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Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: My Story as a Child of Immigrants

Updated: Jun 10

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. The effort to officially recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander contributions to the United States began in the late 1970s, and took over 10 years to make it a permanent month-long celebration.[1] It initially started as a week in 1979 and was expanded to a month in 1990.


Young Asian American child with yellow shirt eating breakfast with red spoon with adult.

I was born, in New York City, to parents who had just immigrated from Taiwan. In the late 1970’s, Taiwan was under martial law. It was a turbulent time in my parent’s birthplace, so they left to come to the United States in search of better opportunities.

 

Even though I was born in the United States, English was not my first language. As a child, I mainly spoke a combination of Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese Hokkien because that was what my parents spoke. It wasn’t until I entered primary school that I learned English. Growing up, where English was not spoken in the household, made starting primary school initially tougher because I did have some trouble understanding everything that my classmates were saying. I ended being enrolled in English as a Second Language to help with that. By the time I was in the first grade, I had surpassed all my classmates and was chosen to be in the elite and gifted class for second grade.

 

I like to share this part of my story because it was often a source of contention as to whether this was the right choice for me to learn a home/native language before learning a community language. My grandparents placed some blame on my parents for not exposing me to more English, before I started primary school, because they felt that caused me to be behind. In retrospect, I believe that this exposure to so many languages early on in my life allowed me to learn other languages more quickly.

 

For instance, in junior high school, I started to learn Spanish and quickly progressed to advanced level Spanish, completing both the Advanced Placement Spanish Language and Spanish Literature by the time I was graduated from high school. When I was a first year college student, I qualified to take intermediate Spanish Literature courses.

 

For most of my life, I was considered the “model child.” I went to high school at Stuyvesant High School, one of the elite public New York magnet specialized high schools and went to college at Dartmouth College, one of the Ivy League schools. I majored and graduated in honors with a degree in Biophysical Chemistry. From an outsiders’ point of view, it appeared everything was it should seem.

 

Being the “model child,” meant that I did what was expected of me from my parents. Up until the end of high school I did what was expected: get into an elite high school and get good grades. My next expectation was getting into a top-rated college. However, that really meant getting into Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Being relatively new to the country and not knowing many colleges, those were the only colleges that they knew.

 

It was a source of contention that I applied to Dartmouth College early decision, which meant if I got into the school I was bound to go to the school. My parents did not understand why I chose to go to an “unknown” school. I am very proud that I was confident enough to make that decision. My time at Dartmouth College was a transformative time because I learned how to truly think for myself.  


Dr. Brian Lai, M.D.'s diploma from Dartmouth College when he was graduated in 2002.

I am proud to share part of my story as part of Asian American and Pacific Heritage Month, as I know there are many out there that may have similar experiences as children of immigrants. There is an unspoken pressure to be “successful” in a very specific way. The good intentions of parents coming to the United States with great hope can often translate to immense pressure. For those who feel that the pressure is too much, I want to let you know that there are many ways to succeed. Your parents have good intentions but at the end of the day be confident that you know yourself best. Being successful also means being happy and comfortable in your own skin.  


If you need someone to talk to because you are unsure of how to speak to your parents, I may be able to help. Feel free to contact me through my contact page to see how I can help. If you are feeling helpless because of this pressure, there are also many resources that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days week.


If you also need help with any specific pain conditions for you or your family, please feel free to contact me through my contact page to see how I can help get back to living your best life. (如果您有什麼疼痛的病症, 您可以打電話到 (310) 985-1779. 我們會盡量把您醫好.)



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