It was an early Saturday morning in September 2007, and I sat on the couch with my parents, coddled in their arms. I stretched my small hands to feel their hands and was stunned by the rigid and rough skin that they had. There was depth and strength within their hands, while mine were soft and gentle. Recognizing the difference between theirs and mine, I realized that although I knew my parents as Mom and Dad, I never really knew or understood who they were and what they had been through as individuals.
When I was eight years old, I asked my dad about his life because I knew almost nothing about it. He told me about his hard life in Thailand and how both his dad and older brother passed away when he was only 11. Being the second-oldest son, he had to pursue the role of the “man of the house.”
In 1986, when my dad was a teenager, he and his family immigrated to the United States. He lived in a small two-room apartment with his mother (my grandma) and his seven siblings in Fresno, California. Speaking little to no English, my dad took on school, work and a family. Through hard work and dedication to a better life, he eventually graduated from the University of Fresno with a bachelor’s degree in social work. After college, he hoped to work as a school counselor and become a bridge between the Hmong youth and the American culture. He understood the conditions of an average Hmong child and was motivated to help his community as much as he could—but wasn’t able to find a job opening. Eventually, he felt that his dreams of becoming a counselor were coming to an end, so he left California in 1996 and moved to Minnesota, where finding a job was easier.
My mother grew up in Thailand with nine siblings and immigrated to Fresno around the same time my dad arrived. She had to leave behind her eldest sister, who was ill and could not come with the rest of her family. She met my dad when he was 20 and she was 16. They got married two years later. My mother became pregnant with my older brother after graduating from high school and was forced to give up on further education because she needed to take care of him. She was also not able to take my brother to daycare because she didn’t have the money for it, and thus, she became a full-time mother.
Learning about my parents’ individual backgrounds led me to a discovery of gratitude for the many sacrifices they made for me.
As a young child, I only thought about what I should do—and what I could accomplish— without really ever thinking about how I got to this stage of life. Not until now have I been able to truly understand the relentless work it took for my parents to get me to this point in my life. While they struggled for money and a better life, I, now at the same age they were when they experienced hardship, am comfortable and face no challenges compared to theirs.
I realize why they never mentioned anything about their past on their own free will. The tough situations they experienced shaped them to hide their feelings and just work through their challenges. Realizing the hardships that my parents faced helped me gain a stronger appreciation of their efforts and also inspired me to work as hard as they do, so that one day, when they are too old to work, I will be able to provide them the comfortable life that they have provided me.
My parents also have shown me the importance of taking advantage of the situations you face. No conditions should prevent you from doing what you need to do to succeed. Success is something you obtain, not something that is given. Through the sheer determination and hard work of my mother and my father, I have become a son who is able to grow as a strong and appreciative young man able to reflect the countless sacrifices that were made for me.