Such high hopes, so much possibility, to fall short.
Growing up, I remember there being a series of accordion folders in my parents’ closet, each clearly labeled with the names of every single person in the family, most full and overflowing, all occupying a space where they could be easily found, easily accessed, and easily moved.
As I grew older, the folder with my name began to fill up as well. I learned at an early age that inside each of these accordion folders was our lives: our important documents—birth certificates, immigration papers, etc.—as well as some mementos that were worth keeping like commendations, certificates, and records of accomplishments. It was unsaid, but it was clear: if there was any trouble, these accordion folders were to help solve our problems, to keep us safe.
I always thought that this folder habit was just a manifestation of my dad’s obsession with being organized. After reading Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, I now know that this was a common practice for those who were used to being displaced, for those who lived in a space of uncertainty.
It’s a story I’ve told many times before, a story of how my family arrived in New York and we shared our apartment with a dozen other people, some leaving as they were able to find work in the city, more arriving after their paperwork to leave East Africa came through. The house was always full, never quiet, never still, always exciting.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the sacrifices of my parents and what they had to go through to in order for me to live the life that I have right now. I’m questioning myself more and more, wondering if my life reflects and respects the hardships they had to endure; I wonder how they would answer, truthfully, if someone asked them if it was all worth it.
The Best We Could Do brought those questions back into the forefront of my daily reflection: have I lived up to the hopes and dreams of my parents when they first left their home country to come here? They will say yes, but honestly and truly, can any of us ever live up to the hardships they suffered, no matter what we do?
How can I honor their sacrifices, their decisions, their tumult? How can I fill that accordion folder with things that will make them proud?