Can you imagine leaving the country you live in, not only to bring over your mother, your father, your brothers, and sisters but also to provide a better life for your children? I imagine it’s easy for people to think they relate conceptually, but as the daughter of an immigrant here in the US, I can tell you that as an American I cannot fathom that journey. Being raised by someone who took such a leap of faith and sacrificed so much, I could not wait until I was old enough to be able to pay my own way.
My dad, the first born of four children in mid century Taiwan, was ‘the chosen one’. The one my grandparents decided to pin all their hopes and dreams onto. He was to go to school in America and be successful enough to bring his family over. He met my mom, they both fought to get into and attend the University of Texas at Dallas to earn a diploma. And then they had me.
My mother, one of seven children, was the only one given up for adoption by her birth parents. The plan was for her to be raised by another family so she could marry their son (her adoptive brother) and run their family store in the farmland outside of Taipei. She knew that she wouldn’t make this her fate. So she snuck out of her home (for the first time nonetheless) to take Taiwan’s version of the SATs. She was right about her destiny since she quickly became the #1 math student in the entire country. She was so good, her teacher visited her adoptive parents and told them that they should allow her to continue her studies in the US. The farm store had to find another matron. My mom’s plan worked through sheer grit, determination, and trust in herself.
I wasn’t part of their plan, at least not at the time. I was born in Dallas, Texas and am very proud to be a dual American citizen (any child of a Taiwanese citizen gets in). But while my parents finished their schooling, I was sent to live with my grandparents and aunts in Taiwan until the age of three.
America exports its culture, so it attracts people who are interested in the dream that’s been presented to them. Other children of immigrants I’ve met along the way, who were not born here but who live here, describe their vision of the American Dream as an outsider. They truly saw it as an answer to all their hopes and dreams. It was a way to carve their own path financially and be able to make their own choices. A way to be treated equally both from both a racial or religious standpoint. A place where everyone is accepting of each other. A place where there are open roads and cool cars. A place where there are celebrities galore. A place where everyone dresses better.
The American Dream isn’t something you can sleepwalk into. You need to put in hard work. You need to know it’s not simply given to those who are in the right place at the right time.
You understand that more when it’s not an option presented to you, and have to give up everything you knew to get to this country.
All this and more sound naive to us that are born here, but, when these immigrants arrive, the reality is usually unexpected. Whether we like it or not, they do find themselves judged by the color of their skin and their beliefs. They see and experience poverty and struggle. But after working so hard to arrive here, they refuse to give up. Think about it: your parents send you here, you find out it’s a land of opportunity but not necessarily the utopia you imagined growing up. There’s no way you can tell them or give up because there are immigrants here to look up to. And they think to themselves, ‘what a great country, where you can work hard and be rewarded for it.’
I can tell you as someone born in the US that I completely accepted this as reality––not only for me but for the world. The reality is, though, we are spoiled here in America. We can fight and we can work hard and we can be lucky enough to carve out a little piece of that pie for ourselves.
Risks are something you need to get used to taking. So moving to another country prepares you for the possible highs and lows of being an entrepreneur. My parents came to this country with very limited funds (with an emphasis on ‘very’) and my mom decided to become a computer programmer and support my father’s entrepreneurial goals. And….they made it. My dad grew his import and export business into a very profitable position and started his own luggage line.
I only have a few memories of their struggle on the way to success, none of which are personal (the way they felt, etc). I remember our small house we rented, and I remember the house my sister and I saw as a mansion. I’ll never forget the first day we moved into our new home in Plano and thinking we were the luckiest kids in the world.
One of the greatest motivators is being uncomfortable in the situation you’re in. You can’t stand your job, your country, your life. It wasn’t until I was older that I truly grasped everything they sacrificed to give me, my sister and my brother as well as the lives they wish they were born into, and the opportunities they wished they had without having the struggle.
I started my business because I couldn’t deal with authority, and if I’m going to bare my soul, I wanted to do better than my father did. My parents couldn’t live in their old country. How do you make good on those sacrifices? I learned quickly that you need a kick in the ass to get it started.
I quit my well-paying job and spent a year in my house in 2009 to start my advertising agency Rock Candy Media. Then I met the person who was everything I wasn’t to take us to the next level, Sam Kimelman, whom in 2016 became Managing Partner. I believe a business only works if the business owner cares more about their clients than they do their ego. When they believe this, they look for business partners that let them concentrate on their strengths. Now it’s 2017 and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Am I proud? Yes. Am I done? Never. I’ll never be as good as my parents were, and I say that with pride.
Annie Liao Jones
Annie is the founder and CEO of Rock Candy Media, a marketing and consulting firm with locations in Austin, Texas and Los Angeles. She was recently named Austin Woman Magazine’s Digital Influencer of the Year.
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