I travel back home to Hong Kong every summer to visit my family and it always feels uneasy leaving my dad and his family when summer ends. However, it feels a little more uneasy and heavier this year as I walk into the security gates to leave my dad. As I currently write this piece on my 20-hour flight back to Michigan, I’m reflecting on my identity as a documented East Asian immigrant, retracing all of the sentiments on my journey that led to today – seeing my dad alone in Hong Kong as he works to support our family in the United States.
I grew up in a humble middle-class family in Hong Kong. My mom’s side of my family gradually moved to the U.S. through family-based documented immigration during the 1990s and 2000s to start Chinese restaurant businesses for a living. Naturally, my mom wanted to give me a chance to have better education and opportunity in the U.S. as well. We became permanent citizens (green card holders) in 2003, but we did not move to the U.S. for a long time after we received our green card, because we were not emotionally ready to go through such a drastic change.
My mom eventually moved to the U.S. by herself in April 2011, getting everything settled for me to come to the U.S. half a month later. Unfortunately, her green card was confiscated by the immigration department. Immigration officers interrogated my mom for seven hours in a monitored room at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. They said she had a “lack of desire to settle in the U.S.” because she didn’t settle in the U.S. for all these years after she received her green card. She now holds the status of a “temporary resident,” and she had to hire an attorney to fight for the slim chance of getting her green card back.
Ever since I can remember, it has been an ongoing and indefinite fight for her residential status. She has had five court hearings already and the court decision has always been deferred. Long story short, she might exhaust all her effort and money to lose her U.S. resident status at the end, and none of us know how much longer this fight will continue. She could’ve just left me in the U.S. and reunited with my dad in Hong Kong the day her green card was confiscated, but she never gave up and still chose to take the risk to care for me. I would ask my mom why she insisted on fighting a battle that leads to nowhere and she would tell me, “The hardships along our immigration journey mean nothing, because we believe it will be worth it at the end for you and your brother. It is always worth it to help you along the way to pursue better opportunities. Don’t worry too much.” For that, I am beyond grateful for my parents.
My mom wanted to make fair for both me and my brother. She still wanted to give my younger brother a chance for better opportunities in the U.S. like I had. So, she applied for my brother to go to a Christian school as an international student this year, paying thousands of dollars to give him a better education. Living with my dad for his whole life, my brother finally left Hong Kong to the diaspora, because my dad had to continue his job in Hong Kong to sustain our family financially overseas.
When I had to come back to the U.S. for the new school year, my dad and I walked to the security gates in silence. I could feel his heavy feelings of taking on the responsibilities of supporting our entire family, but he put on his calm demeanor and his fatherly figure on the outside as usual. He smiled and said, “Son, don’t stress yourself too much when you go back.” My heart aches to see my dad holding back his vulnerability when we depart at the airport. Since I came back to the U.S., my parents have constantly been in my thoughts because of all the changes our family is going through.
I don’t usually share much of my journey with others, because it was such a complicated, exhausting and expensive journey to talk about. Also, I know I have so much to be grateful for aside from the hardships along my journey. People are always in shock and empathize with the struggle of my family’s diasporic experiences when I tell them about it. But through my experiences, I recognize my privileges of being a documented East Asian immigrant, and I learned how much harder it must’ve been for other undocumented immigrants just to find better opportunities or live a better life in U.S. When I had to see my dad left alone in Hong Kong just to provide for our family overseas, it certainly made me sad and my heart aches, but it also reminds me of the blessings of my family has, especially when reminded some families of undocumented immigrants are forcefully torn apart and sometimes lose contact with each other. I am fortunate enough to still have a family. I can’t even start to imagine how much more uneasy undocumented immigrants must feel, considering the way more complicated process and the unimaginable traumas.
Sometimes, privileged documented immigrants, like some of my relatives, don’t see the way I see immigration issues. They are so focused on their troubles on the diaspora journey that they fail to recognize the bigger picture of others’ struggles. Yes, we might not be the crazy rich Asian “FOBs” rocking Moschino and Supreme daily. Quite frankly, my mom’s family started from nothing and can barely afford living in middle-class suburbs in the U.S. even now. There were way more roadblocks along the way that I left out in this piece. We have our struggles. But it doesn’t make it valid for documented immigrants to say it is unfair just because we had to go through all the time-consuming legal processes and troubles while undocumented immigrants had not. White supremacy has given you permission to believe undocumented immigrants are dangerous or a burden to society, when in fact they are human, just like us. Imagine your family being forcefully separated and potentially never seeing them again. Imagine your only options are either being dead in warzones or risking lives to just escape and survive in the Global North. Imagine all the traumas, hardships, bigotry, they have to put up with in the Global North. In fact, they deserve an opportunity in the U.S. more than we do because of the conditions they face in their home countries.
Retrace our journeys. At the end of the day, undocumented immigrants are just striving to live a better life in diaspora just like us documented immigrants. While they have fewer resources than we do, we should recognize our privileges, support policies like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We must stand in solidarity with undocumented immigrants.