The Immigrant’s Dream
Paula Nguyen Luu
I look out into the horizon
Wondering how far can I go
Scared of what I might find
Scared of what I might lose
Wondering what the next step may be
Which route shall I take
How long will it will take
What will be waiting for me
What will be my future
I took this image about 3 years ago with my first camera on our trip to Mumbai, India for our friends' wedding reception.
As we were eating breakfast at the hotel, I stepped outside into the beached adjacent to the hotel and saw different people working and bathing on the beach. It was a very foggy and overcast day. This one man stood out at me. He reminds me of my father and all of the other immigrants who have dreams of a better life for them and their family. Yet, they do not know where or how they can get there. Ironically, it was prefect that a plane and boat came into frame.
When I was 14 months old, my family tried to escape from Vietnam by boat. Not knowing what the future would hold or where we would be when reached land. My parents were ready to leave everything they knew behind for an immigrants’ dream of a new world and life.
We didn’t make it very far out of Vietnam. My sister was lost in the mist of chaos. My parents and I were captured by the communists. We were put in prison that night. I can claim I was a convict at the age of 14 months.
In that Vietnamese prison, I cried all day long for milk. The guards were so sick of the sound of my wailing that they had to go find milk. Instead of bringing me milk they brought me coffee. However, my mom made due with what they gave me and it settled me to sleep. Until this day coffee and caffeinated drinks make me sleepy. The next day they released my mother and I because they didn’t want to deal with my crying (I was always a savvy problem solver).
However, my father was kept in prison for over a year. During his imprisonment, the guards made my father make their clothing, because he was a suit tailor at the time. He soon realized that he needed to be bad at his job so that he could be release sooner. During this time, my mother had to take care of my sister and me by sailing bus tickets, while holding a baby in her arms.
Fast forward seven years later, we received an acceptance letter from the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service for my uncle’s application. So once again, my family attempted to leave everything behind: their coffee shop, their house, their mopeds, to pursue this immigrant’s dream. However, this time we left by plane instead of boat. When we arrived in L.A., California and stayed for two weeks then moved to Texas to join the rest of my father’s family.
The immigrant’s dream seems to come true for my family, but they soon realized it was the “American dream” that they wanted for us. In order, to have the better life they had to work three jobs. As in The Hamilton Mixtape: “I got 1 job, 2 job, 3 when I need them…Immigrants, we get the job done.”
My father was a tailor, welder, and business owner in Vietnam and my mom was teacher, but when she came to the U.S. she had to work in the meat packing plant for very little pay. Then she eventually switched to working at a water hose assembly line in the Texas heat. But she said she didn’t mind because she made more money there and could switch to a morning shift so she could see her daughters after school.
I remember she told me her full-time job with some overtime (60 hours) came out to be $378 per week. I came to realize that the reason my mom did not allow my sister and I to do any extracurricular activities like dance, soccer, or tennis was that our family could not afford it. Even though she wanted me to have these opportunities, unless it was provided by the school, they were prohibitive. The only activity she could manage was piano lessons, which was a real stretch for her.
Now after 25 years in the U.S. they finally paved the way for us to have some semblance of the “American dream.” The question that still remains for me is will the American dreams ever be a reality for me or will I always be an immigrant who’s chasing a dream that is unattainable?