DES MOINES, Iowa — AAPI Heritage Month is special to me for many reasons. I love taking extra time this month to really highlight and share Asian history, food, entertainment, books, cultures, etc. with people around me.
It’s also a time I can learn about different Asian cultures as well. This is something I like doing in my day-to-day life, but I appreciate the extra awareness this month brings to all things AAPI.
Sharing is one of my favorite parts of this month, which is why I wanted to share what makes this year special for my family and me.
This weekend my youngest sister, Chelsea, graduated from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Sure – to many it may not be a big deal. People graduate from college all the time. But, for my family, especially my parents, it was the moment we’ve waited for: all five children in my family finally have college degrees.
My parents are Hmong refugees from Laos. During the Vietnam War, to escape persecution and a genocide of Hmong people, each of their families fled on foot to refugee camps in Thailand. This meant having to swim across the Mekong River, knowing well making it to the side of safety wasn’t guaranteed. But, as my dad told me before, he chose a chance at living over guaranteed death.
Years later, they gained asylum in America.
It wasn’t easy once they were in the United States. There were many things they had to learn and challenges they faced: learning a new language, new culture and customs, finding work, making a living and dealing with racism.
My parents never had it easy. My dad never went to school and my mom finished high school, but didn’t go to college. They always told us just because they didn’t go to college, doesn’t mean we won’t. Even when others told them putting five kids through college on the salaries they were making was impossible, they said they’d find a way.
It was their life mission to make sure we had what they didn’t have: a college education.
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They both worked long hours, sometimes seven days a week, to pay for our books and tuition, supplement spending money we needed on top of our part-time jobs, to send us on study abroad trips and other educational opportunities.
They never stopped re-enforcing their commitment to us.
When my older sister (the first in our family to go to college) was getting ready to go to college, my parents chased down everybody and anybody to ask for help with college and FAFSA applications. Then, when it came to me, she turned around and helped. That was how we passed it down. My parents built the base for their five kids equipped with a self-sustaining cycle of help for our family.
This past weekend my parents, with their beautiful broken English, blue-collar jobs and endless will to give us what they didn’t have, finally achieved their dream: putting all of their kids through college.
Years ago, my mom said she wished she was smart enough to get a degree when she was younger because she would’ve been a nurse.
Well, now she has six degrees at her house, including my brother’s master’s degree. We achieved it because they believed it.
Happy AAPI Heritage Month to my parents, two refugees who carved a legacy for their family using hope and a lot of determination.
I’ve never been prouder of anyone.