Wednesday, July 10, 2013
One early morning, when I went to Facebook, I saw a message under the photo of my book Fish Sauce, “Daniel and Anhthao, I purchased your books and cannot wait.” I replied, “Thank you.”
I called Dan and asked him, “Dan, who is Khetam? Did I meet her before? Her message is friendly, as if she knew me before.”
Dan explained, “Honey, I do not think you met Khetam before. She is my colleague. She purchased our books because she is also an author and an immigrant like you.”
I asked him, “Really? Do you have her book?”
Dan answered, “Yes, I will show her book to you. Her book is also the textbook for English as a Second Language Students. She teaches ESL courses.”
I replied to him, “Thank you, Dan.”
That afternoon, I went to Facebook, and wrote another message for Khetam, “I look forward to reading your book, The Journey of an Immigrant during the winter break.”
Dan could not find Khetam’s book because he had too many books, so when he reorganized his bookshelf, he did not remember where he put it. I did not contact Khetam until I received her message: “I love your book,” with a photo of the cover of Yellow Flower. I was very happy and replied to her immediately, “Thank you so much, Khetam, Could you do me a favor? Could you post this photo in public? Again, thank you so much for your support.”
Since then, we became friends. I often wrote comments on her posts. I liked her beauty, friendliness, open mind, independence, confidence, and understanding. I thought she was an Indian-American immigrant until I met her in person.
Dan handed me the book, The Journey of an Immigrant: From Farm to Freedom by Khetam Dahi. I was fascinated to read Khetam’s book and to learn more about my new friend.
In Khetam’s introduction, she honestly reveals her parents’ early engagement and wedding “On his wedding day, he had to call him in to get ready for the day’s event.”(xix) to help the audience learn more about her culture. Also, Khetam quotes her father’s words to teach her how to succeed in life when she was rejected at her first job “You need to be tough and try again. You will be denied things sometimes and you will be rejected other times. You may lose to others and you may fail in some things, but all these negative things should be lessons and opportunities to get stronger and wiser.” (128). Khetam introducing about her parents like Condoleezza Rice’s introduction about Rice’s parents and Condi’s parent teaching in Extraordinary, Ordinary People : “if you were twice as good as they were, ‘they’ might not like you but ‘they’ [would have] to respect you” (3). Both Condoleezza and Khetam maintained good relationship with their parents with love and pride about their parents’ wisdom and care. Both Condoleezza’s and Khetam’s parents tasted the bitterness in the United States, so they wanted their children to have a better life and by working hard and education was a sturdy barricade to protect themselves. In the United States ethnic elderly endure unfairness for minority people, so many parents wished their offspring to succeed, no matter whether they were immigrants or not.
Khetam’s life in Syria and my life in Vietnam were similar. We both shared common daily life and typical cultures. Khetam describes “Most students in town walked to school, but many from the surrounding villages came by bus, on motorcycles behind their fathers or other family members. Some rode their own bicycles or motorcycles” (xvii). The image was also the vivid typical picture of going to school in Vietnam.
Although my family did not live in a farmland, Khetam family’s situation and environment were similar to my family when she told the reader that some people thought that her family was rich because they owned some a large piece of land and a farm, but it was not true because her parents worked very hard and saved every single penny with the hope to provide her siblings a better life. Likewise, our relatives, friends, and outsiders assumed that my family was rich because my parents provided us the best educational opportunities and condition to make us only concentrate on school. I think not only Asian cultures, but also different cultures in the world also share responsibilities with the other members in a close family or extended families.
Both Khetam and I had similar childhoods with many made up games and toys because we did not have much luxurious toys and games. As young girls, we both enjoyed crocheting, embroidering, stitching and knitting. I liked to sew and made clothes for my dolls, but I asked my older cousin to do it for my dolls because I was not good at, or interested in female tasks. Like Khetam, I was bored to wear my older siblings’ outfits and reused their old school supplies, toys, and their possessions. Our parents provided us limited new clothes and did not buy new belongings if they were in good condition. We grew up in male dominant cultures, so female had little rights in our society. As Khetam revealed many unspoken forbidden laws and rules for girls, we were tired, confused and felt unfair for us, the girls because we unexpectedly received too many harsh and strict complaints, punishments, and annoyances.
I laughed out loud when I read the story about Khetam’s trouble with the bathroom on the airplane—her first experience, opinion, comparison about the restroom on the airplane and the restroom in her motherland on the way to the United States. The story was similar to my story, “Bathrooms,” on the trip to the United States. Khetam used the words, “pee” and “poo” to provide ESL students daily conversation new words that were big help for the newcomers. I only learned these words right after I got my bachelor’s degree in English because during my undergraduate periods, I only worked and read academic writings, textbooks, and fine literature, so I did not have any chance and opportunities to learn daily conversation and common vocabularies.
Khetam describes her hardship, bias, and disadvantages during her journey in the United States. Khetam does not write much about her triumph and achievement, but her real story and her position as a full time English instructor at a community college are real and vivid tokens of her accomplishment. Khetam’s The Journey of an Immigrant is not only the book text for ESL adult students who learn English writing and reading skills with practical and dynamic exercise and common vocabularies worksheets that the English learners need to acquire, but it is also the motivation for newcomers to pursue their dreams as Khetam’s wishes revealing in Note to the Reader.