by Pauline Ly

“Dreams come true... Leaving it all behind”

Chitima Ly was a young girl living in Thailand. She had hopes and dreams of coming to America. In Thailand she felt like she was not going to do anything with her life, and she wanted adventure. She was able to get here by plane in 1984. In America she had a life like any other immigrant, enduring the hardships of discrimination. Chitima had to adopt to the American lifestyle because it was a huge change from being in Thailand. Part of her life in USA involved her marrying her husband who helped her get a green card. This man was with whom she began her life with.

I lived in Bangkok, Thailand for about 30 years before I came to America. I lived in a building with my family, where the atmosphere was very hot and humid. The people in my neighborhood were friendly and we all knew each other. In Thailand I worked in a clothing shop as a clerk. My family was poor but we always managed to have food on the table and a roof over our heads.

Thailand was my home but I felt like I would not be anything important there. So I went to the US Embassy in Thailand to try and get a tourist visa. It would only give me six months in America, but it was something when I felt I had nothing. With the recommendations from my friends and family, I was accepted on the first try. Now my dreams were coming true. I would finally be able to visit that far away place or go to the enchanted “Disneyland” for the first time. I would finally have the safety and luxury of being in America. But I was still afraid of leaving my family.

In America I was very lonely without my family. I stayed with my friends for some time until I could get a job and make money. First, I needed to learn English, so I took some classes. I learned English but it was hard for me to pronounce words that had the “r” or ”th” sound in them. English was very different because I normally spoke Thai or one dialect from Chinese. I had some trouble when I was at my job to communicate with my coworkers. I changed my eating habits from eating rice every meal to eating bread or something else. I also had to change how I dressed because it was much colder here, so I wore longer pants and sweaters and jackets. I also had to deal with discrimination from those around me because of my different skin color. This I guess was what to be expected.

During the six months I was here, I met my husband. He was already a green card holder. So we got married first then he helped me to get a green card. By then my visa had expired so I had to stay anyway. After some time I had my first daughter. Then three years later I had my second daughter. Every couple of years I visit my family. Sometimes I forget words but I am still able to communicate with my family. My daughters are unable to communicate well with my family because my husband and I speak two different languages. So we just communicated mostly in English.

I always thought of America as a place that gives people freedom because I couldn’t have that in Thailand. But I always felt like an alien here. People looked at me different or they treated me as if I didn’t matter. I learned to adapt to America so I could start a family here and so my kids could have a better future. I don’t believe many people are able to keep their culture after a long period of time here in America because they have to change to fit in America. I believe America should let anyone in, but immigration is becoming more restricted.  

Chitima Ly