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September 11, 2013

ReaLITy Reads: Thanh Tu’s Response to WHEN WE WUZ FAMOUS by Greg Takoudes

Realistic fiction is a unique genre in YA because it illustrates challenging situations you may not have personally experienced but connects you to emotions you have. Whether it's uncovering life-altering secrets, making a tough choice, coming to terms with your sexuality or finding your voice, realistic fiction addresses themes relevant to real life. To highlight some of their fantastic realistic fiction, Macmillan established their ReaLITy program. Our Teen Board decided to check out these reads and respond to them in this blog series.

Have you ever read a realistic fiction book and feel like this is the story about you? That’s how I felt like when I read WHEN WE WUZ FAMOUS by Greg Takoudes. Although I’m not living in a violent neighborhood where we'd have to deal with drug issues, I can still see a parallel between Francisco’s and my life. It’s about getting out for a brighter, better future but in our heart, we’ll always belong here.

I was born in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This is absolutely not a popular country in the world. This is a place somewhere in Asia, a place south of China and a place where people dream of coming to the USA and living the American dream. I was lucky enough to get that chance and move here to Westminster, Colorado when I was 10 years old. At the time, I didn’t know much. All I knew was what everyone told me: a better education, a better life and of course, a better future. This place, just like everyone talked about in Vietnam, compared to home...this was heaven. But that was only the beginning of my life.

As I grew up and learned more, this was not the heaven like everyone thought it would be. My only struggle in school was English, and so I had to take ESL, English as a Second Language, class my first three years here. Once I passed the test to show that I understood English as well as a normal American, school became really easy for me. I began high school last year. I go to school where the population is mostly Hispanic and the state grade is an F. I can easily score an A on tests without studying the night before or an A on a history paper without giving it much thought. My friends come to me for help. Teachers ask me to tutor sophomore and junior students. My friends always say, playfully and seriously, that I can easily become class of 2016 valedictorian. But outside of class, I was a nobody. Those lonely moments walking down the hall, I wish I was back home, in Vietnam, where I also got good grades but had a group of close friends I always hung around with. Living here for over five years now, I desperately want to go back for a visit, especially since I still have family and friends over there.     

In eighth grade, I represented my school in a Math Count competition. Beside learning more about math, it also expanded my knowledge about the world around me. I realized there were schools better than mine, and there were kids smarter than me. Compared to other parts of the state and other parts of the nation, I was nothing near a college-bound student. For some people, this might be enough, but for me, Westminster is not enough. I know that I would never have an opportunity to go to an academy, a charter school or a private school. This public school is the only thing I have, but after high school, I keep thinking this is when my life will finally begin. I work extra hard to get as many scholarships as I can in the future. I keep telling myself, “Just three more years. Once you get accepted to Cal, that is when your life finally begins. At that moment, you will believe all your dreams can come true.” This is my ultimate goal. I look at it as a ticket to paradise. But until then, my dreams are not awakened yet --- at least I don’t believe it. I have to get out of here and shoot for something big and scary if I want to change the life I’m living.

I have big dreams for myself. I don’t want to live the life that my parents have. I don’t want my kids to have to live the life I’m living now. But the funny thing is, when I make it, when I succeed, I want to go home. Not home in Westminster, Colorado but home to Vietnam. Just like Francisco, home is where I belong. It doesn’t matter that there's life better than where we come from, it’s the people we surrounded ourselves with that make us who we are. But unlike Francisco, I’ll return home as a proud Vietnamese who had successfully made my dream come true.