By Carla Navoa, Youth Organizer, Korean American Resource & Cultural Center
On Wednesday April 3, leaders from KRCC’s youth council Fighting Youth Shouting Out for Humanity (FYSH) participated in legislative visits to the offices of Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. Community members from various Asian American organizations in Chicago shared their stories with the senators’ staffers and called attention to the immigration backlog, the importance of family unification, and the need to protect family sponsored visas in the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently being drafted by the Gang of 8.
We want to highlight the two stories shared by our FYSH members.
When my family decided to migrate to the United States from the Philippines in hopes of better opportunities for me and my siblings, my mom immediately left as a nurse in 2008, then I came in 2009. For a year, I lived with only my mom. When my sister came, it made a huge difference to have another family member. Because my mom is always busy working, my sister was my only companion. My dad continues to save lives of others as a doctor in the Philippines, and my only brother is now finishing college. Still today, I am living apart from my dad and my brother. Four years away from them made life here difficult because I now had to take the male roles in the household such as changing the light bulbs and even putting up new furnitures in the house. My dad’s eldest sister, Tita Mercy, was the first one to migrate in the United States. She was able to bring my grandfather with her quickly. Because petitions took longer, my two other aunts, Tita Lucy and Tita Irene, became nurses and eventually migrated here. Tita Lucy petitioned her 4 children; however, in the course of the petition, they aged out into adults and were eventually denied. When I came to visit her in California, she lives in a small apartment with her husband. She goes back to the Philippines every year in order to see her children and give them [souvenirs]. Tita Irene was lucky enough that her children was born and grew up in the United States. Unfortunately, Tita Irene’s husband continues to live in the Philippines because of a long petition period.
How do I feel being away from my family? I feel very lonely. I could say that I made many friends since I have been here, but even though, I’ve spent 4 years without big family celebrations. I miss my family much more than I can imagine. I miss my cousins, my aunts and uncles. I miss all of my family’s summer gatherings in beaches and resorts. Being away from them is like [uprooting] my identity from where I truly belong. My family is my home. A Filipino, like myself, is never an individual. I am defined not as a single person but defined [by] my family.
My father immigrated to the United States in 1991 because life in Vietnam was quite the struggle. When he arrived, his sister took him in and he got a job packing boxes at a warehouse. Everything was seemingly going well, but there’s something wrong with the picture. Mom wasn’t in it. She was in Vietnam, working on a farm for extremely low pay. My father said that it was excruciating not being able to see her every day- to not be able to be there when I, his first son, was born in 1995. After 4 long years of petitioning, my mother and I were finally arrived in America 1997. Even now, they are working laborious jobs. But at least here I have the opportunity to receive a good education. I have the opportunity to pursue happiness, whereas in Vietnam it might as well have been illegal. If they didn’t endure the immigration and the separation, I would not have gone to a good school. I would not have the privileges that I hold now. There would be no one who would notice my abilities and offer to foster them. I am extremely grateful for my parents’ actions, but the part that irks me is that they had to suffer for it.
Today we have two uncles living with us. Just like my mom, they waited 4 years and had just arrived in America in 2010. One of them still is waiting for his wife to immigrate, and the separation has taken quite a toll on him. It is obvious to us that he is depressed and has resorted to drinking and smoking to alleviate it. As of now, his wife’s time of arrival is still unknown. For most immigrants the separation is synonymous with the process, but again, it does not have to be.