I believe in the courage to make difficult decisions.
It was through courage that my mother found a way for us to leave a politically unstable country to pursue a future in America. She was a single parent in the war-torn country of Vietnam, struggling to raise two little girls and an aging mother. Hers was a typical story of a woman’s dilemma in an impoverished land brought about by years of civil war. But she was different because she had the courage to make a decision that would change all our lives.
Through various connections, she was able to get us passage on a small fishing boat. The plan was to get to the closest country that had diplomatic ties with the United States, where we would apply for political asylum. It was a dangerous plan, one that many had attempted and failed. And those who failed paid with their lives.
Knowing the risks involved, my grandmother urged my mother to leave her kids behind. She reasoned that my mother could send for us when she reached her destination. She explained that it was not wise to risk the lives of everyone in the family on the open sea. My mother, always stubborn, had made up her mind to take us with her. She would not part from us. She vowed that in death as in life, we would remain together. My grandmother decided to stay behind. The three of us left.
Thus began a difficult journey to our new lives. We tried three times to leave before we finally made it to international waters. While cruising in the open ocean, we encountered a pirate ship. By luck and the skill of our captain, we were able to outmaneuver our pursuer. We landed on Malaysia three days after we began the trip. We proceeded to poke holes in our vessel to prevent authorities from making us go back. We stayed in a refugee camp for a year, waiting for a philanthropic organization to sponsor our family in the United States.
We were given permission to enter the country legally as political refugees. When we arrived in the United States, our first meal was pancakes and bacon. To this day, I still remember that first American meal with fondness. We relied on the kindness of strangers—people who agreed to accept the responsibility of helping us get adjusted to life in the United States.
It has been almost thirty years since we made that journey. There has not been a day that passed when I do not think of the courage it took my mother to uproot her family and move us to a place so foreign that we didn’t even know where it was or how to speak its language. It was her courage that enabled us to have a future better than what we dreamt of while growing up in Vietnam.
How do you begin to thank someone who gave you not only life but also a future? I hope that my mother knows it is her courage that I most admire and cherish. It is also a quality that I hope to have inherited from her.
Lien Pham was born in Vietnam and currently lives in Dublin, California. She works at a biotech firm as a product manager, managing international relationships. She has two boys, Akira and Aiden, who continuously inspire her with their unbridled enthusiasm for life.
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