I still remember that cold winter night in January 2010. I was making my way home after a heartbreaking playoff loss. To my surprise, I was welcomed home with an eviction letter attached to my front door. I couldn’t even collect my belongings: from my childhood collection of Magic Tree House book series to my only picture with my family. They were all gone. During the same evening, my mom, drinking another bottle of sake, had told me that I could no longer attend my high school because she was unable to pay the tuition. As if my life hadn’t already taken a plunge off the deep end, I had just found out that I was an illegal immigrant from my father. Tears streamed down my eyes as I kept re-assuring myself that this was all a bad dream and that I would wake up soon. I mean, only the characters in dramas have it this bad, right? There was no way that this could happen to one person.
Like every other kid, I believed that with hard work, good would prevail; however, the situation I found myself in said otherwise. I lived as a vagabond, moving over twenty times over the course of six months. Whether I was living in the homes of my friends or run-down motels, I carried a sense of shame wherever I went. When I was able to stay with the friend who attended the school I could no longer attend, I felt like a burden. The situation at the run-down motels weren’t any better. I often saw prostitutes coming in and out of these motels. At first, it was shocking to experience the real world at a young age, but I accepted the harsh reality. The difficulty living in a small motel room is unimaginable. Cooking and washing dishes were all done on the dirty bathroom floor. Eating on the narrow table next to the telephone was stressful, but I had no choice but to cope with my lifestyle. Most of the day, my mom was either drunk or passed out. Consequently, I played the role of a parent by comforting my mother who always depended on alcohol. These burdens on my shoulders weighed me down, enticing me to pack my bags and run off. But when I got to that motel room door, I turned and saw my mom passed out and realized that I was the only family she has. I was her only motivation, joy, and hope, and she was mine.
My newfound knowledge of being an illegal immigrant made me lose hope in many aspects in my life. First, I knew that even if I did end up finishing high school and decided to go to college, it would be near impossible for me afford a college education because I could not receive financial aid from the government. Second, I knew that I had to start working to support my family. My mom’s alcoholism was getting worse day by day, damaging her mind and body, and my dad has never provided child support. However, my job applications were turned down by almost everyone because of my legal status and my age. Although the odds were against me, I could not give up.
I’ll never forget that one ah-juh-shi I met that changed my life forever. I met him at this house that rented small rooms to low-income people. I stayed in a small attic with my mother. He seemed to have an air of sophistication about him despite living in the same rented room as me. Seeing how he was in the same financial situation as me, I was able to open up to him and tell him my story. He didn’t say much after, but the words he did say signaled a huge change in my life. “The key to success is to dare to dream and have the courage to act.” It was then that all my self-pity turned into resolve.
From this point on, I knew I had to bid farewell to my childhood free from any hope for an idyllic life. The image of a perfect family spending holidays together was all behind me now. I knew that I had been thrust prematurely in adulthood. It was the only way. My mother was an alcoholic, and my dad was a compulsive gambler; all this time, I resigned myself to this fate, for I thought I was powerless. But I just recently realized that education could be the way out of this hole. Only through the pursuit of higher learning could I finally give my parents the help they always needed and a life free from financial burdens. Only through a successful college career could I put myself in a position to succeed. With a new vigorous spirit invoked in me, my dream was born: I planned to become an addiction psychiatrist. With success would come a means to help my parents both monetarily and mentally. Until then, I would have to work part-time while getting the best grades I could get—a herculean task, but one that would reap rewards in the end.
Despite everything that’s happened, I keep on smiling. I believe that optimism is the greatest tool we all possess to fight against the obstacles in our lives. I turned my disadvantages into advantages by using them as a source of motivation. When I returned to school the following fall, I was more focused than ever. I had a dream. I was now finally taking action. Despite all the hardships I’ve faced, I was able to accomplish many things because I dared to dream and took action. At times, life may seem dreadful and discouraging with all the unfortunate events that come our way; however, there is always a window of hope that you can find as long as you keep your eyes and mind open for a better future.
The good can prevail.