Because Mother Leaped with Faith

Soe Tha - Ecuador


February 3, 2014

Anyone in the United States who´s ever written a college essay knows the “my parent is an immigrant” story. We kids of immigrant parents write to colleges for acceptance because our parents left their homelands, because they’ve busted their tails, because they want us to have better futures. I did it. My peers did it. This year’s applicants did it.

If we can write about their struggles in a college essay to better our chances of acceptance, why can’t we REALLY appreciate them? How are we supposed to appreciate them anyways? How are we supposed to worry ourselves with understanding the hardships they went through when we have our own problems to worry about: APs, ACTs, SATs, sports trophies, the latest iPhone, parties, sex, weed, alcohol, the cutest shoes, snapbacks & tattoos…

We tend to forget to appreciate and respect our parents because superficial things cloud our visions and media wash our brains by idolizing rebellious, pregnant teens and chaotic adults. Monkey see, monkey do until we’re only worrying about twerking, booze, college acceptance, and Snooki while neglecting our family.

In high school, I was an ungrateful brat. I worried only about test scores, class grades, friends, boys, and parties. I was desperate to be smart, cool, popular, toned, and funny. I neglected my mother and failed to appreciate her. It’s not that I didn’t know she is an immigrant. I knew she left her home, family, friends, and me because things in Burma were going bad. Because my future didn’t include a diploma, a job, nor a house.

But I ONLY saw her as an immigrant who couldn’t speak English well, who didn’t know how things functioned in the United States, who thought premarital sex is the worst thing possible. That’s why it was easier for me to write a pretentious praise about her to a college rather than tell her I love her. I didn’t understand what she went through.

I arrived to Pano on September 23, 2013. Pano is a community in the Napo region of the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle. People say community, but it´s a village. “Community sounds better,” says Carlos Andy, my host father, the vice president of Pano. There is ONE concrete road that runs through Pano which is a result of President Rafael Correa’s Patria Campaign. Patria means homeland, and by building this road, Correa opened this village to the rest of the homeland. To the bare eye, this would make the people in the village happy as they’ve ever been. FALSE.

The peoples of the Amazon jungle have been isolated from the rest of the country before, and there still remain peoples who choose to isolate themselves. Just four years ago, one would be surprised that there is a prosperous and beautiful city such as Tena in Napo. And now the door has been opened, and years and years of isolation are penetrated by unfamiliar faces going in and out. So now imagine me, a Chinese-looking American with a duffel bag and a back pack, walking into their village. Things are bound to happen.

Yes, you can never make a general statement about a group of people, but the people of Pano are generally good-hearted people. And yes, I have had beautiful experiences while here in Pano. But in the past 3 and half months that I’ve been here, however, there has also been harassment, which ranged from catcalls and screams of “china cochina” (dirty Chinese); there have been confrontations; and there have been lots of tears. People talking in front of me about me and what I do in Kichwa, the language of the natives of Pano and many other indigenous peoples of Latin America. People making fun of my Spanish, my “chinky” eyes, and my changotas (big thighs). I mean, why sugar coat it? I was angry and explosive, hating Pano and wanting to return to California. Oh I was mad, and as a result, I bit and snapped.

Until one day, tired and frustrated with how I was acting and feeling, I decided to call home to hear how things are going, just to give myself a taste of home. My mother picked up the phone at five in the morning, and she knew instantly that I was not feeling well. She asked if I was okay. I took a deep breath… and broke down. She has witnessed me cry this hysterically before ONCE, in freshman year when I received an F while I was on my period. Not the business.

Four years later, her daughter cries about how mad, angry, and frustrated she is. We talked on the phone for two hours about life: hers, mine, the troubles, the people, the pain, and the joy. Suddenly I saw my mother more than just an immigrant. I saw her as a person who is just like me, who has gone through what I’m going through but ten times worse. When she arrived to the United States, she was a 36-year-old woman without English and without family in a strange country. I have 18 years of age, three years of Spanish, and an experience of living in Ecuador for five weeks when I was 16.

My view of my mother is changing. She is still an immigrant, but now she has so many more things about her. She’s strong and tough, but she can also be vulnerable and sad. I relate to her, and I respect her. I learned to appreciate her when I began experiencing the things she went through, when I stopped worrying about artificial things as I did before.

I hope you guys use my experience to just stop worrying about your AP score or why he or she isn’t texting you back. Use my experience to take a second look at the people around you and to try to see them from different points of view. And if you’re neglecting your parents, get yourself together and straighten up. See where they’re coming from. It’ll make your and their life easier if you can see through more eyes than just your own.

Soe Tha