America, being known as the land of opportunity, captured the attention of those living in poverty during the late 1800s. For most, immigrating to another country meant a hope for both a new life and better future.
Senior Khiet Truong immigrated to America when he was eight years old.
“We moved here for a better education for my brother and me,” Truong said. “Also, we didn’t have any jobs in Vietnam.”
His aunt living in America was able to bring Truong and his family over to the United States through an immigrant visa. He said his aunt’s journey, however, was much different.
“She had to escape [Vietnam] by boat [to another country],” Truong said. “My grandfather was also an officer but when the communists came, he was imprisoned in the camps.”
When the Northern communists in Vietnam took over in the 1940s, many people attempted to illegally flee the country by boat to refugee camps located in places such as Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Hong Kong. Families would travel on overcrowded boats in horrendous conditions with little to no food or water for many days.
At the refugee camps, families would then have to partake in an interview process for permission to immigrate to either Europe or America. The process could take up to several years. Those who were denied either stayed at the refugee camp or were sent back to Vietnam.
Junior Kehaulani Prodigalidad’s grandfather fled from the provinces of the Philippines during the time of the Spanish-American war to seek a new life in America.
“My grandfather aspired to become an American because he heard of the land of opportunity,” Prodigalidad said. “He said it was dangerous [in the Philippines] because of the guerrillas.”
The Philippine islands were granted their independence from the United States in 1898 after being occupied by the Spanish and then the Americans.
Many families also immigrated to America for a chance at finding work.
“My great grandfather [immigrated] to Hawaii to work on a plantation for economic opportunity,” junior Kristin Lam said. “He went to San Francisco after the earthquake of 1906 occurred.”
Lam’s great-grandfather emigrated from Hiroshima, Japan, to the United States to seek more job opportunities. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, sugar plantations in Hawaii expanded and required additional imported labor from regions such as China, Korea, Japan and Puerto Rico.
However, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, those with Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their home due to the Japanese American internment. Lam’s great-grandfather and his family were sent to a relocation camp.
“They went to Rohwer, Arkansas,” Lam said. “Moving from California to a dusty place out of nowhere with barbed wire fences with all these regulations, curfews, having to eat in dining halls with less privacy—it was hard.”
Workers also faced discrimination and prejudice upon their arrival. “Then there was [this] derogatory term ‘jap,’” Lam said. “[There was] mistreatment and discrimination.”
Junior Rosario Caracheo’s grandfather also immigrated to America from Mexico City, Mexico, for a chance at work.
“They were so poor they couldn’t afford shoes,” Caracheo said. “They lived on a ranch [and] their only food and profit came from the cattle they had.
“When he wasn’t working on the ranch, he would be selling gum,” Caracheo added.
The idea of a renewed life in America attracted the attention of many immigrants living in different countries undergoing war and poverty.
Upon hearing about her great-grandfather’s endeavours to America, Lam said she learned to always “seize the opportunity.”
“You have a heritage, you have a background and you have roots,” Lam said.
Prodigalidad also learned from her grandfather’s journey to America.
“Even when things get rough, you have to keep going because people look up to you,” Prodigalidad said. “You have to be strong for yourself and other people.”