Everything Better in America

Megan Cheung, Honorable Mention
Grade 12
San Francisco

I come from a family of independent women. My paternal grandmother (Yen Yen) made the journey from Hong Kong to San Francisco with her four children. My maternal grandmother (Ma Ma) ran multiple small businesses in Laos and San Francisco. They both wanted a better life for themselves and their children so they took action.

Yen Yen was determined to make the best of the opportunities that America had to offer. Shortly after arriving, she worked in a sewing factory from eight in the morning to six at night for six days a week, to provide for her family. On top of that, she took unfinished pieces home to get the job done. Despite the long work hours, she believed that life in San Francisco was better than in China because of the better weather and living standard.

Yen Yen was proud to be an American. She considered being a U.S. citizen and holding a U.S. passport her greatest achievement. She studied for hours and hours for the naturalization test and when she passed the exam, Yen Yen was so happy that she actually smiled for her photo. And she never smiled for photos, not even for family ones. Yen Yen had to work hard to achieve a comfortable life but she never once regretted her choice to immigrate.

Ma Ma juggled the roles of being a businesswoman and a mother. In Laos, she owned a small store and street vending stand. Even as the Pathet Lao, a Communist group, overthrew the Laotian king, Ma Ma stayed with her shop, which was the only one open in the previously busy neighborhood. But soon, she deemed it too dangerous to run a business in a hostile environment with her two youngest daughters and decided to move. Ma Ma finally immigrated to San Francisco and started another business, a restaurant, which thrived under her management. She worked until well into her 70s and, even after retirement, remained active in maintaining her garden and household.

Although Ma Ma was busy with work, she raised many children, some of whom were not her own. She provided for her four young children with the help of her two eldest children. In addition, Ma Ma also took care of some of her grandchildren and her husband’s second wife’s children. In total, she raised fifteen kids! All of these responsibilities would have overwhelmed anyone, yet she took it on and succeeded at both roles.

Now as I appreciate my grandmothers’ immigration stories, I can’t help but admire their courage to leave their homes and move to a strange country. Growing up in America, it’s hard for me to imagine the struggles that my grandmothers’ experienced. But I know that both were resilient and resourceful, as they have lived here happily for more than thirty years. They have passed down their strong will (others may call it stubbornness) to me and I hope to make them proud by living out my own dreams and becoming an independent woman.