I am a daughter of Hmong refugees who escaped from genocide faced by our people after the Secret War in Laos. My parents fled to the United States when my oldest sister was still a baby. With no educational diploma or degree, my parents worked entry-level jobs at manufacturing companies and Thai/Chinese restaurants. Nevertheless, my parents made sure to work hard, so they can provide food, shelter and opportunity for my siblings and me. They believe that as long as you work hard in America, you could achieve the American dream. But they’re wrong; hard work is not enough.
It’s not enough that my dad works 12-hour shifts in a kitchen for ten years, because he still has not receive a raise or promotion despite his dedication to deliver his best performance and punctuality every single day. It’s not enough that my mom works crappy shifts at a manufacturing company where she stands for long hours, only to come home to complain about how much her knees and back hurt. She refuses to go to the hospital because medical bills are too high, so she has either one of my sisters or me to massage her with a minty ointment in hopes that her pain goes away so she can rest and go back to work in early morning the next day. It’s not enough that my parents never miss a payment for bills and taxes, because my parents were not considered U.S. citizens until they participated in the rigged naturalization process to gain their right to vote. And even now ‘earning’ the right to vote is not enough, because my parents have trouble understanding why their voice matters in a country where they’re still mistaken for foreigners.
All of my siblings and I spent most of our education in Detroit Public Schools, one of the most problematic educational systems in the nation. This experience consisted of passing through security metal detectors, reading outdated textbooks, and walking around buckets placed in the middle of the hallway so it could collect water dripping from the molding ceilings. Some of our classes were basically ran by substitute “teachers” who would let us watch movies all day, because they weren’t qualify to teach. I preferred my parents picking me up from school because walking meant that I had to go through a block furnished with all abandoned boarded up houses accompanied by grass that haven’t been cut for months. We had several facilities, such as the swimming pool and library, that were rarely utilized, because the school didn’t have the funds to operate it properly. Resources and programs were limited. All of the schools that we attended in Detroit were threatened to shut down for poor academic performance.
It’s not enough that we worked our hardest in school to receive good grades, because honestly, I don’t believe I was prepared for college. In fact, I almost failed my first semester of college. But because of support and resources made available to me as a student of color, I have more confidence now in pursuing my bachelor’s degree and hopefully attend graduate school.
Like my parents, many Asian Pacific Islander Americans do not understand why voting is such an important civic duty. Even though we’re the largest growing minority group in the U.S., we have one of the lowest voting turnout rates. This does not accurately represent the power and passion we have to make changes relevant to ourselves, family and friends. We might “work hard” to overcome barriers, but that will never change policies that directly affect us. Hard work will not provide my parents the respect they deserve from their employers. Hard work will not change systemic discrimination. It will not push action for issues that we care about, such as immigration reform, affordable health care, education and more.
But you know what can change that? Active participation in policy decisions. Please make sure you rock out your vote this year! If we all work together to educate each other and push out the vote, we can absolutely influence a big difference in policies that affect all of us.