Honorable Mention, 2014 Bethesda Magazine Young Adult Essay Contest
8:40 AM. I descended the staircase to fetch a cup of warm water, as I had done every day. But it only took one casual glance out the windowpanes for my safe-and-sound world to crumble. Two black-shirts, with the words “Immigration & Customs Enforcement” woven in white on their backs, ravenously fumbled Papa’s pockets. I watched, paralyzed in fear, as they clasped a pair of handcuffs tightly on Pa’s wrists and pressed his chest against the cold car-shield.
“He violated immigration laws and must go back to China,” one agent asserted mechanically when I dragged myself to the front lawn. He threw me Pa’s two muddied shoelaces. We must prevent any attempts at self-harm.
Then they drove away, leaving behind a broken family.
For days that followed, I drifted across a world of agonizing thoughts, haunted by a million equally cruel visions of what’s to come of us. To pay for green-card fees, our family endured almost eight years sleeping in a closet, never visiting a doctor, and binging on spoiled soy-sauced noodles. Why have we deserved this? Imagining my violin auctioned on eBay, Pa herded onto a deportation airplane, and our dreams for a second chance mercilessly shattered, I was inundated with bitterness towards the ‘Golden Land,’ where human rights are supposedly cherished.
Despair circulated my body as I moped aimlessly in my school’s science hallway one afternoon when suddenly, the soothing voice of my chemistry teacher echoed along concrete walls.
“What’s going on?” The story then unfolded like a ball of yarn when tugged by the string on the open end. What I once believed to be the horrors of a short-lived Kafkaesque nightmare had swept into reality. My father was imprisoned for stepping out the country the first time in thirteen years to visit his dying mother. Just who would be the lawyer for a near-poverty-line family?
He pressed a twenty-dollar bill into my palm before I finished speaking.
“I see it in your eyes. Take it and get a warm dinner.”
Seeing my reluctance, he added, “It’s my obligation. Someone did this for me once.”
“I don’t want you to return it, but there’s one condition. One day, when you’re capable, pass on the gift—give someone else these twenty dollars of hope.”
I felt the icy agony melting at my teacher’s words as warm tears swelled my eyes. When news spread the following week, I was overwhelmed by the goodwill of numerous teachers who re-instilled my confidence, bit by bit, with their encouragements and Giant gift cards. Indeed, I wasn’t unwanted or alone; my community embraced me. Cheered on by my keepers, I began the legal battle to bring father home. Though sleepless nights of phone calls to congressional offices and testimony drafting didn’t bring any court victories until much later, my faith never wavered.
I held on because someone, in shedding me a glimmer of kindness, had unlocked my resilience. And I must cultivate more seeds of empowerment to be harvested by others.