Women's Empowerment

Dear Po Po: Your Ambition Inspired Me To Be the First Person in Our Family To Graduate From College

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Photo: Courtesy of Kayla Hui; Graphic: W+G Creative
Who has inspired you? Challenged you? Shaped you? In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re recognizing the women who made us who we are today. To all who came before—the mothers, grandmothers, mentors, teachers, and trailblazers… thank you.

Dear po po,

Do you remember the first time you came to America? It was 1964 and you had just moved from Hong Kong. You didn’t grow up with much, but at 19 years old, you envisioned a different life for your family—a life free from poverty and struggle. You knew that a better life meant that you had to navigate lands and systems that weren’t built for you in an unfamiliar language. And in learning English, you struggled a bit. You shouldn’t have had to, but you carried strength as your guiding light and your resilience and sacrifice didn’t go unnoticed.

I witnessed all the ways you kept the family afloat, especially during tough financial times. You postponed and often skipped dentist and doctor visits so that you could save money on copays. Despite having a shower and washing machine, you would take bucket showers and wash your clothes by hand to avoid a more expensive water bill. When I put pizza Lunchables in the shopping cart—too afraid and embarrassed to pack Chinese food for fear it would smell—you took them out, telling us to pack lap cheong (Chinese sausage) and rice anyway because they were cheaper alternatives.

In May 2018, you hugged me and cried after my graduation ceremony because I became the first person in our family to finish college.

Over time, I realized that these selfless acts were sacrifices you made for our family, for my sisters and me, so that we could be afforded opportunities that you didn’t have access to growing up. You worked overtime—often missing holidays and family gatherings. You made these sacrifices so that my sisters and I could pursue higher education. And in May 2018, you hugged me and cried after my graduation ceremony because I became the first person in our family to finish college. And two years after, the first in our family with a Master’s degree.

In many ways, I mirrored your ambition and drive in my own life. Your determination to learn English inspired me to travel and learn Cantonese, Spanish, Thai, and Portuguese. Your fearlessness to ask for help motivated me to reach out to mentors and professors in college whenever I struggled academically. And it was your selflessness—to provide for all members in your family and prioritize loved ones before yourself—that taught me to set a good example for my two younger sisters when mom and dad weren’t around.

When gung gung died, I know life wasn’t easy on you, po po.  But I want you to know that I am thankful and grateful for your unwavering love, support, and sacrifice. You taught me to be strong, humble, selfless, and resilient, and I wouldn’t be the woman I am today or have achieved all that I have without you.

You have held the weight of the family on your shoulders for years. It is my hope that one day I will be able to carry that weight so that you no longer have to.

Looking for more Strong As Her? Check out these letters from chronic illness advocate Nitika Chopra and Emmy-Award-winning broadcast journalist Mara Schiavocampo

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