Values of Perseverance and Family
By Dianne Allen Dawson
My earliest memories of my mother were the weeks she would come home to visit us – those brief days of her loving hands touching my face, feeling how healthy I was, how much I had changed, how much I had grown. Her laughter as she gathered with her sisters, my second mothers. The smells wafting from the pans while she cooked in the kitchen. Her firm voice entrusting me with her instructions. And then she was gone again. But her love was always shown in other ways. It was in the clothes I wore, the rooms we occupied, the school I attended. They were paid for by the money she would send back while working abroad. My father left us before I turned two years old, so I do not have memories of him during those years. But my memories of my mother were labor and love; watching her work as hard as she did, as well as witnessing firsthand her close relationship to her siblings, instilled in me both a strong work ethic and a forever appreciation for the close bonds of a big family.
When I was 13 years old, I moved to the United States to become a permanent resident with my mother and sister in 2004; our hopes were for better lives and better opportunities to help the family we left behind in our homeland. The U.S. immigration process is not a simple one. After a visa is approved, one normally becomes eligible to apply for a green card. A green card is a document that allows an individual to apply for a social security number within three months of arrival to the United States in order to do basic things such as work or attend college. However, my family’s application kept getting denied without any feedback from the U.S. Immigration Services. We re-applied every year for the next two years, costing us about $1,000/person each year. Finally my mother got approved, but for some reason my sister and I did not, which was unusual as we were tied to my mother’s visa as minors.
In June of 2009, my sister and I graduated from high school and were considered adults. My sister and I spent every day at home, because we did not have drivers’ licenses, jobs, or money. Even more frustrating, we were not able to attend college because we did not have social security numbers for financial aid process. My mother was the sole financial supporter for my sister and I, as well as the addition of our little brother. She was making $8.50/hour supporting a family of four. Despite being below the poverty line, she was not eligible for government assistance because we were not U.S. citizens.
Nearing a whole year after high school graduation, I’d had enough of sitting at home, being depressed, and watching my mother struggle to feed me and my younger siblings. I had never felt so useless. I thought to myself that there must be a way to get help. Having little to no knowledge of how things work in the U.S., I decided to write to the White House every day. When I did not get a response, I sent ten emails a day to my State’s Senator’s office. This went on for about a month until I finally received a call; they were going to take on my case along with my sister’s. The Senator’s office found our paperwork and it had never been processed. Not only had we wasted three years, but we were also out thousands of dollars.
The Senator’s office was able to work their magic and get us our green cards by April of 2010. I had never been so thankful for our government. As soon as my sister and I received our green cards, we applied for social security numbers and got jobs. Since getting my green card, I worked multiple jobs at a time to help support my family. My sister joined the military and was able to get her U.S. citizenship by the time she graduated basic training; she still serves the U.S. military to this day. I, on the other hand, was eligible to apply for citizenship after five years of holding a green card.
I continued to work multiple jobs because I felt like I needed to make up for all the time I could not help my mother. By 2012, I was able to buy a home. My family no longer had to move every year in an attempt to find a cheaper but safer home. After more than a decade of living from paycheck to paycheck, I was able to help provide them some stability. That year was also when I started dating my now husband; we got married in February of 2014. By that time, I would have been eligible to apply for citizenship through my husband. However, after all the judgements I endured from people I have met, I decided to do it all on my own, and I did. The following year, I was granted my U.S. citizenship, on July 4th, 2015.
After earning my citizenship, I applied for college and started my first semester in the fall of 2015. I worked and attended college full time. During my second year of college, my husband and I found out we were having our first child. This made me even more determined to finish my associate degree within two years. Our daughter came just a couple of months before my last semester ended. I was able to earn my degree in May 2017 as planned, and my husband and newborn daughter were able to watch me walk down the aisle to accept my diploma. My degree allowed me to apply at workplaces I did not imagine I could have before.
As I continued to progress in my professional career in the following years, I also wanted to begin fulfilling my dream of having a big family. I became pregnant with my son and gave birth to him in 2019. Once he was a little older, I decided to go back to college to earn my bachelor’s degree, starting in the fall of the following year. Now at 30 years old, I am carrying my third child who is due this summer and I plan to continue working and going to school with the goal of graduating by end of next year.
Now in the spring of 2021, they are my loving hands that wrap around my stomach, feeling the growth and changes of our upcoming third child. The house that I bought is where our family gathers and women of several generations meet in the kitchen and cook together food that smells of our old home that ties them to the new. It is my firm voice teaching my children. And while I cannot always be there, I hope they too, see as I did, all the tokens of my love. I send it to them in the lessons they are enrolled in, the toys, the vacations, and their college funds. It's in the early mornings and reading amid naps. It is in the grinding and side hustles. It is in our American life and the security I've been building for us. There have been many struggles they will never see, too. But what I hope they learn from watching me is the value of perseverance and family. Someday, when they are climbing their own mountains and considering giving up, I hope they remember that anything can be achieved if they keep pushing hard enough and to never forget that they have their family to help them.