When my dad immigrated to America from Hong Kong, he carried everything he owned in his suitcase. By day, he was a college student. By night, he worked a night shift at the Ramada Inn. If he was lucky, he would squeeze in a few hours of sleep before the start of the next day. He would go from door to door, inquiring about work. Any work. Whatever the job was, he was ready to do it. Mowing lawns. Washing windows. If he didn’t know how to do it, he was willing to learn how. For him, work wasn’t about finding the best perks or a company whose mission he believed in. It was about surviving in a foreign world still rampant with racism where he played the role of the outsider. He would eventually work his way to becoming a city planner. He had lofty notions of giving back to the community that he had come to know as his home, but he found that workplace politics created a different reality than he expected. He held a very respectable job, but though he had come so far from when he first arrived, his work was the source of many frustrations. The day he retired was a day of relief.
When my mom immigrated to America from Cambodia, she had a hundred dollars to her name and the only family she had was her sister. The two of them were taken in by a pastor and his wife in Stockton. She studied at the University of the Pacific, and while she was there she met my dad through a mutual friend. Her dream was to be a teacher. She tried to follow this dream, but the only work she was able to find was that of a substitute teacher–hardly a sustainable career. My dad recommended she choose another line of work instead, and so she became an accountant. Being an accountant wasn’t her dream, but maybe it would help her achieve another dream of hers: the dream of providing a better life for her children.
Because of my parents’ hard work and sacrifices, my sister and I were able to grow up and get a good education at a prestigious university. I am now employed in an industry where I am regularly solicited by companies to work for them. Companies compete to provide the most attractive benefits to lure one of the most highly sought after contingents of this country’s workforce, of which I am a part. My biggest worries about work usually involve what kinds of things I’d be most interested in working on. I say this not with a sense of entitlement, but in awe of the options available to me.
One day, my parents were reminiscing about the past. My mom looked around at the house–at her life–and said, “I can’t believe how lucky we are.”
It’s good to keep things in perspective from time to time.