By: Grace Ly

War, peace and justice: common words that are used daily, sometimes even thrown around. To some, however, entire lives are devoted to these three words. Indeed war, peace and justice is “in many ways a terrible lesson,” but true also to many it is also “in many ways a magnificent” lesson. This lesson is a lesson that I have been learning every day of my life, and a lesson that has been on-going for my family even before life as I know it.

From appearances, I may seem like the typical American-Born-Chinese student living in a middle class suburb with big dreams and aspirations. But for me, these aspirations stem from something deeper than even myself. I was born and raised in Los Angeles to loving parents who immigrated to the United States in hopes of a better future for their children. I’ve taken this fact for granted most of my life, and even after I was told of how my parents came to the United States I still took my US citizenship for granted. One thing that I did not take for granted, though, was my chance to succeed. As a young girl my dreams and goals for a bright future was pinpointed in law. Quite honestly, the appeal of law career to an elementary school student came from the six figure salary, what I knew back then as “making a lot of money.” Curious enough, my life and its events formed around this dream. From learning about my past to many acts of injustice I’ve witnessed and fell victim to, my childhood dream became my life aspiration.

War is familiar to my family. At times it has been kind, other times cruel. The kindness of war allowed my father to immigrate to the United States seeking refuge from Vietnam during the Vietnam War. As a young man living in Vietnam, my father and his brothers were all susceptible to being forced to fight in the war. He knew there was only one way out: out of the country. My father traveled by small boat for many days and nights ravaged by pirates, and this grueling journey is the price to be paid for a brighter and more hopeful future. Thanks to the Vietnam War, my father was able to escape the then-impoverished conditions and start a family in the United States. Unfortunately, I did not fully grasp these concepts of immigration and difficulty until after my father fell victim to cancer in 1998. By then it was too late for me to express my gratitude towards my father. As I grew older, my mother explained to me how our family came to the US, and my path of law became more clear to me than ever. My entire family, from grandparents to uncles, has the luxury of living in the United States all as a result of my father’s brave escape and his hope and faith in times of difficulty. I understood, though ,while living in a predominantly Asian neighborhood, that not everyone has this opportunity. Green Cards and Citizenship is not handed out so freely to everyone, such as it was for my family. My thankfulness towards my father spurred a desire to one day be able to help others who have a dream of immigrating to the United States for a golden future. I realized this goal can be attained in only one way: studying hard and getting into a top university.

The kindness of war granted my father’s family a hope of a new future, however, the cruelty of war destroyed my mother’s family. My grandfather was a general in the Republic of China (Taiwan) Army, and fought against Communist China. Well respected and wealthy, my grandfather was smart and successful, graduating at the top of his class at the prestigious Huangpu Military Academy in China. My grandfather was a passionate and driven man. His beliefs ground him to fight actively in the Chinese Civil War against the Communist government. On the eve of his escape to Taiwan, he was captured by the Kuomintang and jailed for 22 years under the Communist government because of his beliefs. At the time, my mother was only six years old and had two younger brothers. After my grandfather was released from prison, my mother was a grown woman who barely knew her father. All through his time in prison, my grandfather wrote journals and journals of his story about the Kuomintang, sending letters to any one who would be interested in his fight and passion. While I was a child, my grandfather wrote many memoirs. His books were published and sold in Chinese bookstores across the US. BBC News also translated his books in many languages, helping my grandfather to pass on his story even after he himself passed on. From my grandfather, I learned to be passionate and never give up on my beliefs, even if it means persecution.

The lessons I’ve learned from my past instilled a drive in me, a drive that motivated me to work and study hard, so that my father’s journey and grandfather’s fight did not go to waste. Additionally, my own life came with obstacles that drove me further in a lifelong process to fight injustice. Growing up with a single mother was not easy. Easy enough for me, but not so easy for my mother. Looking to her own childhood of sadness and longing for her own father, my mother worked devastatingly hard to give my two brothers and me everything she didn’t have as a child. Cars, clothes, trips, piano lessons, everything children with both parents could ask for and more. However, life did not come without its ups and downs. A family headed by a single mother draws two types of people’s attention: the genuinely kind-hearted people who selflessly helped without wanting anything in return, and the unscrupulous people who see an easy target to take advantage of. The latter type shattered my sheltered image of people and set my passion for law and fighting injustice on fire. My small but close-knit family has been taken advantage of by people who were cruel and ruthless: false investment promises, misleading my too-trusting mother, and swindling money. Each time, my mother would cry and for some time my family felt so broken at the expense of others. As life is, there is always a silver lining. Each time my family faces these obstacles, we would pick ourselves up and truly emerge stronger than before.

In many ways, my life’s intersection with war, peace and justice has been malicious and cruel, but the relationship I have with these three words is bittersweet. The suffering and hardships overcome by my family and I have taught me valuable lessons. Lessons that are magnificent to say the least. I learned of how war tore apart my family and also how it gave us a new hope. Hardships brought about a passion for peace and justice. The realization that I must be the one to “do something” is a most precious gift to me from War, Peace and Justice. The lessons shaped me into the person I am today: passionate, hopeful, and strong-willed. As a result of the intersection, my life today and forward is devoted to becoming an active agent for social change not only in my own community, but hopefully across nations as well.  The path and reason I have set apart for myself as an aspiring lawyer is clear: to help those who have dreams and fight the injustice that stops them from achieving those dreams. From my father, I have learned to always have hope and never give up. This lesson will carry me through my rigorous years of studying for and during law school. From my grandfather, I have learned to be passionate and standing up for my beliefs. This I hold close to my heart and is an example and reminder on how to live my life now and in the future when I am practicing law and helping those in need. From my mother, I have learned to be compassionate, generous and willing to help. Unlike many unscrupulous lawyers who help clients for solely the income, I am eager to stand up to injustice on behalf of those who cannot voice their opinions and prejudices. The realization that change must be made in order for this world to combat injustice and achieve peace has been a journey that I have traveled on for the past few years of my life. In addition to helping the voiceless and oppressed in the present, it is also equally if not more important to help our future: the next generation. The most effective way to affect change is through children and education. The answer to social change can be found in the way our children are taught and the beliefs they will learn and hold to be true. For the current generation to understand and come to this realization is key to the future of our communities and country.

AuthorGrace Ly