Making my parents' journey from Vietnam to Alhambra worth it

Alhambra Source and real estate developers Sam and Jackie Wong organized a scholarship in May that asked college and high school students from Alhambra to answer questions about their name, heritage, and growing up a child of immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley. The selected essays have been published once a week. The piece below is written by Century High School graduate Huy Nguyen. The 16 year old won publication for his essay about growing up the child of Vietnamese immigrants and his academic and behaviorial issues at school. Read Nguyen's essay below and check out the rest of the winning essays we've published.

My family of three and I started out with really almost nothing. My father, who was a Vietnamese refugee, somehow managed to get my mother, sister, and me to the United States from Saigon in September 1999. It was difficult when we first arrived, trying to be a financially stable family. My parents struggled with jobs to support our family. The new language was a barrier for my parents to get better jobs. American culture was a complete mystery. In fact it was a culture shock!

Growing up in San Gabriel Valley without any supervision made it difficult to stay away from trouble. My parents were always at work and I was hardly ever supervised. When my parents came home from work, they had no time for me, which left me unmotivated about my school work. I was basically on my own growing up as I had very few family members in the U.S. I was expected to do my work and manage in school by myself. I felt as if no one understood my predicament.

During my elementary years I did not care about school. I was always the kid who was put in the corner for talking too much. I just wanted to have fun. My parents were always afraid come parent-teacher conference time. As parents from a developing country, they did whatever they could to help with my schoolwork, even with very little knowledge of what I was studying. They struggled for money to place me in an after-school program. Every single year I had to attend summer school.

In spite of that, my real trouble started in middle school. During my 7th grade year at Garvey Intermediate, I thought to myself, “It is time to take school seriously.” But being placed in remedial classes made it difficult to take school seriously since I was around a bunch of troublemakers. Slowly I slacked off and soon I did not care about school.

Nguyen at age 1.

As soon as I hit 8th grade I began to be a disobedient child, staying out late, not telling my parents where I was going or what I was doing. I was very selfish. During that time my parents didn't exist to me. It is tough being an immigrant teenager because my parents did not understand American customs. I felt that my parents did not understand me or what I was going through.

I enrolled at San Gabriel High School to avoid my previous friends. At San Gabriel I really wanted to change and make up for all my bad grades during middle school. I joined a sport and tried to participate in school events. I really wanted to do well, but I still slacked off.

Then I moved to Mark Keppel High School second semester because my house was closer to Mark Keppel and it was easier for my mom. Mark Keppel was a new beginning for me. For the first couple months I really focused.

But soon I got carried away and started hanging out with my previous friends. I started to pay less attention in school and started focusing on my social life. I let go of all my morals and started participating in bad activities. I started ditching school, getting into dumb fights, and looking for trouble.

Nguyen (center) with his parents after high school graduation.

Soon my group of friends started getting kicked out of Mark Keppel. I thought to myself, “I need to change,” but it was too late. I eventually got kicked out of Mark Keppel. I had devastated myself and my future. I didn't know what to do. And I disappointed the important person in my life: my mom.

I soon met up with my troublemaker friends at Century High School. I did not want to attend this school at all but I had no choice. I thought I was putting my parents' hardship of coming to America to waste. So I started going home every day after school and ignoring my friends. There was a battle going inside my head every time I was asked to hang out.  I was constantly fighting with my conscience to do what was the best for me.

As I isolated myself I was able to finish a lot of classes. My plan was to return to Mark Keppel with the few credits needed to graduate so I could get a job and help out my family. But my transfer request got declined. I am now graduating as a junior.

Nguyen reading an excerpt from his essay at the Sam & Jackie Wong-Alhambra Source Scholarship ceremony.

I will be advancing my education at East Los Angeles College during fall of 2013. I would like to major in the fields of nursing, rehabilitation psychology, or criminology. For my bachelor's degree I would like to transfer to San Diego State University or U.C. Irvine. My goal is to provide service to suffering clients, especially those with immigrant backgrounds. Because I speak another language, I feel I am capable of reaching more people.

Now that I have matured, I understand that our family difficulties were partly the result of sacrifice. I appreciate every little thing around me, but I appreciate my parents more than anything. My parents' values have become my values. I want to make my parents proud and make their journey to America worth it. My parents gave me everything they had and spent nothing on themselves. Their clothes are 20 years old but they will still send me to college. My parents may be too stoic to say "I love you,” but I know they love me.

Essay was lightly edited and condensed.

Read the other winning essays: 

Leave a Reply