the work, sold their belongings, and took their children from school to resettle to the US only to get barred from boarding their connecting flight.
I spent some time in the airport welcome area reflecting on these families’ stories and weeping for them. I imagined their families awaiting in their respective airports to welcome them to American only to learn that they were not able to complete their journeys through no fault of their own. These families are no different than my own family, who had to make difficult choices and take on an arduous journey so that their children have a better future.
Even after arriving to the US, the road ahead is not easy. I took my own journey at the age of 4 when the innocence of childhood shielded me from the many struggles my parents had to overcome. When we first arrived our family of 4 shared a bedroom in my aunt’s house; by working two jobs my dad elevated us from there to a two bedroom apartment to the house we have today. Along the way both my parents continually emphasized to us the importance of education and the opportunity afforded to us because we now lived in America.
I recently mentored a refugee family of a mom and three daughters from Myanmar during their first six months acclimating to the US. From them, I got a glimpse back into time. It takes strength, humility, and perseverance to build a new life in a new country. There are the larger tasks of learning a new language, finding a job and learning the cultural norms of your new country. There is also the smaller but no less important tasks like: How do I get around my new city? Where do I buy groceries? How do I build a life here when I miss those who I left behind?
I reflect back on how my parents overcame each of these obstacles so that I have the life and opportunities that I have today. It is because of them that I believe anything is achievable, including our ability as a country to overcome the discriminatory and divisive legislation put forth by our current administration. I still believe in the American Dream. It was this dream that allowed me to come here at the age of five and through the public education system, I reached and achieved and developed my deep patriotism for this country. My heart weeps for the families whose American Dreams have been delayed. My hope in sharing my story is help put a face to the myriad of American Immigrant Stories which make up the fabric of our country.
Quan currently resides in Colorado and is an international marketer at an American medical device company.