Monday, August 23, 2010

Ngọc Nguyễn: "I want to be a person who changes the ordinary"

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When I grow up, I want to be a person who changes the ordinary. And for now, I am the person who is not afraid to say, “I am proud that my family works at the nail salon because they do it for my future.”

Nguyễn Kim Ngọc

Just a few years ago, my English teacher asked her class who each person would like to be when he or she grows up. Some wanted to be doctors, scientists, and some wanted to be lawyers, engineers… When she asked me, I looked around and asked myself, “What do I want to be in the future?” A classmate yelled out, “Maybe you can work at a nail salon!” It was as if that was a joke, the class burst out in laughter. I felt hurt and discriminated. But most of all, I felt angry because in an attempt to make fun of me, that classmate has denoted something shameful about the job of a nail technician and about my own background.

My grandfather is a veteran from the Viet Nam war to gain independence for our beloved country. Though we had the help from American troops, after the war ended, grandpa was sent to an internment. Long after the suffering that grandpa endured, he and his family were finally brought to America by the American government to enjoy the freedom that he well deserves.

I’ve heard of many stories told by my dad about the struggle my grandpa’s family went through when they first came here, and I’ve always admired them because of their strength, their bravery, but most of all, their hard work. My grandpa entered the United States along with my grandma, and my five aunts and uncles. My uncles and aunts were no older than thirteen at that time, and so as the breadwinners of the family, my grandpa and grandma took on many jobs to support the family.

Life was hard because they had to learn English as a second language, alongside with finding jobs that would require no prior knowledge, training, or education. Yet to add on to the hardship, they had no relatives and no friends in America to lend a hand of support. My grandpa was a labor worker, my grandma worked as a nail technician, while my uncles took on part-time jobs as dishwashers at a restaurant near home.

I vividly remember my mom told me one day, “Con nhớ là phải học giỏi, để rồi mai mốt, con sẽ có tương lai tốt đẹp. Người Việt như mẹ với bà ngoại đây qua Mỹ trễ quá, mù chữ, nên phải làm nail, cực lắm con ơi.” That was when I realized that Vietnamese migrate to the United States to look for opportunities; opportunities, not for themselves, but for the future generation. I realized that my mom would withstand it when people criticized her position as a nail technician only to bring me a better future.

All the hard work my family has done was to develop a better and brighter future for the next generation to come. At that point, I realized that no matter what path people take in life, everyone deserves respect. Someone who is willing to work a job that people look down upon to support his or her children should deserve to be respected because that person is selfless; that person is willing to make sacrifices for the ones he or she loves. Because my family was brave enough to take on those jobs that are considered to be “low in standard”, I stand where I am today. I am getting an education. I am making a brighter future.

I found the answer to my teacher’s question: When I grow up, I want to be a person who changes the ordinary. And for now, I am the person who is not afraid to say, “I am proud that my family works at the nail salon because they do it for my future.”



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