Like many first-generation Asian Americans that did not know much English, my parents started their own family-owned business. Their business was a small, Japanese, all you can eat restaurant. It became their entire life; they made sacrifices for the business to grow and devoted themselves to making their visions come to life. Though that meant leaving my brother and me home alone almost every day as kids, this business had such a big impact on our lives. It became a part of our family.
Like many other children whose parents were so blinded by their jobs, I slowly became jealous of the business. I often overlooked the struggles my parents went through to find success in their business–to me, it was the reason my dad could not attend the first father-daughter dance. It was the reason they could not drive me to my first party. It was the reason for a lot of my own boredom as a child; I often found myself wrapped up in my own thoughts, sitting at the back of the restaurant because there was nothing better to do. It brought me no happiness, no joy. I hated the restaurant.
It took me until I was 10 years old to finally love and enjoy the business–I took to the cash register, helping my parents out by swiping cards. What started as simple tasks quickly became more intricate, important, and tough. I went from running the cash register to running the restaurant as a manager. I dedicated an entire summer to leading the restaurant so that my parents could spend time with my brother before he left for his freshman year at NYU. Anger often overtook my perception of them for valuing money over spending time with both my brother and me; however, I understood the sacrifices they made and continued pressing on.
The restaurant was going well. I worked there for many hours after school but was somehow able to balance it. My focus on the restaurant remained strong, and I helped my parents in any way I could. As the new decade began, we had high hopes for the future of our business, but something hit unexpectedly–the COVID-19 virus. We had to close down our restaurant when news broke out of a pandemic reaching the United States. The last thing any of us wanted to do was risk the safety and well-being of the family we built around the restaurant: our staff that had been with us for years, the suppliers that we had called on a first-name basis, and our customers that we had served our entire lives. As things worsened, the restaurant was forced to close. What we thought was a few weeks turned into months. That is when the arguments started. On one side was my mom with her argument of financial responsibility and on the other was my father with his argument of safety and health issues.
Despite the business growing at a substantial rate, we were faced with huge financial responsibilities. My brother goes to NYU, which totals up to 78K a year. I go to a college preparatory high school that is around 43K a year. With only our school tuition, the finances are already stacked pretty high. With this, the decision came to an end and my mother won. She won the argument, but did she really win?
My dad refuses to help her reopen the restaurant. They were always a two people team: my dad did everything you needed English for and my mom did everything else. The relationship between them had gotten so bad that they are not sleeping in the same room anymore. There was constant screaming. Our family was broken, but not defeated.
My mom is moving out soon. She is going to move into an apartment so she alone can work at the restaurant without coming home to us and putting our lives at risk. My mom and my uncles have made this decision and there was no talking her out of it. Although she is not in as much risk as doctors and nurses are, it scares me to see her move out and work for some money that might not even make a difference.
All throughout my life, I have never been in this situation. It scares me. I have never had to consider going to public school because we could not afford it. I had never considered getting a summer job just because we needed the money.
I have never understood the sacrifices that my parents made for me until now, until COVID-19. Thank you. Thank you to all the parents that constantly love and support their children. Thank you to the immigrant parents. Especially, thank you, mom and dad. Thank you for supporting my dreams and risking your lives to give me a better one.
So please, support your local small businesses. We are working so hard and sacrificing so much. There is so much behind the scenes that you would never know.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.