Imagine being eleven years old and finding yourself suddenly blind, deaf and mute. That is exactly what it felt like when I moved to the United States. We landed at JFK in the afternoon of August 21st, 1994. Dusk had settled over the Big Apple by the time we exited immigration, customs and picked up our luggage. We drove to my aunt’s house in the suburbs of Philadelphia and began our new life.
I was enrolled into a local middle school and started 6th grade on September 6th, 1994. That would be a short two weeks after we arrived here. Here are a few facts about me on my first day of school:
I did not speak any English. I did not know anyone. I had never used a school locker or seen a locker lock before. I was 11 and most other 6th graders were 12-13 years old. I was enrolled into ESL (English as a Second Language). I was also enrolled in Spanish class — and why not? It was all the same for my brain… English, Spanish… they could have added Mandarin and it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I had to take a test to be admitted into 6th grade. My math level was that of a 9th grader.
I was sad, nervous, anxious, relentlessly teased by my classmates for anything and everything. I could not complain to my parents or my sister; They were busy getting on their feet so that we could move out of my aunt’s house and begin rebuilding our lives in our new homeland. My parents and sister had to get drivers’ licenses, jobs, and find an apartment.
… and move out we did a scant three months later. My mom and sister got jobs first, my dad followed. My sister enrolled into Drexel University. My parents worked hard, incredibly hard — all the time. My dad worked three jobs initially and my mom two. They helped pay for my sister’s college education (though like me, she paid part of the way herself).
Fast forward four years — my sister married and my parents were homeowners working normal jobs and saving for retirement, for my college education. We were comfortable…
Fast forward two more years and I was attending Drexel University on a merit-based scholarship.
Fast forward five more years and my parents were attending my graduation from college.
Fast forward three years and we celebrated my marriage to an amazing man.
Fast forward three more years and my parents were helping my husband and I move into our first house. Fast forward another six months and my parents were helping us bring Sophia back home from the hospital.
This is the truth. This.. this is a story of determination, of hard work, of not being spoiled. This is a story of immigration, of the American dream. This story isn’t really about me. It is about my parents. It is and always was just about them. I dedicate this story, this series to them.