On the front page of the June 22, 1990, issue of The Evening Sun is an article with the headline "Flight from Saigon lands and family grows by 16." The article describes the emotional reunion of a sister with her 16 family members, who had spent the past 15 years in postwar Vietnam, waiting and searching for a way to America. The picture on the front page shows Kim Jones embracing one of her sisters in the Pan-Am lounge atBaltimore-Washington International Airport. Her mother stands behind her with a bouquet of roses given to her by David Jones, the son-in-law who sponsored the immigration of all 16 people.
Everyone in the photo looks stunned, as if they cannot believe that their feet are standing on American soil. One of the newly arrived family members interviewed in the article is an American-trained helicopter pilot. His little daughter introduces herself to the reporter in hesitant English.
The little girl is my older sister, the pilot is my father, and the crowd of excited, flustered people who have just arrived in Baltimore are my family. Not mentioned or seen in the article is my mother, who still carries me in her belly.
Fast-forward almost 22 years: The little girl and her unborn sister are now two young women getting ready to graduate on the same day, in the same ceremony. My sister, Trang Minh Vu, will be graduating from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to begin her residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital; I will be graduating from Johns Hopkins University to attend medical school at the Mayo Clinic.
While growing up in Baltimore, neither of us never imagined we would be so fortunate. Our family had to deal with the many challenges of being new immigrants. Even with the generous support of my uncle, my family was still poor. My father worked two jobs and my mother worked as a seamstress, making a couple dollars per hour. Both of them worked as much as they could while trying to earn American college degrees — for most of my childhood, my sister and I did our homework as they did theirs. Our family relied on WIC vouchers and shopped at Goodwill, and when we first stepped into Sears, we celebrated as if we had "made it."
My parents and sister had to learn a whole new language, and I grew up learning two at once. With my parents attending Morgan State University, a historically black college, and my sister and me attending Baltimore City Public Schools, all of us had to face the daily challenges of living as a racial minority.
Although the odds seemed against us, the people of Baltimore reached out to my family and me and helped us overcome our circumstances. My family has been extremely fortunate to meet Baltimoreans who treated us like members of their own family, despite differences in skin color, race and culture. For example, my sister still keeps in touch with Margie Berry at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary and Barbara Johnson at Medfield Elementary, who supported and loved my sister when others bullied her because of her immigrant status. When my family couldn't afford after-school enrichment program fees, my kindergarten teacher at Roland Park Elementary, Parona Dorsey, waited with me for my parents in her classroom so I wouldn't have to wait on the street or in the school's empty hallways.
My sister and I have had five "grandmothers," three of whom do not share our blood. Shirley Jones, my uncle David's mother, immediately took my sister and me in as her own grandchildren. W.E. Mitzel was only our neighbor, but she took it upon herself to bring my sister and me to an ESL class and look after us. The only grandmother who is still with us is Micki Lunquest, a remarkable woman who still engages in discussions of politics, poetry and painting with my sister and me today. Mrs. Lunquest has supported our family so much that I can say with certainty that I owe my college degree to her assistance and generosity.
Baltimore is also a city full of people who invest in and believe in young people, and are devoted to helping them reach their life goals. The people at the Ingenuity Project, especially Carol Costa, did this for me and continue to do so for many Baltimore City Public School students by giving us a head start in math and science education.Sen. Catherine Pugh, Del. Frank Conaway Jr., Del. Barbara Robinson and Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant (as well as the Maryland Higher Education Commission and theNorthrop Grumman Corp.) have not only financially contributed to my education through scholarship awards, but they have always expressed an interest in my personal progress. I also owe a great deal to the Baltimore Scholars program at Johns Hopkins University, which funds the college tuition of Baltimore residents who are accepted to Hopkins. Without their generosity and their dedication to helping young Baltimoreans, I would never have been able to afford my education at Johns Hopkins University. Thanks to their assistance, I was able to take advantage of the many academic, volunteer and extracurricular opportunities our city has to offer, not only so that I could get into a good medical school, but more importantly so I could grow and mature as an individual.
My sister and I both graduate today in the same ceremony. We will both walk across the stage at the Johns Hopkins stadium. The ceremony crystallizes our academic achievements and progress. But more importantly for me, the ceremony is the peak to which the city of Baltimore has carried me and my family. (My parents have achieved their own personal success as well, becoming electrical and systems engineers.)
The reasons I decided to become a doctor were personal: When I was a teenager, I lost both my grandmother and my aunt Kim-Dzung to cancer within less of a year of each other. But I will continue to pursue a career in medicine not only for family members but also for people I have never even met. I never would have reached this point in my life were it not for the kindness of strangers here in Baltimore, and it is one of my life goals to return to Baltimore and give back to the community that has given so much to me and my family.
Last summer, I started volunteering at the Baltimore Rescue Mission Clinic, helping Dr. John Dalton provide health care to homeless men who might not find medical assistance or sympathy anywhere else. Someday, I would like to perform similar work here in Baltimore. As a native, I know that our city is full of people who face many challenges every day. Even though the obstacles I faced might have been different, I want to come back to Baltimore someday and help others overcome the ones that they face.
I want to be like one of the people who helped my family even though we were very different and even though there was nothing in it for them. I want to show Baltimore the same generosity this city has shown this humble bunch of immigrants who came here 22 years ago, starting from the moment we arrived in that Pan-Am lounge.
Trang Diem Vu, a Baltimore native, is graduating today from the Johns Hopkins University. Her email is email@example.com.