By: Katherine Chung
Growing up, I was always jealous of my peers around me. I did not have the privileges like most of the kids around me, because I had to work for everything I ever wanted in life. I was born in California in the city of Fountain Valley. My parents had just came from Washington, D.C. after years and years of being in a refugee camp. My parents thought that there would be more opportunities in the state of California than stay in the nation’s capital. My entire life I’ve lived in Orange County, and I can safely say that I never belonged in Orange County, especially the city of Orange.
The city of Orange is thought to be a little more on the wealthier side than other cities in Orange County and a fairly conservative one as well. Unfortunately, my family was not considered wealthy or middle class, so obviously we were at a disadvantage. For most of my life, my family has relied on governmental assistance to try to provide a better future for my family. We were on every kind of welfare that was out there because this was the only means of my family. Money was always a sore subject in my family and till this very day, it still is. Growing up, my peers were either upper or middle class, so it was always a challenge for me to be friends with them. They would look down on me and think they were superior to me, because my family couldn’t offer me the resources that they had. Money was their advantage and it gave them the materials they needed to succeed in high school. I did not do so well in high school, I didn’t have SAT prep classes nor could I afford private tutoring. If I did try to participate in anything, it would come out of my own pocket. That was the reality of my life and I felt left out for most of my childhood because of that.
My goal out of high school was get into Berkeley or UCLA, and after that, I was to pursue Medicine or Pharmacy as my graduate studies. Even though I tried running away from the stereotypes, I had to conform to one because of my parents’ wishes. That was my parents’ goal, but it became my goal at the age of five. After being in a near-death car accident experience, I had to receive surgery for a rupture spleen. My father told me that it was life or death, and they kept praying that I would come out okay. After that life changing moment, I dedicated myself to become a doctor. That was my dream and my continuous goal throughout my entire life. Unfortunately, I was constantly teased for my goal. I was being discriminated for a dream that I had and I was constantly being thrown into stereotypes. They blamed my parents saying that Asians are always listening to their parents, but little did they know that this was my aspiration in life.
I was always insecure of my background and I never felt like an Asian American. It wasn’t until I got into community college, when I finally realize what it kind of felt like to be Asian American. The constant disadvantages that we were in, and that we were constantly bombarded with stereotypes. I tried to break away from them, but most definitely, I tried to become more secure with my background and my life. I took my first Asian American class in the spring of 2009. I did not know what to expect, but I went in with an open mind and an open heart.
My professor truly blew my mind with her methods of teaching. Her method was kind of sitting in a big circle and having it be like a constant flow of open communication. I talked about my experiences and my feelings, and I soon realized that I was not battling a road full of demons, but I had a support system. I would describe this class as an Alcohol Anonymous meeting because it was a group of people supporting each other through their unique experience. Thankfully, our class was fairly diverse, so we got to here experiences from everyone. We heard from all ethnicities with their run in with discrimination and prejudice. Since this class was truly a gift to me, I felt that studying Asian American Studies was the way to go.
When I got accepted into UCLA, I declared my major to be Asian American Studies. It was due to Professor Nguyen-Vo’s class about the Vietnamese American Experience when I truly took interest in my own ancestry background. Before this course, my family would rarely talk about their times in Vietnam. If they did, it was to reminisce about their childhood and carefree days. While in this course, I learn about the despair and the difficulty for Vietnamese Americans. I could never understand the pain, but I tried to relate it to the ethnic identity issues I had growing up. I could never fully grasp the trouble and pain they had gone through. Losing their country and home was nothing compared to the problems I would always complain about. My parents left home and came to this country uncertain of success. Even though success wasn’t in their life, they had hoped that it would be in all their children’s lives.
After Professor Nguyen-Vo’s class, I took more interest in learning about my family’s history. I learned things that I would never be allowed to read in textbooks because these were firsthand accounts. This made me more interested in the equality I felt that everyone deserved. I had always been interested in equality rights, more so gay equality, but after hearing my parent’s stories, I felt that everyone should be able to hear these stories. That is why I took more interest in trying to promote these stories. Whether these people are second generation Asian Americans or Mexican Americans, everyone has a story that is worth listening too. These stories are filled with so much emotion, and hopefully it could teach us more about what kind of world we live in. My inspiration was coming from my parents whose stories were never heard. Most feel ashamed of their past and are trying to move on to provide a better future, but without a concrete understanding of the past, how can we move forward? This was my goal: to have these refugees, immigrants, second-generation, etc. to provide us with their life story. Through these stories, they are not only being heard, but we are learning that we are never alone in this world. There is someone always there to relate to the difficulties we face every single day.
Through finding out more of myself, I have become more comfortable with my background and my life. I am no longer ashamed of my life, nor being an Asian American. My goal and aspirations is still to become a doctor, but rather a doctor of psychiatry. My main focus is on the Asian American community, and I want to try to help those who are suffering through depression and other mental illnesses. Hopefully through this, I can hear more stories and hopefully be able to record them so how. Every person’s story is a novel that is worth reading. Maybe if we can get everyone to read one person’s novel, it’ll broaden their minds about what difficulties people go through. With that, hopefully the idea of equality will become reality. Like Buddha once said, “What you think, you become."