We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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It was a hard transition from being the baby of the family to being the person your whole family depends on. I was a very shy child growing up in Vietnam. I hated being in settings with many people. In school, I  was known as a star student by my teachers because I always kept to myself in class and only focused on doing my work. When it came to ordering food, my mom would do it for me. She always told me that I needed to socialize more, or at least be able to order my own food. I didn’t really listen to her because I knew my parents would always be the spokespeople for me.  In 2011, my parents broke the news that we were immigrating to America. Little did I know then that was the last year I could depend on my par- ents. We landed in Fargo, North Dakota on November 20th of 2011. Once I stepped off the plane, I was hit by the freezing cold winter welcome that Fargo gives. My grandpa picked us up from the airport. I started school two weeks after that. I was nine years old and knew only a little English, from three years of learning it in Vietnam. The first time that my parents asked me to translate documents for them was when I received my first report card in sixth grade. I had to read it to them. Then, I started translating newsletters from school. As time went on, my parents started giving me more important documents to read. It wasn’t easy for me to translate everything on the papers because there were many big words that I didn’t understand. My parents would show their disappointment in me whenever I was unable to translate. It was a big responsibility for a middle schooler.  My parents would bring me everywhere to interpret for them, such as the hospital for checkups and to my school conferences. They would make me ask questions for them sometimes, even though I hated asking questions and being confrontational. It got easier for me to speak for my family, but sometimes it could be a little bit difficult because I was not as fluent in Vietnamese as I was before. I began having trouble reading in Vietnamese. So, whenever my parents texted me, it took me a long time to read it. Occasion- ally, I would have to use Google Translate because I had no idea what the words meant.  Growing up in a small town in America, most of my friends were Caucasian. I was embarrassed of my culture and my parents’ broken English. I wouldn’t let my friends and family meet each other because I was afraid that my friends would make fun of my parents. It felt like I was living two separate lives. As time went on, I realized how hard my parents had to work for me to get a good education. They had to leave their friends and family behind to immigrate to a new country. They had to find us a place to call home and work minimum wage jobs to support the family and afford to buy me nice things. On top of that, they tried to learn English whenever they had time. Eventually, I felt guilty for being embarrassed of them because I remembered how hard it was for me to learn English.  Now, I try to help them learn English whenever I can. I summarize the documents for them and tell them the important points of the papers. Some- times, I struggle to find the right words in Vietnamese to explain stuff to them accurately. I’ve learned to accept my culture and to be the spokesperson for my parents. It’s the least I can do for them because they’ve done so much for me. 

© Thu Nguyen. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.