My parents were both born as Tibetan Refugees in India. My grandfather on my mother’s side escaped Tibet and was later trained by the CIA as a soldier for the war between China and Tibet. On my father’s side, my grandmother escaped the war and fled to India by dressing as a Chinese citizen. She escaped Tibet by going through the Himalayan Mountains. Fortunately, both of my grandparents escaped the war between Tibet and China and escaped the Tibetan Cultural Genocide. My grandparents from my mom and my dad’s side lived in India for a majority of their life before their children brought them to the U.S. My mother and father came to America by a lottery system for Tibetan refugees to come to America. It was called the Tibetan Immigration Act of 1990. My mother was assigned to live in Virginia while my father was assigned to live in Chicago. Both of my parents were apart of a large group of Tibetans that were one of the first groups to be sent from India to live in America. -Sonam Rikha '20
My Father's Story
To me, my dad was just my dad. He was a die-hard Cubs fan, a Stephen King enthusiast, and a brave warrior who always fought the scary monsters in my closet. I didn’t really know, couldn’t even imagine, my dad at four years old, traveling over 12,000 miles with his parents to a completely new and different world. But there’s so much that my dad didn’t say while he was alive; his story is fascinating, filled with so many details that I will never know. Recently, I asked my mom about her knowledge of my father’s childhood. She told me a story that I will never forget, a bittersweet tale that captivated me to the end:
My father was born on the island of Luzon in the Philippines to my grandmother, Perla, and my grandfather, Apolinar. My grandmother was the only daughter of her father’s to be married and hoped to someday travel to America, where economic opportunity was prevalent and her son could receive a quality education. She wished to migrate as soon as she was married, but her father was deeply opposed to his daughter’s departure. It was only after his death that my father and grandparents migrated to Chicago. Within Chicago, they moved to Wrigleyville, where my father developed his lifelong love of the Cubs. Everyday, he used to tell me, his father would have the Cubs game on, as a daily tradition that helped them adjust to life in America. Meanwhile, my grandmother became pregnant three years after their migration to America and my father became one of his brother’s primary caretakers. His description of the unbearably hot summers, watching over his brother in their Wrigleyville apartment, still sticks with me today. Meanwhile, my grandparents opened their own small business and my grandmother pursued a job in nursing, but her foreign medical degree posed significant barriers in her new home. Nevertheless, my grandparents pursued the “American Dream,” driving themselves towards success and sending my father and uncle to high school and college. However, what I find is the realest and rawest part of my family’s story is that it doesn’t have a happy ending. My grandmother soon became caught up in American materialism and, coupled with a financially struggling business, my grandparents went beyond their means and made poor financial decisions. I remember seeing fragments of this before their deaths. When we would visit my grandparents, their living room would be cramped with exotic and expensive items, many of which didn’t seem to belong together in the humble apartment. Yet we still have some of the tables and chairs today that they had: beautifully crafted nightstands with intricate designs, and little glass figurines that are lined up on the top of my bookshelf. My grandparents died in huge debt, but they had succeeded in so many other ways. Both my father and uncle were educated and pursued careers in law. They had allowed their sons and grandchildren to live where they could succeed and have economic and educational opportunity. They were selfless, making the futures of their children their primary goal. Their story may be similar to so many others, but it is also so unique and will be a lifelong treasure to me.
~Magdalena Rivera '20
When I was 6, I often watched as my mother and my grandmother work diligently at the dining table after we had finished cleaning up after lunch. Large, empty bowls and and dirty utensils litter the polished wood of the table. The only sound was the clanking of spoons and chopsticks as the quick movements of hands wrapped the prepared meat. I always asked if I could help but the usual response was a curt “no”. Every year, as I persisted, I would be given small tasks to clean or preparing the utensils. This would continue until I was 12 years old, where I was formally taught and allowed to cook. This recipe served as a right of passage for me personally. Although it was just a dish, whenever this was made, the whole extended family gathered and ate happily. Making dumplings and being able to take care of your family symbolized the importance of the family to me. I still continue to make these dumplings with my mother and grandmother to this day. -Kaitlyn So '19
I am calling my grandparents, after all, I’ve promised them phone calls twice a week. Its dialing; I take a deep breath. Okay. Wait...let me prepare what I’m going to say, practice it a few times so it sounds fluent. Still dialing...“Привет бабушка. Как дела?”. Okay, good. I’ll say it once more for a perfect accent. My grandmother picks up.“Привет бабушка. Как дела?”... …(conversation)... Call ended ..Fabulous! Went smoother than I would have expected. Speaking russian- it’s something that used to come easy to me. It slid off the tip of my tongue like butter. The language was mine, and my ability to speak it was not yet rusty. I didn't give a second thought to any word or phrase, nor did I have to read the english subtitles when watching a russian movie, and never was I self conscious when I spoke. I’m a fluent speaker- yet somehow still i am overly unsure of myself. While worrying myself with silly things, such as my almost-perfect pronunciation, I find myself more unable to speak. So, I fight the current. I fight the drift which carries me further from my language and further from my family. In the end, there is nothing else which I can do. -Anna Zavelsky ‘20
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