Like all moms, my mom raised and loved me the best way she knew how. Immigrating to America as a refugee from Laos during the Vietnam War, she took minimum wage jobs and never spent a single dime on herself, saving everything for my sister and me and to send back to her family scattered throughout the entire world. When we were younger, I quizzed her on American presidents and the pledge of allegiance for her Citizenship’s test and watched proudly as she and my father received their legal pass to live the American dream as citizens. I knew even then that this meant they would gain more rights and have access to every opportunity.
That they were now American as well as Asian.
As I grew older, the challenges of raising a multicultural youth gave my mom some restless nights. As much as she wanted me to believe, I knew that the world wasn’t painted in blacks and whites, that things couldn’t be answered with her usual mantra of ‘no’, ‘get A’s’, ‘eat’, and ‘make a lot of money’. When I got into high school, dating boys was unthinkable, having a curfew past nine was blasphemous, and skipping a meal was asking for a death sentence. So I did the only reasonable thing I could do. I led a double life where I was the perfect child at home and did the opposite of everything I was told outside of the house. From friends, I learned that there was life outside of classes and learned about sex, development, and other taboo topics from school and media.
As years passed, life began to teach me that we were not viewed as Asian-Americans, but as foreigners. In a state with a small Asian and Pacific Islander population, we were labeled as ‘others’, never truly belonging to any group but adrift in our own isolation.
While other Americans got to live freely, we were chosen for random security checks. Practically every time.
Once, I remember security guards leading my father away to be questioned for an hour in a private room at the airport. His exotic name had caught their attention. When I started to get upset, my mother told us that this was normal, and that they were just following protocol for everyone’s safety.
The Independence Day after the tragedy of 9/11 occurred when hostilities towards foreigners were at an all-time high, my mom wanted to make sure everyone knew we were proud Americans. We flew flags in front of our house and even put up miniature plastic ones along our gate. My friend was visiting that day, and when she came to the door, she asked if we knew that one of the plastic flags was currently burning down in our front yard for all to see.
This is what happened. We had placed candles along the gate for better nighttime viewing of the flags to emphasize our patriotism when one flag accidentally got knocked into a candle as a result of a passing gust of wind, melting into colorful goo down our gate.
For the next few months, we flew flags in our yard just to be sure no one got the wrong idea.
When I got older and finished my graduate schooling, I moved in with my boyfriend and his brother to save on rent. From the point of view of my mother, even though I was living in sin, at least I was safe from burglars. This perspective of hers showed tremendous acceptance and hinted at her level of acculturation.
Throughout my entire life, my mother continues to be the backbone of our family. She speaks little and gives explanations less, choosing to instead lead through example. She protected us from poverty and made sure we had meals three times a day while shielding us from racism until we were old enough to understand it. I had a happy childhood listening to American music, watching Chinese movies, dressing in popular American styles, and running away from lion dancers and the loud, accompanying drummers every new year.
She let me embrace my American life while also continuing to respect and practice cultural traditions specific to my Asian roots. As I learned later on, she knew every detail about my double life, but allowed me to live it anyway. I learned about the intricacies of life through absorption of being a youth in America, but she taught me the importance of culture, family, and values through silence and action that I attempt to put into practice every day of my life. While my sister is a doctor to the poor, I have chosen a career field fighting for equality for Asians while simultaneously helping them adapt to life in America because, let’s be honest, although there has been positive and continuous change, there is still inequality, ignorance, and racism perpetrated on a daily basis through media, social interactions, and even scarier still, through implemented policies and laws that disrupt all immigrants and their families from leading healthy and productive lives. This line of work doesn’t exactly get me a mansion in Malibu like she may have once hoped, but my mother couldn’t be prouder. See? Acceptance!
So as the new year of the Dragon approaches and passes, I wish for all Asian moms to continue having patience for the children they raise in America and to teach them about their Asian heritage while also allowing them to embrace their dual American identity. I wish for mothers to have patience enough to respect their children’s double lives in the hope that one day they will learn how to embrace both cultures and lifestyles and fuse them into one strong and proud identity. And I wish for all moms to trust in the strength within themselves; even at times when children act in ways that could only be explained as idiotic and never seem to listen to the ongoing wisdom and guidance of all mothers because one day, they will remember all those lessons taught. They will cherish them and pass on what they’ve learned to the next generation of children.
