By Andy Lai
Upon looking back at both my own challenges and accomplishments, I learned, no matter how great or small my accomplishments or challenges were, only two things matter to me in the end – that I work with my heart and purpose, and that you love me in everything I do. Because of this lesson, I want you to know: Everything I do, I always think of you mother and what you mean to me.
Dear mother Nguyen Kim Thanh,
It has been a year since I became a student at the Evergreen State College. I have been thinking about your health lately as you are suffering from the Globalization Syndrome where you were taught, by the American culture, that certain norms are unacceptable because they do not fit into the paradigms of the colonial power we live in: consumerism, materialism, conformity, modernization, “fight for the fittest”, etc. Although my struggle for Evergreen made me a mature adult, I want to admit one truth that has kept me moving through my years: my memories of you as a mother, and as a beautiful high school student like myself.
Let me begin by reminding you of first some of my early years with you. I remember my time with you as your most beloved child who dreamed of living in a peaceful home where everyone can treat one another like a family. Your smile in seeing me as your child reminded me of my own innocence, but then something stuck out to me mother. Something that I didn’t understand when I was young. Your sorrow and pain.
I just didn’t understand mother. Why were you sad? Why were you disappointed? What was going on mother? Did I do something wrong that made you burden? All I knew was that you have changed ever since we came to the United States.
Arriving in the US in 1997, I knew intuitively that all of the freedom our forefathers dreamed about was stripped away from me. I was nothing more than just an immigrant who was bullied in school for my stuttering English in my classmate’s and my teacher’s eyes. Furthermore, I even remembered how, because you were affected by the Syndrome, you became hopeless in me – your ambitious son with a visionary mission for a low income family – and my own abilities to make it through college. The days drew by and I just prayed that you would get well, but eventually I grew hopeless in saving you from the Disease. I discovered how it stripped away your critical thinking, made you into another “zombie in the machine”, and blinded you from your own son’s ability and seeing him for who he is. Nevertheless, I kept going forward.
Perhaps you are wondering how I managed to keep going during this time of need. It was the stories you showed me when I was a child about your childhood dreams before you are affected by the Illness which kept me going. One of your aspirations was to be a teacher and a doctor when the Vietnamese communists has denied your admissions to medical school, and our family members, who are all affected by the Globalization Syndrome, forced you into labour for the family and a forced marriage that didn’t make you happy.
“I wanted to be a doctor or a teacher because I wanted to help cure my grandfather who had suffered and died from throat cancer… I want to teach children to become the best version of themselves they can be” you whispered in my tiny ear with tears in your eyes.
“Remember my son, my beloved Lai Hong An, no matter what you do, always do what brings you happiness with your heart. But most importantly, know that I love you every step of your way”
It is through those aspirations that you lived in me.
Because of it, I have defied the odds in order to find a cure. But I just didn’t know where to start until a college counselor had shown me a revelation that freed me from the burden of the Globalization Syndrome: I must look into the Colleges that Changes Lives! It was then that I chose some of the schools which go against “the family norm”. However, because I was your only son and a first generation born into our family, you and daddy have beaten me up till I was bruised, denied my admissions to out-of-state colleges, forced me into the workforce for 2 years, and yelled at me to break me down. Because your Illness threatened me while I was attending Austin Community College, I called up Adult Protective Service in order to save myself from your Sickness. That incident has freed me from your Sickness’ infestation. I gained the Independent Student status and could file my own taxes and move outside of Texas. But does that mean that I am angry at you mother when I did this? The answer is no. In fact, upon looking back, I have more reasons to say how much I love you.
During my time “running away from home”, I was looking for a solution to the problem, a solution to your Disease which I have been trying to understand. This burning desire for a cure has led me to the Evergreen State College. I witnessed others who have survived just like myself or have orphaned their parents due to the fact that the Disease claimed their parent’s lives. Burned out, angered, and hopeless, I’ve seen myself succumb to the symptoms of the Syndrome itself. I thought I lost my life because I have a “fixed mindset” about learning. Walking to the Evergreen classroom, however, I changed.
The Evergreen State College not only provides me a safe place to express myself, but also inspires me to find a way out. Through reading books about Self Theories and about learning, I was filled with hope because I have found the very gift that you, and your ancestors have left for me. The strong desire to learn and to grow. It is the incremental learning theory that healed me. From a child who was constantly reminded of his own ADHD, special needs, and even social incapacity, I became a leader among my own classmates. I have never felt any more invigorated in being myself. Mother, and I want to grow even further.
Driven by that vigorousness and fearlessness, I interned at the Salmon Center and other farms here in Washington to get in touch with our ancestors through nature. Although the 3-hour commuting burdened me, I pursued my passion ceaselessly. Every day, I meditated upon your words after returning home from work. Upon looking back at both my own challenges and accomplishments, I learned, no matter how great or small my accomplishments or challenges were, only two things matter to me in the end – that I work with my heart and purpose, and that you love me in everything I do. Because of this lesson, I want you to know: Everything I do, I always think of you mother and what you mean to me.
Mother, I honor you as one of my brave ancestors, and I am now studying Environmental Science here at Evergreen. I want to use this degree to first design a wilderness school which can teach youngsters like myself to be brave healers and teachers who can combat the Syndrome which plagued you. And secondly, formulate a foundation for future generation’s students to be inspired to dream for these goals: to be tribal elders who engage with the modern world with mindfulness and purpose. Also, by studying Environmental Science, I want to pursue my career as a naturopathic doctor who can teach people about real wellness and our human bodies’ connections with the environment, not what society has taught us – that we are isolated from our environment. Lastly, and most importantly, I want to keep you in my heart and memory through my own studies. May you live well through the internships I worked and the studies I do because I want you to know that I honor and love you through what I do.
Your beloved son
Andy Lai (Lai Hong An)
About the Author
Andy Lai: I was an immigrant whocame from Vietnam and was born overseas in the US. I was raised in Austin, Texas and went to school there. However, one of the great things that changed me as a person is how there were a lot of teachers that have changed my life around, and in some of the most unlikely settings. Those are the teachers that inspired me to be who I am today, where I started to research effective ways that teachers teach students to be civically intelligent, along with spreading such areas into the whole school system and other disciplines. I also have a history with Naropa University and later on transfer to Evergreen in order to search for transformative education.