I was brought to the United States by my aunt when I was 15. My parents got divorced when I was 3, and since then my grandma had been taking care of me. She was getting older and older each day, and if I were to continue through high school in Taiwan, she would not have been able to pay for my tuition.
To ease grandma’s financial burden, my aunt brought me in with a visitor’s visa, hoping that once I get in, they would be able to adopt me and my status would be changed. Unfortunately, in order for them to adopt me, they would need my dad to give up custody, but he was nowhere to be found (he was always a drifter). Next thing you know, I turned 16 and I was no longer eligible for adoption.
I, however, was completely unaware of all that happened around me, as I was busy adapting to the new culture (also because typical Chinese parents don’t usually discuss “grown-up matters” with their kids). School was not easy for me, as English was not my primary language. I was made fun of at school, because of my “FOB”ish (“Fresh-Off-the-Boat”) accent, and I could barely understand my teachers.
But growing up in a divorced family, I was much more determined compared to other kids. I would not have given up so easily. Every night, I stayed and studied until 2 AM (if not later). An average American kid might spend an hour to finish her history homework, but I had to spend three hours, because I needed to look up every other word in the passage. Whenever there was a presentation, I would spend hours practicing my speech in front of the mirror, correcting every single word that I was pronouncing wrong, just so nobody could make fun of my accent.
By junior year, I was able to speak English almost flawlessly. I did grow up in Texas, so I do speak it with a little southern accent.
Finally, I was able to graduate high school with a 3.8 GPA, and I was engaged in National Honors Society, Student Congress, and many other extracurricular activities. I worked so hard, and all I ever wanted, was to get into a good college, so I could make my grandma proud. I went to U.S. News, and printed out all the information for the top schools. I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to study interior design, I was interested in psychology, I even wanted to become a professor. Finally I decided that I wanted to be in the medical field, so I requested applications from schools such as Johns Hopkins, Standford, UPenn, Duke, and so on.
When I was filling out my application forms, I came across a new vocabulary called “social security number.” And that nine-digit number shattered my dream. I couldn’t get into any of those schools, neither could I ask for financial aid. My aunt worked for a factory, there was no way she could pay for my tuition without financial aid.
But I promised grandma I would get a college degree. I would never disappoint her. I started looking through every single application that I had collected, and finally I saw that the Texas Common Application was the only form that did not ask me for my social security number. I decided to give it a try, and I was lucky to get into a local school. Unfortunately, the school was newly developed, it did not have a medical school, nor did it offer interior design, psychology, or education degrees. I had to choose between Computer Science or Business-related degrees. I chose Accounting during my second year of college, and like that old saying, “make do with what you got,” I thought to myself, “if I work hard enough, maybe I will be able to find a company that is willing to sponsor me.”
I was able to obtain my bachelor and masters degree in five years, with a 3.9 GPA, while I juggled officer positions in Accounting Honors Society and several other organizations. As Accounting students, we had countless internship opportunities to work at one of the firms. Every time when there was a chance, I would stand in front of the sign-up sheet, but I never gathered up enough courage to put down my name. How do I tell people that I need sponsorship? What if they ask me for my social security number? Would I be deported? I could not risk the chances of not being able to graduate.
Finally during my last year of college, I took a class called Internal Audit. It was a very tough class, but the professor gave us a chance to work on actual projects with the firms (without having to fill out the papers). I seized the chance, went through with the interview, and I became the student lead for the biggest project. To other students, it was probably an irrelevant project, which they just needed that project to pass the class. But to me, that was the first time I ever got a chance to “work” in the corporate setting. I was wearing my business suit, I was an internal auditor, I was doing what most people hated doing – working, but it was my Dream come true.
In the end, I won the award for “Best Student Lead” and our group won the “Best Team” award. The professor urged me to sign up for the interview to work for Deloitte, as it was the Dream company for most internal auditors, including myself, and I could have easily gotten the job offer, given my performance throughout the year. But I had to turn down the offer because I could not legally work in the States, and no company would be able to sponsor me. I “came out” to my professor, hoping that through his network, he would be able to find someone to help me. Once again, my Dream was shattered, even after all these hard-working years, I was denied the right to work.
I cannot help but envy my friends, the ones who did not even have to try hard, and they are already in a position that I wanted to be in. They can drive, work, go on business trips, pay mortgages, drop deposit slips through their bank’s drive-thru, wear business suits, and make presentations in front of all these people. These may seem like small things in life, but to me, it’s like a dream that will never come true.
Right now I am working as a waitress at a Chinese buffet. Every once in a while I would come across a customer asking me, “wow your English is perfect, were you born here?” I would smile and shake my head.
I may talk like a Texan, but will I ever enjoy the rights as one?
(Photo credit: CSUN DREAMS to be Heard)