By Huy Pham
I wish I could say that I had a great upbringing, but I can’t. My parents tried their best, but they were hardly ever around. My sisters and I raised ourselves. Among the three of us, the cooking, cleaning and household chores were divided. I believe we did pretty well but there were some things we missed because of the lack of parents. For instance, how could I learn Vietnamese if my mother came home late every night and my father was never around? Even at a young age, I knew why they weren’t around. They loved me, and wanted me to be better off than they were. It was that simple.
So I threw myself into my schoolwork. I tried to be a son worthy of such sacrifices. It has not always been easy. I began school as an ESL student. At a young age, I didn’t know how to speak English (or Vietnamese) well and I had to learn quickly. Heck, I was in remedial classes for math as well. Nevertheless, I persevered. In time, I became a better and more capable student. By the time I got into high school, I started to realize my potential. I knew that I could graduate at the top of my class and get into a great college. I also realized that my family was heading into a shaky financial situation. One of my father’s fishing boats had been hit by an oil tanker and the total loss was a huge drain. So that’s where my dilemma started. I decided not to tell my parents about anything I did academically. Any score I received, any report card I ever got, was hidden from them. If they knew how good of a student I was, they wouldn’t have allowed me to work. Yeah, I worked. Ever since I was 16, I worked until seven o’clock on school days, and full time during the summer. I tried my best to balance it with extra curricular activities, debate, schoolwork and volunteering. All it did was amount to a lack of SLEEP.
But I’ve been successful. In the past three years, I’ve found a job I absolutely love. I have been a state and nationally qualified speaker. I have continued my activities in volunteering. Most importantly, I have helped my family and have succeeded as a student. The greatest moment in my life was when I told my parents. For the past four years, they assumed I was just an average student. When I got my acceptance into MIT, I rushed downstairs to tell them. The look on my parents’ faces will remain with me always. Their bright smiles made all those long nights worth it. For the first time in my life, they told me that they were proud of me. They looked at me and told me that I was worth their sacrifices. I cried. I finally felt as if I was a son worthy of such great parents.
I realize I am not the ideal Vietnamese child. I may not speak as well as I would like, or write as well as the others. But of my accomplishments, of the hardships I have overcome, of my values and morals that I hold dear, I stand proud. In my heart, if nowhere else, I am Vietnamese.