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
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.
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 Act Portal:
Asian American Justice Center:
The photo above of a 5th grade class in a multiethnic school is that
of the 44th President of the United States.