I’ve been hearing a lot about refugees lately. Having been born in a refugee camp for Vietnamese boat people myself, I wanted to share this essay I wrote six years ago, in application for a college scholarship.
originally written in August 2009
“One night in 1981 my mom got in a fishing boat. It was rickety I’m sure. I imagine the wood was rotting, the paint was flaking, patterns were left as the coating began to peel, and chip, and crack. The swelter of the South East Asian heat. By any standards, not a safe vessel. It had a motor, but definitely not anything any rational minded person would feel safe using for a voyage across the South China Sea. But, funny thing, when you’ve spent the day hiding in tall grasses, waiting for the night, the dark, about to flee a country–a life, the only life you’ve ever known–rationality tends to be trumped by fear, fear by desperation, and desperation by the only way to make it through it all–hope. So my mom, with two young daughters and pregnant with me, got in that fishing boat with a couple dozen other refugees and headed out into the water. Headed out towards that hope.
That’s the story of my mother. The night she fled Vietnam. Not too long after my own story would begin—born in a refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a small four walled wooden structure my first home. I would live in that refugee camp for eight months, before spending a childhood growing up amongst the mud puddles and fir trees of Oregon, and then a young adulthood exploring zip codes outside 97236.
Having been fortunate enough to have been raised in this country, for almost my entire life, it’s easy for me to mistake my circumstance as something that just is–something that just happened, not meriting much recognition because it has just been a given that I really do believe I can accomplish anything I want in life.
But nothing just is. My life–the opportunities I have been given–every door that has been opened for me and every window cracked, are things that have been fought for. It’s all a testament to my mother, a woman who went through so much just to get me to this country, to give me opportunities, to save me from the desperation and fear she felt in a life she once had.
And because of that my goal is simple. I want to make her proud. Yes, I have specific goals. I want to move to New York, I want to go to a fine art school. I want to be a writer. I want to be a photographer. I want to find and share stories like that of my mother. I want to fight for my right to marry. But ultimately what motivates me, is the conscious acknowledgement of every opportunity that has been given to me, not just by my mother, but by everyone in my life who has ever contributed in some way to the person I’ve become. I’ve made a commitment to make good on all the fortunes I’ve been given and do my best to not just to take, but to give as well. Because I know that to do otherwise would in many ways be a spit in the face of everyone who’s ever took the effort to love, care, and support me in the hopes of what can be.
And there have been many who have taken the effort to love, care, and support me in the hopes of what I can be.”