Karen Wong-Brown at two years old, and her mother, Ling Ling Zee, just before they left Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of Karen Wong-Brown.
“The Evolution of An Immigrant’s Dream” by Karen Wong-Brown
Almost three decades ago, a naïve 19-year-old came to Colorado State University in Fort Collins as a first-generation college student. Being “first-generation” means neither parent went to college. My mother, Ling Ling Zee, brought me to America for a better education. This was my first time away from home and I carried my mother’s dream of her daughter earning a degree.
Before coming to college, I had always been an average student. Moving all over the United States made keeping up with school more of a challenge. Then my first year of college, I was diagnosed with a learning disability which became one of my greatest obstacles. Due to my pride and ignorance, I dismissed this obstacle because I did not want to give myself that label among others. With assistance from a scholarship and my mentors, I managed to graduate with passing grades.
My cultural identity has always been problematic because I separate my identity into two: Chinese and American. I was born in Hong Kong and moved to Japan when I was two years old. By the age of six, I learned to assimilate and acculturate to America while keeping my Chinese values especially in the home, Chinese community, and workforce. For example, in my household, I followed the Chinese values such as girls are seen and not heard. The Chinese community never accepted me because I spoke Cantonese better than the dominant dialect Mandarin. Finally, in the workforce, I was seen as an outsider by my appearance or my accent. In Fort Collins, I was fired a couple of times because of my accent. As for my appearance, several people accused me of getting the job to fit the quota system. I know that is discriminatory but it happens.
After graduation, I learned to advocate for others in the workplace and the community, and that is where my Americanness comes in. I knew that voice is a powerful tool. Through my personal journey, I learned to have a voice for myself because of my experiences being undervalued in many ways. It was a tiring effort for a while because I felt like I was the only one who was an immigrant, a person of color, Asian American and the list goes on. I also learned to be an advocate for others and I am proud to represent myself in many ways such as taking on leadership roles and being an entrepreneur of a small business.
Through my efforts to grow, I also found out that my life has many layers and intersectionalities which make me unique. I am proud to say that I have blended both cultures. Now I am no longer afraid to stand out because I want to make a difference in the Fort Collins community as well as the world. I am ready to embark on any challenges that come my way. My message to the community is that every individual is unique – embrace differences and learn from one another through stories and open hearts. Our life is too short, so be your authentic self.
With the attainment of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I have fulfilled my mother’s wish and continue to exceed my own expectations like going for my doctorate soon. I learned that I can do anything through tenacity and perseverance. No matter where I live, either in Fort Collins or in a big city, I will be a leader with my voice and presence.
Karen Wong-Brown is a proud first-generation Chinese American woman. She is the founder of Unified Workforce, which helps individuals from all demographics find employment while assisting employers in increasing retention. She also serves in many capacities in Northern Colorado, being compassionate to diverse issues and learning from others.
DIVERSE FORT COLLINS BOOK GROUP
Join Diverse FoCo at 2 p.m. TOMORROW (Sunday, February 28) to discuss Chapters 6-11 of So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.
–Free and pay-what-you-can tickets are available.
–Details and Registration: DiverseFortCollins.com/events
–REGISTRATION CLOSES AT NOON on Sunday.
WRITE A COMMUNITY VOICES GUEST COMMENTARY
DFC seeks to elevate diverse voices. We welcome Community Voices essays from anyone who lives, works, and plays in Fort Collins. Tell your story in 600 words. See submission guidelines at DiverseFortCollins.com/about
Diverse Fort Collins is a volunteer-driven community project advocating for antiracism and racial equity. We connect people with resources and each other.
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