This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.
By Peter Chen
My entire childhood, my parents dreamed of leaving China and bringing me, their only child, to America so that I could have opportunities that they did not.
My parents care about me very much. Before I was even born, they moved to a big city from the countryside. They thought the city Guangzhou would be a good place to raise a child because the schools were better. They started a little business, a children’s clothing shop, and slowly saved money to send me to school and move to the U.S.
In China, school is not free like here in the U.S. and my parents wouldn’t have been able to afford to send me to high school and college. My mom wanted me to go to college and find a better job than I could get in China. If my family stayed in China, I’d probably end up getting a job in a shop or supermarket.
Several members of my family had already moved to the U.S. Once my uncle got his U.S. citizenship, he was able to apply for us to come. When I was 12, we finally got our visas and my parents told me we were ready to move to America. When I heard the news, I was so excited. To me, living in the U.S. represented the chance to start over.
An Uncle’s Parting Advice
My parents and I sold everything we had in the city and went back to their hometown. The night before we left for America, we stayed at another uncle’s house on a farm. Ten of us sat around a big round table in the yard where we could see little stars in the sky. I could hear a lot of frogs singing outside on the farm and I smelled the delicious home-cooked food: chicken, pork, soup, fish, vegetables, and sweet soup after dinner.
I still remember the words of my favorite uncle. He and I were playing with his son, my little cousin, as we often did. He looked at me with a serious face that caught my attention.
“Peter,” he said, “you have to take care of yourself. America is different from China. I’ve heard people say life in America is hard. However, if you are smart, you can get a really good job and make big money. When you grow up and make big money, don’t forget us.”
“I will, sure… I’ll try as hard as I can,” I replied.
That conversation is always in my mind. I try to do my best in school and in everything because I want to be a smart person who helps my family.
A New World
The following day, we flew to America. I was nervous and excited about what the U.S. would be like. I imagined beautiful houses, nice playgrounds, beautiful beaches, delicious food, and all the fun things I would do. All of those ideas came from TV, of course.
I also thought about the bad things, like languages I wouldn’t understand. What if people laughed at me when I couldn’t understand? I kept asking myself, “Can I handle all this?”
When we arrived at the airport in New York, my aunt and uncle were waiting to pick us up. They were like our guardians in America, and they were so happy to see us. But I had very little memory of them because I hadn’t seen them since they visited China when I was six or seven.
First NYC Winter
I still remember that December night when I walked out of the airport, feeling so cold. I was walking like a penguin until I got into the car full of heat and started to warm up. It was the first time I’d ever been so cold. The coldest weather where I lived in southern China was about 40 degrees.
Our new neighborhood in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, was totally different from the place where I lived in China. In Guangzhou, there were a lot of tall buildings, many small streets crisscrossing the city, and lots of people. But here, it was kind of quiet, with small houses, lots of trees, and not so many people.
My image of New York was very different. I had pictured a sort of kingdom city, with nice beaches, very tall buildings, and a lot of teens playing games like dodgeball, cards, basketball, or tennis.
The night after we arrived, I saw snow for the first time. The sky was pink. I’d never seen the sky that color before—in Guangzhou, it is hard to see the sunset because of all the tall buildings. Here, the white snowflakes looked like cotton falling from the sky that became part of a thick white quilt that covered everything. I went outside to play with the snow. I was so excited that I could live in a big home with my family. My new life had begun.
Reprinted with permission from Youth Communication.