This I Believe

Zhang - Boston, Massachusetts
Entered on August 18, 2005
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: immigrant, legacy
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This I believe: Find your compass in your roots.

When I was twelve, my family moved to the U.S. from communist China. For the next six year, I lived in “the Pits.” People have been calling it the Pits because it is dubbed “the underbelly and the armpits” of the town. Our neighbors were new immigrants who were too poor to live anywhere else.

Most of our neighbors still lived by the customs of the old country. We hung our laundry in the courtyard to dry. We ate sizzling satays over makeshift grills. Whenever a new immigrant family arrived, we showed them how to use the electric stoves and how to get water from faucets.

We were poor people then, and country people didn’t go to doctors until it really, really hurt. We lived without health insurance for years. We never saw the flu or an upset stomach as an illness – we thought of it as an annoyance.

Years later, I went Yale for college. When I sat in the oak-paneled lecture rooms, the Pits seemed to exist in a different universe to which I no longer belonged. My friends’ parents were lawyers, senators, and doctors. They had houses – multiple houses – in places I had never head of. People discussed Yeats and Kant and dreams and ambitions over dinner, not paying bills and working over-time. My friends have been to Paris and Aspen, but few have ever heard of the Pay-Day-Loan or seen a food stamp. I never mentioned the Pits. I had felt ashamed and out of place.

But I saw them still. I see them in the construction workers doing renovations around the campus; I see them working in the dining halls and cleaning our dorms. They didn’t sit in the lecture halls or read in the library, but they belong to the place as much as I did.

After college, I entered in medical school. I now work in a diabetes clinic that serves mainly Asian immigrants. And I see the people I grew up with everywhere. They didn’t see a doctor until they couldn’t help not to. They quadrupled prescribed dosages thinking that would help the medicine work faster. And they look so grateful and relieved when the staff spoke in their native tongue, bringing them a little comfort and assurance.

I know what I have is very ordinary. A lot of people go to college and medical school. But each day I’m amazed by how far I’ve gone. I’ll always remember how miraculous it felt the first time I used a fridge, the first time I took a sip of Coca Cola, and the first time I realized that there is so much life waiting for to be lived out there in the world.

Growing up in the Pits showed me that my path is about much more than seeking validation. It serves as my compass – showing me every step along the way where I came from and where I must return. I will never again be ashamed of where I came from. I will always be with the people I once lived amongst – those who have always prayed for just mediocre treatment but often settle for much less.