My Family’s Immigrant Experience

By Chris Ly
New Organizing Project blogger
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This is the story about my family – my mother, sisters and me. They are my inspiration.

Like many immigrants who come here, the first thing that I think my mom thought of when coming to America was Ellis Island – the Statue of Liberty – which symbolizes the start of something new and great. Everyone has his or her version of the American Dream, right? For my mother it was for her kids to get a good education and live fulfilling lives.

My mother gave up her stable, comfortable life in Taiwan and immigrated to America in 1989, along with my two older sisters and my grandparents. She arrived in Atlanta and was determined to set a good standard of living for all of us. She was hardworking and that mindset she bestowed on to us.

I am told that once they arrived, finding work was difficult. They were in a new place, in new surroundings. There were a lot of unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells. My mother and sisters knew that in order to live as they did in Taiwan – comfortably – they needed to work hard. Thankfully with help of an aunt who had relationships with local restaurant owners, my family was able to find work.

With almost 20 years in the restaurant business, my sisters, who both received high school diplomas, got tired and wanted something new. So, carrying the hopes and dreams of our mother, they applied to college. But as fast as their hopes lifted, they dashed, so cruelly, quickly and without a moment for us to realize what had happened.

What I haven’t said so far about my mother and my two sisters is that they are undocumented.

When my sisters were denied access to higher education, my mother was devastated. Seeing them enroll was what she had worked for all those years. My sisters aren’t geniuses, but they are curious and eager and would have contributed to so much in lecture halls and classrooms. But it wasn’t to be.

I am currently a student at Georgia State University. I was born in 1991 in Atlanta during my mom and sisters’ early immigrant years. When I was accepted, I became their new hope and wish. For most college students, they go to school to earn a degree for themselves. For me, I’m attending for both my sisters and my mother. I have a lot riding on my shoulders, but that’s ok. It’s worth it for them who are the pioneers, the bedrock of my family.

I stand proud of where my family came from, and will someday hope to have the power to change laws that work to understand immigrant families and mixed-status families, and gives students a chance to just go to school and learn.

 

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