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Karma’s immigration story: “Life in New York was no crystal staircase”

From our awesome intern, Karma D., from Flushing International High School. See her on our Tumblr and on our I AM THIS LAND story-telling project.

I am a girl from the faraway lost land of Tibet. I ran with my parents, older brother and my small baby brother resting in my mom’s warm womb in search of freedom and a better life. I am a girl who struggled to find her own identity especially after knowing my birth country is now a place that cannot be reached or seen. In search of independence and better opportunity, I came to America with very limited English but with great hope. I also carried the blessings of my grandparents from Tibet and the memories of my loved ones from Nepal and India throughout the journey.

My feet landed in this foreign land of liberty in 2006. It took me years to realize that life in New York was no crystal staircase, that there weren’t trees and leaves made of money, nor was there the easy independence that my fellow Tibetans and I had been searching for. I struggled every morning to wake up because I wasn’t use to the timing, then I would try to get on the yellow bus on time. I made sure my brother and I sat on the front seats, so the other students might not make fun of us. We looked different from them.

For an immigrant like me, whose mom was jobless for three years due to her lack of English, and whose dad worked in a Sushi store for eight years, constantly fearful of not being able to support my two brothers and me, the United States was more struggle than freedom. My life turned 180 degrees. At the age of thirteen, I realized I had to step up and contribute to my family financially, and I’ve been working ever since.

I remember last year, when I transferred high school, I saw myself in a tough situation where I often felt lonely. I decided to get used to the new school. I tried to join clubs and extracurricular activities. I also had 2 jobs, not because we needed the money badly, but because I made a decision to help my parents. I was a daughter first, then a student. But I wasn’t a bad student. As time passed, my grades went up and I saw myself as a full-time daughter and a full-time student with great responsibility. I also realized that my happiness lies beneath my family’s smile.

Sometimes, when I sit here in my parents’ apartment, thinking about my beloved family and friends that I left behind in search of independence, better education, and better opportunity, I stare blankly at the old picture that hangs loose on the plain white door. I see myself when I was a toddler smiling proudly beside my pregnant mom while my dad stood tall and strong holding my older brother’s little hand. I think about how far I’ve come as a refugee, moving three times, border to border, country to country, finally stepping on the land of liberty and now completing the dream of graduating high school and attending the college that my parents never had the opportunity to attend. At this thought, my heart begins to beat faster and my face gets warmer but a little bit of excitement fills my heart.

“Don’t give up yet bhumo (daughter), we crossed this same bridge when we left Tibet, and that bridge has led us closer to success and independence.” These are the words my mom said to me when we were leaving Nepal, our second home, on our way to India. I resisted leaving Nepal because I was already learning to accept it as my home country and I was too scared to face a new world in India. I moved to India for two years. I learned their language, tradition, and culture before I again found myself shedding few tears and packing my belongings.

Now in New York, I stand here strong but still trying to adapt to the new culture and language. Since I was three years old, my journey has been arduous, but I know that to be successful, I must face my challenges. No matter how many tough paths God makes me face, I will always take advantage of every one because I know from my own experience that difficult paths lead to success and freedom and that a disadvantaged refugee won’t stay disadvantaged for ever.

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