Growing Up Asian in America

Cindy Zhou, Best in Class
Grade 5

Every extra grain of rice was saved for her two girls. Every extra penny she earned would go straight to their books. Despite her feet straining against the ten miles she walked to sell her beautiful Chinese buttons, her spirits never deflated because the only ticket out of poverty, in her mind, was education.

My Great-Grandmother Pearl wove a future for her daughters with her own two hands. Her threads danced non-stop as she sewed buttons feverishly into the wee hours of the night. But the buttons weren’t ordinary. These extraordinary, ornate buttons were accented on beautiful silk dresses, eventually making a name for herself in her province. As she desperately struggled to keep her faith in educating her daughters throughout the years, she often hummed a beautiful, melodic tune called, “Amazing Grace.” She learned this song from a visiting American priest. The song symbolized the only thread of hope she had. Thread by thread, there was a better life in America, and education was the ticket to get there.

My Great-Grandmother Pearl witnessed nearly a century of hardships in China, but she never lost hope. Although money was constantly short, she never let bitterness completely engulf her. Jade, Pearl’s five-year-old daughter, sewed with her every night. Jade’s tender fingers would waste no time in twisting silky threads together. Pearl never stopped, even when her fingernails chipped. Thread by thread, the family wove a better future together.

Ultimately, Pearl’s greatest wish came true. Jade became the first girl in the village to attend a college in Beijing. From knotting buttons at five to architecting energy plants at thirty, Jade turned their lives around with education. She later had my mom, who also pursued education by traveling to the U.S. just to fulfill Pearl’s aspirations. From rural China to the vast Midwest of America, the women in my family traveled a winding path leading to a better life.

Without saying goodbye, my Great-Grandma Pearl passed away peacefully. As I reflect on my comfortable house, nice car, and abundant food choices, I realized what extreme sacrifices she has made for us. I wish I can hug her one more time to tell her how thankful we are because of her sacrifices. She would always ardently say, “Look at me. Don’t end up like me. I have nothing because I’m not educated. Education is the key to success.” We miss her dearly.

Comparing my life to my Great-Grandmother’s would be like starving to opulence. Pearl’s life consisted of the struggles. My life consists of the rewards of the struggles. My Great-Grandmother’s sacrifices paved the road to chase any dreams comfortably, to have playdates freely with my friends, and to have an excellent chance on education. Grandma Pearl never truly obtained freedom in her life, but I received the fruits of her love through every button she weaved. I will forever cherish my Great-Grandmother’s passion for education. Everything in my life had been tied together many years ago, by my Great-Grandmother’s two hands.