anh hai's story

My family depends on me a lot - everyone does. I'm 16 with three little brothers under age 10, and they don't even call me by my real name. They call me "Anh Hai,' the Vietnamese phrase for eldest brother. I've always taken care of them. My parents, they're Vietnamese refugees and they don't speak English at all. Like they can understand it, but they can't speak back. So that means I have to handle a lot of things for them. I like the responsibility of it all, but I don't think I really had a childhood.

Growing up was hard. Our neighborhood wasn't really safe and we didn't have a lot of money. We couldn't afford everything I needed for school and I could only afford to take the bus. My mother is a nail technician and my father's work took him out of town a lot, so I didn't always get to spend quality time with them since they were so busy. And with the language barrier, as a kid and honestly up until now, I would have to be the one to handle applying for welfare, health insurance, food stamps, etc. I was the one taking calls from debt collectors. I would be like 7 years old saying, "I don't know, they said that they are going to pay you..." I really didn't know how to handle it. Sometimes they even took me out of school to go to the immigration office because they needed assistance. Then in school, if I ever got in trouble, they wouldn't really hear my side of the story. The school would bring in a translator to translate for the teacher, and my parents wouldn't listen to me, only the adult. In my culture, the adult is always right. If you're a child, you stay in your place. You stay caged. You can't open your mouth. You don't have the right to speak.

So now I'm pretty controlling and I want everything in order because I hate failure. And I have a lot of anxiety that still affects me because of how they didn't listen to me and pushed me aside as a kid. That stress and lack of a normal childhood just built up so many insecurities inside of me.

You’re a child, you stay in your place. You stay caged.

The only help I really had was from my aunt and uncle. They were the ones that took me bowling and to see like Spy Kids and Finding Nemo. They would take me out with their friends and that was really cool. But when they turned 18, they moved to Texas. I was 7 at the time, and I've had to be an adult ever since.

There weren't any services available to me. I just thought, OK, this is my life. This is normal - everybody is going through this. But then, i started noticing things differently, and you know what really opened up my eyes? Christmas movies (and I'm a Buddhist)! Even though they make me sad, they really helped me cops. I've always love those movies and now I realize why. They'd have like the happy family dinner or like a movie night or play Monopoly or something and I never had that. But I really, really wanted that. Watching those families helped me to realize that a lot of people could get and do what they wanted and didn't have to work as hard as I (or my family) did and that really made me feel crappy. So I've kind of channeled that energy into being a part of the organizing world and fighting for rights for all people, including immigration rights. I feel strength and power when I stand in solidarity with others.

I don’t know if anyone’s felt like that, like you have so many people by your side, so many people around you, but you feel like you’re drowning and that you’re alone.

I wish my parents would have understood what was going on with me, but it's not their fault that they came over here and didn't have anyone to assist them. They worked on their own, they found their own path, and no one was there to help them, either. My dad doesn't even have an education and he's working his butt off. So I don't blame them for trying to provide for us.  But I do wish parents in general would be more aware of their kids and pay more attention to them. I also wish someone in an organization would come to my school and help out the students and advocate for them and say to administrators, "Hear out the youth. You should listen to them." That could prevent a lot of problems from happening. Because I'm popular at my school, and I'm cool with the teachers, staff, and administration and stuff, but I still feel alone. No matter how much support I have, sometimes I still feel alone. That's how my childhood has affected me.