The weight of the stacks of clothes slowly built up and one day, it collapsed. From the pile, a beautiful qipao, a traditional Chinese dress, caught her eye. Sam didn’t know the full backstory of her family’s history and heritage until this moment.
Though ethnically Chinese with ties to the mainland, both of her parents grew up in Vietnam and the majority of her family converse regularly in Vietnamese. After the war, her parents immigrated to the United States for a better life and met here in Chicago.
Samantha (Sam), 17, attends Lane Tech College Prep in Chicago. She plans to study computer science and Chinese studies as a first generation college student.
In addition to her fluency in Vietnamese, Sam also picked up Cantonese growing up in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. In 2009, her family moved to West Ridge, Chicago. The predominantly Jewish neighborhood made it difficult for her to retain the Chinese language. “The reason that I came to CMAA is the desire to reconnect with my history.”
Her mom initially came to CMAA for citizenship services while Sam attended the youth summer camp as a child. In 2017, Sam made the decision to come back to CMAA as a volunteer. As she got more involved, she learned about CMAA’s Young Women Warriors Program.
“YWW is a community with adults you can always depend on,” Sam said. “For me, of course I can depend on my parents but there are different aspects they wouldn’t know how to handle.”
Last year, one of Sam’s best friends was struggling. Sam didn’t know the best way to help and turned to Jenny Han, Secretary of CMAA’s Board of Directors and a longtime mentor for the YWW program, for guidance. Jenny Han made sure Sam’s friend got the help she needed. “Jenny was the adult figure who was able to take control and actually do something,” Sam said.
After her mother’s qipao fell out of the closet, Sam approached CMAA with hopes of getting back in touch with her Chinese heritage. She got not only that but also a “community of supporting women you can always depend on.”