It’s a difficult thing to “know your place” and fulfill your familial duty when around you, friends, neighbors, and strangers alike, all lived these carefree lives without constraints. They seldom just did “as they’re told” and they spoke their opinions. Opinions which were met with respect and encouragement. Still, I was happy and thought I had it all back then. Life eventually taught me that I actually had nothing without free choice and free speech.
Chapter 1: The American Dream
The first chapter of my life, “The American Dream”, is where I thought I had it all. My family and I first immigrated to America when I was 4 years old. I was the youngest of three siblings. My sister was 6 and my brother was 8. With our five lives packed neatly into two suitcases, we moved from our small village in Vietnam to a place where everything was completely foreign called Boise.
Our first home was a one bedroom, one bath of a single-level triplex that closely resembled a run-down motel. It was located in the poor part of town and possessed paper-thin walls, hardly thicker doors, and hardened stains from floor to ceiling. Sleeping together under one big blanket on the floor, we were the definition of impoverished. Still, it was quite comfortable compared to our straw hut back in Vietnam.
My parents knew their employment opportunities would be scarce since we knew nothing of this new language and culture. Adopting a “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality, they took the first jobs they could get and enrolled us kids into school. As we got older, my parents took on more hours, eventually each working two full time jobs. Yet no matter how tired they were each night, we still fresh family dinners cooked from scratch. Thus, I came to admire them greatly.
Within 4 years, my parents bought our first house in the good part of town. It was a three bedroom, two bath home nestled in a quaint little neighborhood. It was the kind of place where people would leave their doors unlocked and kids would play outside until the street lights came on at night. Seeing how far we’d come in 4 short years, my admiration for my parents grew infinitely. They were my idols.
By the time I was 13, everything seemed to fall together. I was an honor roll student, my basketball team carried an undefeated season, and I had just made the cheerleading squad. At home, my dad now ran his own successful carpet cleaning business and my mom finally quit her second full time job. Within that year, we upgraded into a bigger house in an even nicer neighborhood. This new house didn’t just fill our needs, it swelled our family with pride.
Chapter 2: Worlds Collide
As they say, all good things must come to an end. Thus begins my second chapter entitled “Worlds Collide.”
The Vietnamese culture my parents came from was centered on a patriarch household and heavily preached the importance of respecting your elders. They believed that the man of the house should make all of the decisions and that the rest of the family should do as they’re told. They believed not doing so was a sign of disrespect and they believed in meeting disrespect with physical discipline. Most importantly, they believed in absolute familial fealty.
Throughout the years, my parents insisted on maintaining our culture and that we spoke only Vietnamese at home. But the more we came to understand the American way, the more we each questioned our own values, especially my mom. So just as it seemed like everything was coming together, my family started to unravel.
Predictably, my dad and brother were content to follow the Vietnamese culture. They were given the upmost importance simply for being males. My mom, sister, and I however, began to resent it. We came to want what everyone else had; free choice and free speech. Eventually the divide between us got too big and it was irreparable.
At 14, my sister and I called the cops one night and landed our brother in jail. He felt he had a right to tell us what to do and “discipline” us if we didn’t. We could no longer stand the fact that our parents culture enabled him to get away with abuse, time and again. My parents were horrified and disappointed that we could ever do such a thing to our very own brother. Family was supposed to come first.
My mom followed suit a couple years later and served my dad with a divorce. I had never seen anyone so crushed. The next day I came home from school, my dad and hero was reduced to a drunken blob in the living room. Sadly, the wisdom I had gained about my brother didn’t yet extend to my mom in regards to my dad. I often called her hurtful and selfish. A few times I even told her she wasn’t my mother. Thus my mom and hero became withdrawn and depressed.
The divorce dragged on this way for years and each of us came out broken. The house was foreclosed and my parents lost their businesses.
Chapter 3: Who I’m Supposed to Be
My final life chapter is entitled “Who I’m Supposed to Be.” Here I realized that at least I was now free to think, speak, and act as I pleased. Through doing so, I truly gained everything.
At 18, I graduated high school and moved out on my own. I tried to take classes at the local university but everything felt pointless and my grades suffered. I had never felt so shattered. My idols no longer existed. My dream, to become wealthy and give my parents everything in life, no longer had purpose. I then gave up on school for the time being and took a job working as a receptionist.
After a short time, I grew overly restless, got tired of working entry-level jobs, and decided I wanted to travel to “find myself.” Traditional methods weren’t affordable so I decided my best option would be to go back to school for a semester then use it to study abroad. That first semester back, I made a bucket list of all the places I wanted to visit. I had no desire to stay in Idaho so I extensively researched how to be away as long as possible while still obtaining my degree.
I finally settled on a plan that would give me 2 years away before I had to come back. Through a program called National Student Exchange (NSE), I could live and attend college in Hawaii for a year while paying in-state Idaho tuition. After that, I would go live and study abroad in Thailand for a year. My plans were easily do-able and I was already on my way. I was stoked and my internal fire started to grow again.
That next year in Hawaii was one of the best years of my life. For once, I didn’t feel restless. I loved the scenery, the people, the culture, and the food. It was everything I’d ever wanted. I instantly made several close friends and we always explored together. Thanksgiving morning, we watched the sunrise from the top of Stairway to Heaven then went home and had a potluck dinner in our dorm. I couldn’t be more thankful. The next day, we went out to the clubs and there I met my fiancé.
I thought all those things in “The American Dream” meant I had it all. At the time, “Worlds Collide,” signaled the end of everything for me. The freedom to think, speak, and act as I please felt pointless when it left me lost in the complete dark. Little did I know, that was actually the key. By following my personal wants and passions, I found where I’m supposed to be.
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