The Museum | My Family Travels
Ellis Island Faces

We had finally arrived at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Only minutes after entering the museum, I spotted my strong, impenetrable father next to a stone plaque with his head buried in his hands, tears rolling down his face. The trip to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum was one that elucidated the hardship my father had endured and overcame; it shed light on the opportunities I have in America.

My father’s life took a detrimental turn when the communist regime took over South Vietnam in 1975 stripping away the financial stability he had worked for decades to attain. Seeking a better life, my father escaped as a “boat person” on a cargo boat packed with 567 people destined for a refugee camp in Hong Kong. 

Grateful to have survived the deleterious conditions of starvation, dehydration, and unhygienic conditions, my father did manual labor all day to provide food for his parents. With his financial state, being a student was surreal. He promised himself that one day he would receive an education and make a difference in the world. Sixteen months later, joyful news arrived and he was sponsored to America.  Despite his destitute past, he remained obstinate to his promise. He learned English, got his GED, and worked part-time as a waiter to get his Electrical Engineering degree.

Looking at my father, I am a first-hand witness of the impact of education—an avenue to take life into ones own hands.

My father persevered through countless life obstacles. He worked hard to seek a higher education which turned his life around. Today he not only supports our family, but is also able to help his brothers and friends. He instilled in me that there were two things no authority could ever take from me: my knowledge and my will.

Thus far, I have been able to add to my community through music. I started with simple acts of service: playing piano for patients at a hospice, starting a community service music club at my school to visit senior homes, teaching music at elementary schools. However, what drove me to continue giving, was the idea that my music would make elders’ last few moments peaceful, that I had united teenagers together to do community service, that I had sparked the love of music in over 20 3rd graders. This is what pushed me to hone and perfect my piano pieces, stimulated my relentless search for a music club sponsor, and stoked my creative fire that turned paper towel rolls and empty tissue boxes into child-sized guitars and shakers. In the future, my mission is to continue to grow and utilize my knowledge and experiences to serve others through the field of bioengineering and the creation of medical technology. I hope to change the world for others, the way my father did for me.

Today, I am the epitome of the American Dream. Blessed with a great role model and an education, there is not a day that goes by that I do not feel thankful for where I am and for the people who have inspired me to achieve great things in life.   

My journey through college and afterwards will constantly be motivated by the words on the plaque at Ellis Islandwhich stated the date “1960-1980” and below: “After the fall of Saigon in 1975, about 130,000 refugees from Vietnam are admitted to the US”. Though these words remain engraved on the plaque at Ellis Island, the story, image, and lesson that accompanied the plaque will forever be engraved in my mind.

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