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The All American Kid Next Door
Who Lives in Fear
The Government Doesn’t Think
She’s American Enough

 A 5th grade class in a multi-ethnic American school.

You know her. Maybe she sits next to you in class. Or hangs out in your dorm room. Maybe you both went to John F. Kennedy High together - giggling through Chem lab about some cute guy. Listening to N’Sync and the Back Street Boys but dancing to the oldies when volunteering at the annual dance for senior citizens the school puts on for local elders. Or maybe you were one of the cute guys in Chem Lab and had a crush on her but were too shy to ask her out.

She’s obviously of Chinese heritage but you’re sure she’s an ABC. No accent at all. For this story we’ll call her 'Mei Ling'. You both grew up watching Sesame Street until you morphed into Saved by the Bell. Passed around each others copies of the Babysitter’s Club if you were best friends. Or teased her for reading girlie books while you killed creatures with your keyboard. You both speak the same Lawn Guyland cultural lingo.

Although you each studied French in high school, now she’s studying Chinese at Stony Brook because she never learned it growing up. Her parents, Hong Kong and Fujian immigrants, wanted her to be as American as apple pie. Well, since apples originated in Asia, let’s say as American as a big Mac. 

What she doesn’t tell you is that she’s really learning Chinese because she’s scared. Scared the U.S. government will send her back. Back to a foreign land. Back to a land where everyone speaks a language she doesn’t know. Back to a land where she doesn’t know a single soul.

Why? Like many immigrants, her mother saw coming to America as a way to get what they couldn’t get at home. You know, our streets are paved with gold. Until they get here and find the cobblestones of Little Italy and Chinatown and the Lower East Side. But that’s still okay, because at home in the days when they came, they didn’t have hope that life would get better. But here, hope springs eternal. Hope led them to Brooklyn. Hope led their children to Stony Brook.

And it was college, the hope for a better education for his children, that led her father here. He was a college grad. He didn’t care what the streets were paved with. He knew that coming here without papers and without speaking the language would be a hard life. To this day he still works in a restaurant. But once upon a time he had been a journalist on the mainland in the days when speaking truth to power meant prison. He spent much of the Cultural Revolution in jail. While being “reeducated” he knew colleagues who committed suicide when the pain and humiliation was more than they could bear. He was coming to the land of freedom so his children could get the educated life he craved for them.   

And an American education - from elementary school through college - is what she got. Learning English was easier than for most immigrants. She knew Hong Kong English. She just had to lose her British accent to fit in. To learn to say eraser, not rubber; to line up, not queue; to pronounce schedule as skedule, not shedule.

To meet her parent’s expectations she became a high achieving honor student. She was accepted to some of the best universities but you need a social security number to fill out a FAFSA to qualify for a loan. Without it, her parent’s restaurant income and her part time jobs meant her only option was a public university. So Stony Brook benefitted. She became one of the statistics who raised the SAT score level of our entering freshmen.

Her dream is to get a job in community social work, to give back to the country that gave her so much. 'Mei Ling' is a pseudonym but in real life she is the story above - a Stony Brook student who will stay a perpetual foreigner until the DREAM Act passes. Unable to get a job legally, unwilling to marry someone she doesn’t love to gain citizenship, she has no choice but to stay a perpetual student too, working whatever part time jobs she can to supplement her father’s support. To stop means to work illegally in his restaurant.

She cannot even have an American born child for the cycle to end. Legally, as it has done to many other parents, our government could still send her back. Then she would have to abandon her child to her parents, hoping they do not get caught too.

This bright, creative, college educated young woman, like many immigrants to our shores, has much to offer the only country she knows. Hopefully, someday soon, with passage of the DREAM Act, she’ll be able to use her talents for more than serving egg rolls. 

The above was written in conjunction with the linked article below on the DREAM Act for the Asian American Journal 2009-2010. It is expanded here to give a fuller description of just how typically all-American 'Mei Ling' is. Anyone growing up in the US who is her age, or any parent whose child has done all the same things, would never question where 'Mei Ling' belongs. Though what her parents did was illegal, it was not immoral. All parents will sacrifice for what is best for their children. 'Mei Ling' was too young to know what her parents were doing. To blame her now for their actions would be immoral on the part of the American government.

Ja Young
Alumni Editor

The DREAM Act by Ken Yu

     According to the Asian American Justice Center, “an estimated 1.4 million Asian Americans are undocumented, and many of them are students who have come to America as young children.”
     The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act, is legislation introduced in the House and Senate. While there are differences between the bills, passage would give undocumented students a path to citizenship, independent of their parents status.
.... rest of article: 

DREAM Activist:
DREAM Act Portal:
Asian American Justice Center:

ote: The photo above of a 5th grade class in a multiethnic school is that of the 44th President of the United States.    


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