My own journey begins long before I was born.
In the December of 1996, a young Chinese student left behind his family and a homeland in turmoil, crossing the Pacific with only two suitcases. With only the bare necessities in his hands and the weight of the world on his shoulders, he still managed to hold onto his goal to someday live a better life with his wife and daughter. Although he was raised on only a barren plot of land that had since been confiscated by the Chinese Communist party decades before, he became the first in his family to become literate and receive any form of formal education.
As he persevered through a relentless barrage of difficulties through his adolescence, his academic prowess would land him in the most prestigious post-secondary institution in his province: Nanjing University. After receiving his Master’s degree in mathematics, he pursued his Doctorate’s in the United States. During his first year, he scored only 8% on his English placement exams. Within the next year, he would have completely mastered the entire language.
Simultaneously, a young Chinese woman would be working in the fields and factories after being pulled from middle school during the Cultural Revolution. A daughter of a famous writer, her family’s wealth would suddenly be seized by the Chinese government as her extended family members were tortured and slaughtered for resistance against the Communists. Her father went into hiding, and her hopes of leaving the mainland stuck with her until they were realized by a college student she met in her hometown of Nanjing.
In the September of 1998, shortly after earning his Ph.D., the Chinese immigrant’s wife gave birth to a boy who would be the second of three children. He would move a total of three times before he finally established his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.
That child was me.
Between the various schools, I attended and my own household, I lived between paralleled Chinese and American cultures. As I grew up in a Western society, the same hardships of being a first-generation student that my father endured became vividly apparent. The expectations to pursue an unrivaled education in hopes of obtaining a lucrative career were established early on. Beginning my primary education, everything seemed to go smoothly.
After impressive results on an IQ test and unparalleled reading and mathematic abilities revealed themselves, I was accepted into the district’s gifted program at the highest level. Every accelerated course offered became required and exceptional results were mandatory. Sooner or later, the pressure to perform would eventually get the best of me.
Although other members of my family had experienced similar symptoms themselves, an unforeseen battle with mental illness slowly took its toll nearing the end of my middle school years. The side effects of a blend of depressive and anxiety disorders became so severe that I eventually could barely get myself out of bed in the morning. The greatest struggle came from the resistance that my parents had towards the concept of mental illness. The Chinese culture and values they held so dearly absolutely denied the existence of a disease they couldn’t see.
Over the course of the next five years, help in the form of psychotherapy and medication was out of reach. As a result, my academic performance plummeted. Every instrument that I had mastered I packed into cases and threw into the back of my closets. In an effort to protect myself from the destructive thoughts that plagued my mind, I stripped myself of what made me…myself.
As I sit in front of my computer at Truman State University, I see just how far I’ve come as a human being. Although I still struggle to get by, I realize that everything leading up to me writing these very words has condensed into what I call my identity.
I will never forget the number of sacrifices that my mother and father were willing to make to get me where I am today. As I see a reflection of myself in their eyes, our experiences together have now manifested themselves as the inspiration for my purpose in life. While I may have luckily survived such a dark journey, others that find themselves in a similar situation may not, and I hope that I can save even a single life in the future.
I ask you to look back on your past.
What did it take to bring you to this point?
What have your parents, grandparents, etc. sacrificed?
What have you sacrificed?
Thank you, Shunfu Hu and Ning Yong, for everything you’ve done.