Remembering Dì Linh

May 11, 2018

My aunt helped me raise my sons. This wouldn’t have been possible without family immigration.

There is a Vietnamese word for a child’s filial duty and love for her parent:  có hiếu. I have evolved to fully appreciate the meaning of this word as a daughter, and now as a mother of sons.

As babies, my oldest sons were rocked and cradled by a mother figure they do not remember. She was my Dì Linh, my aunt. My mother-in-law sponsored her from Vietnam as a sibling through the U.S. family immigration system. They both waited, oceans apart, for more than ten agonizing years.

Dì Linh giggled and played with my oldest son. She lovingly fed my second son his milk cereal every morning. She swept my floors with the traditional straw brooms one can find in the Asian supermarkets. She also gave me motherly advice about life when we rode the subway together into work. Three years after she came to live with us, she passed away from a stroke.

I joined the federal government as a public servant when Dì Linh moved in with our family. The office that employed me was fast-paced and intense, and I often had late hours. I remember being proud to serve the U.S. government during this time, but knowing I could not have done it without Dì Linh’s help to care for my children during my work travel and long hours.

Now, leaders at the helm of this same U.S. government, in the White House, want to eliminate family-based visas. They also want to – through proposed regulations— intimidate prospective and current green card holders like Dì Linh from seeking critical health services under threat of family separation. The only way Dì Linh would have been healthy enough to care for my sons was by using Medicaid for preventive care and medication.

The administration has also rolled out new policies of separating children from mothers seeking asylum and refuge in this country and detaining pregnant women. These policies are part of a shameful, yet cohesive, plan to use fear and cruelty to deter new immigrants and asylum seekers from coming to the U.S. and fighting for the right to remain here.

Mothers, aunts, and grandmothers have cared for children, strengthened families, and boosted our local economies throughout America’s history. Dì Linh may not be my natural-born mother, but I have the same feeling of hiếu towards her as I do towards my own mother. She helped raise my sons. She supported my career and mitigated the extreme economic impact of childcare. She is part of a long tradition of matriarchy and care that we continue here in this country, our home. My sons and their children continue to reap the rewards of the best values of our family-based immigration system and a welcoming America where they played and learned with other children.

This Mother’s Day please join me in celebrating and honoring immigrant women and families. Let’s call on Congress to protect family unity and family reunification and create a more humane immigration system.