By Pahole Sookkasikon
My parents came to the United States nearly forty years ago, holding their dreams as well as their 70s-era themed luggage along with them. They came to the U.S. in search for a prosperous route to take in engaging themselves, heighten their educations, and build a more stable road for their children in the future. Back in Thailand, my mother came from the capital—Bangkok—and lived a comfortable life. My father, coming from the countryside of Ayuthya, had much less and had to work much harder to climb to what he is now. These are my parents.
Fast-forward to the present where my father and mother have worked continuously for 26 years in a Thai restaurant that represents much more than just a culinary lot located in North Berkeley. My dad, who graduated top of his class to come to the United States for a doctoral program at the University of Oregon, wakes up at 6am everyday to buy groceries. He’s tired and since I’ve moved home from attending UC Irvine, I can see the restaurant worn on his face nightly without complaints. My mother, who also came on scholarship to study in the U.S., works daily—opening, cooking, cleaning, and maintaining the restaurant—to the point where she’s acquired arthritis throughout her body. She rarely complains, but always sustains a smile for our customers and me. Somewhere in between their migration to the U.S. and the opening of the restaurant, my parents let go of their aspirations for something that has carried throughout my own life.
With Obama’s inauguration upon us, there is something brilliantly hopeful that is subsumed into us – the thought of change for the future. My parents, as first-generation immigrants, voted for the first time since becoming U.S. citizens. They voted against prop 8 and other unjust propositions. They voted for Barack Obama. They voted for themselves for the first time.
Obama’s policies and viewpoints on strengthening civil rights, economic opportunities, progressive roles on immigration, and various social spheres will hopefully pave way for a future that does not deny access to individuals that the privileged have ascertained. On June 1, 2007, he stated that “at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.”
No one really knows how this term will play out in the next four years, but what is certain is that there is something in the air that was hidden from us before. In Obama, it could be safely said that those who were once marginalized are given something to hope for once again – the possibility for change. Not only transformations in domestic and international politics, social communities, or the legalities of everyday life, but revolution in how we see one another and what we believe in; something long overdue for my parents and many others in the Asian/American community and beyond.
Pahole Sookkasikon is a graduate student of San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies program. He is also a community organizer for the Thai Temple in Berkeley.