A Woman of Will: My Mother

Ivan To, 6th Grade

The year is 1989. A 19-year old woman by the name of Jenny Thanh Tuyet Truong has entered the United States of America. My future mother has already faced debilitating poverty, the death of her father, and a range of emotions only present in those who have experienced incredible hardships. This young adult is a woman of will; a woman I would like to award a gold medal to one day for her perseverance, dedication to her culture and country, and her willingness to defy expectation.

A Chinese immigrant who originally lived in Vietnam, my mother was the second daughter of a district leader and his wife. After her father’s untimely death, my mother, grandmother, and other relatives were plunged into penury, eating whatever was given to them or earned through hard work. As my mom puts it, “Vietnam back then wasn’t very prosperous and could even be considered impoverished. I would work as a housemaid starting at the age of six so that my family had something to eat and wear, and some of my peers had to work even harder than I did to support their respective families!”

Even under these harsh conditions, however, my mother found comfort in friends and family. She would relay to me how priests from local temples and churches gave her hope by practicing small acts of love such as allowing her to sleep on the floors of their places of worship, offering food, etc. Day by day, my mom would struggle through her daily challenges, finding the perseverance in her heart regularly to continue. “Often, I would work and pause midway to think about why I was doing this. Then I would remember; I had a family to support at the end of this and my mother and grandmother could not possibly provide food on the table by themselves. I would think and continue my work with renewed vigor,” my mother recollects. This painful cycle would continue until one faithful day, a day my mother would never forget.

This day, the day my mother received word of a sponsorship to America from her brother, was a momentous occasion. Celebrating, her family moved to the Bay Area, where they have been living in ever since. As of now, my mother has become a proud American citizen who speaks fluent English yet still honors traditional Chinese rituals. “I teach my children the beliefs of Confucius, but also educate them in the patriotic ideals of freedom, the rule of law, and democracy,” my mother once told her friend during a conversation. Every year, my family celebrates both Veteran’s Day and Lunar New Year thanks to my mother’s preparations and support, along with a host of other Asian and American holidays.

The most inspiring attribute of my mother, however, isn’t her faithfulness to traditional Chinese culture; rather it is her willingness to defy all odds. During a time when a translated version of the U.S. citizenship test was still unavailable, my mother passed at the age of 24 years old. Again, when everybody doubted her, my mother not only became a capable restaurant manager, but also received numerous awards from the restaurant chain she worked for thanks to her outstanding performance. This immigrant, as malnourished as she was, obliterated the stereotypical squinty-eyed Asian who spoke an odd language, followed different customs from those of “true Americans”, and had little to no skills. This woman could speak Cantonese, Mandarin, the Teochew dialect of Chinese, Vietnamese, and English, celebrated both American and Asian customs, and could cook amazing food as well as manage a business.

To summarize, I would give my mother a gold medal because of her perseverance through difficult times, her dedication to both her Chinese heritage and her country, and, finally, her willingness to go above and beyond people’s expectations, challenging cultural stereotypes in the process. My mother’s “never-give-up” attitude and love for America and Asia are particularly inspiring. Through sheer hard work and dedication, my mother has shown me that it is possible to defeat society’s view of Asians and rise up to embody both East and West, a message that is truly encouraging to youths such as I who have grown up in a society where labels do apply and racism is apparent in daily life.