Can you imagine leaving the country you live in, not only to bring over your mother, your father, your brothers and sisters, but also to provide a better life for your children?
I imagine it’s easy for people to think they relate conceptually, but as the daughter of an immigrant here in the US, I can tell you that as an American I cannot fathom that journey. Being raised by someone who took such a leap of faith and sacrificed so much, I could not wait until I was old enough to pay my own way.
My dad, the first born of four children in mid century Taiwan, was ‘the chosen one’. The one my grandparents decided to pin all their hopes and dreams onto. He was to go to school in America and be successful enough to bring his family over. He met my mom, they both fought to get into and attend the University of Texas at Dallas to earn a diploma. And then they had me.
My mother, one of seven children, was the only one given up for adoption by her birth parents. The plan was for her to be raised by another family so she could marry their son (her adoptive brother) and run their family store in the farmland outside of Taipei. She knew that she wouldn’t make this her fate. So she snuck out of her home (for the first time nonetheless) to take Taiwan’s version of the SATs. She was right about her destiny, since she quickly became the #1 math student in the entire country. She was so good, her teacher visited her adoptive parents and told them that they should allow her to continue her studies in the US. The farm store had to find another matron. My mom’s plan worked through sheer grit, determination and trust in herself.
I wasn’t part of their plan, at least not at the time.
I was born in Dallas, Texas and am very proud to be a dual American citizen (any child of a Taiwanese citizen gets citizenship there). But while my parents finished their schooling, I was sent to live with my grandparents and aunts in Taiwan until the age of three.
I only have a few memories of my parents’ struggle on the way to success, none of which are personal (the way they felt, etc). I remember our small house we rented, and I remember the house my sister and I saw as a mansion. I’ll never forget the first day we moved into our new home in Plano and thinking we were the luckiest kids in the world.
America exports its culture, so it attracts people who are interested in the dream that’s been presented to them. Other immigrants who moved here with their parents at a young age describe their family’s vision of the American Dream as an outsider. They truly saw it as an answer to all their hopes and dreams. It was a way to carve their own path financially and be able to make their own choices. A way to be treated equally from both a racial and religious standpoint. A place where everyone is accepting of each other. A place where there are open roads and cool cars. A place where there are celebrities galore. A place where everyone dresses better.
The American Dream isn’t something you can sleepwalk into. You need to put in hard work. You need to know it’s not simply given to those who are in the right place at the right time. You understand that more when it’s not an option presented to you, and you have to give up everything you knew to get to this country.
The American Dream isn’t something you can sleepwalk into. You need to put in hard work. You need to know it’s not simply given to those who are in the right place at the right time.
All of this sounds naïve to those of us that are born here, but the reality when immigrants arrive is usually unexpected. Whether we like it or not, immigrants do find themselves judged by the color of their skin and their beliefs. But after working so hard to arrive here, immigrants refuse to give up. Imagine it: your parents send you here, you find out it’s a land of opportunity but not necessarily the utopia you imagined. There’s no way you can tell them or give up, because there are immigrants here to look up to. So you adjust your understanding of what makes America different, and think, “what a great country, where you can work hard and be rewarded for it.”
I can tell you as someone born in the US that I completely accepted this as reality — not only for me but for the world. The reality is though, we are spoiled here in America. We can fight and we can work hard and we can be lucky enough to carve out a little piece of that pie for ourselves.
For centuries, immigration and entrepreneurship have gone hand in hand. Starting your own business and channeling your savings into a big idea is risky, but so is taking the leap to a new country with the vision of the American Dream guiding you. Moving to another country prepares you for the possible highs and lows of being an entrepreneur. My parents came to this country with very limited funds (with an emphasis on ‘very’) and my mom decided to become a computer programmer and support my father’s entrepreneurial goals. And….they made it. My dad grew his import and export business into a very profitable position and started his own luggage line.
I was destined (or doomed) to follow his path.
I migrated around the country at various jobs, and ended up in Austin leading a business development team, with a great paycheck and a new daughter—and then the realization that I wasn’t living my own dream. In 2009, I quit my well-paying job and spent a year working out of my house to start my advertising agency, Rock Candy Media. Then I met the person who was everything I wasn’t to take us to the next level, Sam Kimelman, who became Managing Partner in 2016. I’ve learned a business only works if the business owner cares more about their clients than they do their ego. When they believe this, they look for business partners that let them concentrate on their strengths. Now it’s 2017 and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Am I proud? Yes. Am I done? Never. I’ll never be as good as my parents were, and I say that with pride.
One of the greatest motivators is being uncomfortable in the situation you’re in. You can’t stand your job, your country, your life. It wasn’t until I was older that I truly grasped everything my family sacrificed to give me, my sister and my brother the lives they wish they were born into, and the opportunities they wished they had without having the struggle.
One of the greatest motivators is being uncomfortable in the situation you’re in.
The irony here is:
1. All my father wanted for me was a stable job, even though he accomplished a monumental effort. By a stable job he meant a traditional one, with the 401k benefits, the 9 to 5 stability, the ‘saving for retirement’ thing that was just too scripted for me. It was a fate I wasn’t going to accept. I started my business because I couldn’t deal with authority, and if I am going to bare my soul as I am now doing, truthfully I wanted to do better than my father did.
2. What my father did was untraditional back in Taiwan, yet what he wanted for me was heavily traditional. He wanted me to have what he considered ‘safe’. I remember vividly how offended I was when, after making the Dean’s list every year at the University of Texas, he tried to convince me that a secure job with the government (at USPS, specifically) would be a heck of a life.
3. Of all the things I would be good at (this is besides the point but entertaining nonetheless), math would not be one of them as in fact it was what I was the worst at (unlike my math wizard mother). My parents couldn’t live in their old country. How do you make good on those sacrifices? I learned quickly that you need a kick in the ass to get it started.
I realized my dad didn’t necessarily want to achieve it all and never ever said anything about being proud of himself. He needed to. I only wanted to. And that difference is huge. When I say I had to jump off a cliff and trust the universe that I made the right decision, I catch myself realizing my father was the one that did. All I did was take the opportunities he fought so hard to give me and to give it everything I had.
As Americans, we begin our lives standing on the shoulders of everyone who struggled to get us here. Immigrants to this country have to climb their way up.
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