In Defense of My Education


I was born and raised in Cambodia. In early 2000, my parents got divorced. My mother remarried and her husband, a U.S. citizen, brought our family (two sisters, one brother, and I) to America on October 10, 2002. Our first house in Modesto was too small for everyone. We lived together with our parents and grandparents, and the kids slept on the floor. It was a poor neighborhood with lots of gangs and drugs, so our cousins in San Francisco recommended we move to the City for better schools and ESL classes.

In San Francisco, my sister, Sodony, and I worked with my aunt. We applied for conditional green cards, and had to keep renewing them because we were never given permanent ones. The social work my stepfather did in Modesto paid him eight hours a day with free food. Our mom couldn’t stay in Modesto because she had no money for rent, so she moved to San Francisco without her husband. Soon after that, INS interrogated my parents and asked them questions about their living conditions.

Sodony and I came to the Asian Law Caucus in 2007 and were very depressed. Our grades in school dropped because we needed to spend time with our parents, and with no green card, we couldn’t work and faced serious financial problems. I had to work at McDonald’s and had no time to go back to school for activities. I worked weekends, full-time, eight hours a day. Mum, his oldest sister, was working at UCSF and making good money until she became a victim of a local crackdown for employers using undocumented workers. She was unemployed for two years. My mom and step dad fought so much that my sister ran away, putting more pressure on my mom. Everything was breaking down. I felt helpless. My mom had liver problems and arthritis, Sodony developed kidney stones, and without a lawyer, we were definitely getting deported. We couldn’t stay here because we couldn’t afford a lawyer. We searched everywhere, but all charged $200 just for a visit. My mom cried every night was completely devastated.

Everybody in family started blaming each other for family problems, and that is when my high school teacher helped us by contacting ALC and gave Sin Yen our documents. I became the liaison to the family for communicating with ALC. I was 18 and my family started getting mad at me because I was the only one who could contact Sin Yen. It came to a point where I didn’t care about my green card anymore because we were all dying. In Modesto, my stepfather made just enough to pay for rent, utility bills, and food. My parents worked so hard to get here, that they didn’t want to go back to Cambodia. They wanted to stay here. I tried comforting my mom, but sometimes the darkness inside of you covers everything. Then we were finally rewarded our green cards!

My mom recently got treatment in Chinatown and has improved a lot. She goes regularly to classes, the hospital, and has activities. Everyone has jobs now and my brother goes to UC Santa Cruz. He was granted his green card just in time for admissions. All this trouble just because of a little card. We were saved by my teacher’s call to Sin Yen. She is really the person who made everything happen. ALC was the only organization to provide free services, and my parents are both appreciative of ALC. Today I work for Wells Fargo and an IT firm and want to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering. I’m so appreciative of ALC.


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