My America: Cultural Diversity & Social ResponsibilityShare on Twitter Share on Facebook
My name is Ming. My story is that of a foreign-born skilled worker and their family, an international student, a technologist and entrepreneur, an almost DREAMer, and most importantly, a human being.
Despite being educated in America for half of my life now, for free, I am unable to fulfill my social responsibilities to this country in ways that best utilize my education and talent. Instead, much of my energy has been devoted to wrestling with immigration constraints in order to live here legally. It is a waste of America’s economic and social resources.
I believe that comprehensive immigration reform is essential for sustaining America’s progress. Attracting, retaining and fostering talent that can contribute to innovation and discovery depends on new immigration policies.
Comprehensive immigration reform must supply a clear pathway to citizenship for skilled workers and students that are willing and able to contribute to the United States.
I was born in China and came to America at age 14, to join my mother, an engineer who came to pursue her dream of becoming an educator. She has been serving Chicago's inner city communities for 13 years now as a public school teacher.
I attended Benito Juarez Community Academy, as the only Asian student in a school with 98% Hispanic population. I started as an English as a Second Language student. To my surprise, I discovered on the first day of school that English class was in fact conducted in Spanish. Despite my initial fears, the community warmly accepted me. From learning to speak English alongside Spanish-speaking classmates, to learning to dance Salsa and attending Quinceañera celebrations, I came to embrace cultural diversity and equality as the norm. However, their struggles became apparent as many undocumented classmates were unable to obtain drivers licenses or go to college, and faced deportation despite being excellent students.
Four years later, I graduated as the valedictorian of my class and received a four-year full tuition scholarship to attend the University of Chicago. To me, it symbolized a baton of responsibility as much as it was an honor. I needed to fulfill my highest potential so that I could give back to American society. I had always dreamed of becoming a physician and wanted to serve the mental health needs of adolescents in the immigrant community. Therefore, I began pre-medical professions studies at the University of Chicago.
Midway through college, my plans were drastically altered and struggles with the immigration system were no longer an intellectual awareness, but an intimate personal battle.
Due to a sudden policy change in 2007, my mother’s permanent resident application was delayed. Because of this, I turned 21 three months too early and aged out of eligibility to be considered a dependent in my mother’s case. I suddenly was no longer on track to obtain permanent residency. I switched to a student visa (F-1) to continue my studies. I was advised against continuing to prepare for medical school unless I was willing to risk leaving the country post-graduation, because medical school enrollment is extremely limited for international students in the United States.
After much consideration, I took on a second major in Economics in addition to completing pre-medical preparation courses. In 2008, I graduated and received an offer of employment from a management consultancy firm. At the height of the financial crisis, the company made an exception to sponsor a work visa (H1-B) for me as an undergraduate international student.
A year and a half later, I decided to follow my heart and enter the grueling medical school application process despite the low odds. Pre-med advisors continued to give me well-intentioned warnings. I thought that I was mentally prepared. However, when rejections started to roll in, it was more difficult than I had anticipated.
“I am sorry, we are highly impressed with your qualifications but we cannot accept you at this time as an international student. Please apply again after receiving your permanent residency”.
Emotionally, such rejection messages were more difficult to accept than if it was due to insufficient academic or research preparations. I could always try harder. I could not choose where I was born.
I began to internalize my immigration status as if it were a birth defect or a disability. Because of something I could not change, I was somehow less qualified of a human being to follow my pursuits despite efforts and merits.
I thought about giving up and moving back to China. I could join my extended family there and live a relatively comfortable life. I also thought about moving to a different part of the world with more welcoming immigration policies. But I would be abandoning my responsibility to the communities and country I owed my education to and had come to love.
So I decided to work toward a master’s degree in order to get closer to obtaining permanent residency. My studies in Human Computer Interaction combine my interests and experience. Meanwhile, I found a different approach to help the immigrant adolescent community—through education.
In 2012, I decided to start a company to provide support outside of classrooms for teens that are new immigrants. I could not incorporate a company on my own on a student or work visa. A college friend joined me as a partner and together we incorporated and ran PearlHaus.org for half a year. I was not able to be employed or take income from the venture. When my friend returned to Asia toward the end of 2012, the PearlHaus project was forced to be put on hold.
This summer I began volunteering full time for an educational startup focused on building critical thinking education software for students in 4-12 grades. This way, I can still contribute to educating adolescents in inner city communities.
In the meantime, I am determined to support comprehensive immigration reform.
My story is not atypical, especially in the technology and entrepreneur community. America attracts and educates millions of talented foreign-born people only to encourage them to leave. For those who choose to stay, they often have to make overly practical and self-serving choices instead of fulfilling their lives to their maximum potential. The missed opportunity of this talent, caused by a broken immigration system, is economically wasteful and socially inefficient.
I believe that comprehensive immigration reform with a clear pathway to citizenship for skilled workers and students is essential for sustaining innovation and progress in America.