As my mother puts out kit kats and starbursts in plates before our many Buddha statues at home, she tells me her new year’s wish. She told (not asked) me to give her grandchildren, whether I was ever going to be married or not.
Now that’s acceptance.
Health care coverage is important to all of us – from the very youngest who need the most care and attention for a healthy development, to the active and risk-taking young adults in us all, and to the elders who we all love and go to for guidance. It is no secret that health care reform is needed in the United States. Health care reform will continue to provide needed coverage to the uninsured and underinsured Asian and Pacific Islanders of our community and bans insurance companies from discriminating against insurance applicants with pre-existing conditions, including having a history of domestic violence.
We at NMAFC believe that health care is a human right. What about you? Let us know!
Because this is such an important issue to us, staff members wanted to share their stories with our community:
When I first came to the U.S., I worked as a graduate assistant and the university provided me with a health insurance. I could go to the school clinic for a small price. However, school insurance plan did not cover vision or dental. One time, I had a serious toothache so I went to the school clinic, but the only thing they could do was give me some painkillers and refer me to a dentist, whom I finaly saw after days of waiting. The dentist took about $100 for X-ray and recommended a root-canal surgery, but again they could only refer me to a bigger clinic for the surgery. It was another dreadful 2 or 3 weeks of waiting before I could actually had the surgery. It cost another $500. At that time, I was really frustrated because back in my country, people only have to pay one-tenth of the price compared to the U.S. even without the insurance and if you pay that much, you will expect a speedier process. I literally lived in pain during that 1-2 month of waiting and this is something I didn’t know before I came here.
Health care reform is important to me because now I will have access to quality, affordable coverage with a minimum benefit package which includes doctor’s and hospital visits, prescription medication, and mental health.
The types of barriers that I have encountered relating with healthcare access and insurance is that when I turned 18, I was no longer under my dad’s health insurance plan. For a few years, I was uninsured until my friend had told me about UNM Care (a county-based medical assistance program). I also had to pay out of pocket expenses before and even after I obtained health insurance. My family had difficulty applying and buying health insurance. Before my dad retired, my family was qualified for Medicaid since he made $9.00/hr. Instead of being on Medicaid, my family purchased my dad’s company’s health insurance plan. I am still not sure as to why we were not on Medicaid. After my dad retired, we are currently covered by UNM Care.
Health care reform is important to me because I would have been able to stay on my dad’s health insurance plan. I believe that having health insurance benefits me by allowing me to get check-ups ahead of time whenever I get sick. I would be able to have access to quality, affordable health coverage through Medicaid expansion and will not be limited to services at UNM Hospital and Clinics or First Choice Community Healthcare, Inc. like I am under UNM Care.
The only problem that I have with regards to health insurance or healthcare access is the language barrier. Since English is not my first language, it has been difficult for me to understand the American healthcare system. Thus, I have trouble navigating through. There are also times where I am unable to describe my symptoms in English because I either do not know the English equivalent or there is no English word to describe a Japanese word.
Health care reform is important to me because I will be able to get information about insurance in plain language and in a linguistically appropriate manner. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, there will be more health professionals who are bicultural and bilingual. There will also be training grants available to providers to improve their cultural competency.
Before health care coverage, I had to pay for private insurance which was a huge part of my already miniscule income as a graduate student. Regardless of coverage, it was extremely minimal and i often delayed or cancelled appointments that were crucial for preventative care.
Health care reform is important to me because children should be covered on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26. I was thrilled and no longer had the constant worry of how to pay for my insurance on top of how I would pay for my schooling and living costs. Health care reform is paramount for the mental and physical well-being of the people residing in this country and I am thankful that the country is making positive steps forward.
For more information on how health care reform impacts the Asian and Pacific Islander community, check out resources available through the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) here.