Before we get started, I want you to really take a moment and imagine how it feels to walk in my shoes for a day: I’m a Queer, Hmong, Asian American Woman. I come from a low-income family. I’m currently a senior at Patrick Henry High School. My parents divorced as soon as I finished kindergarten, and my single mother, all eight of my siblings and I live under the same roof.
I want you to consider what this moment is like from my perspective. As I go into detail about my life, financial security and safety, I urge you to take seriously the needs of families like mine in this crisis. And for those who will relate to my experiences, understand that you are not alone.
So let’s begin. My mother is currently supporting all eight of my siblings and me financially. She earns no more than $21 an hour and works more than eight hours a day, six days a week. My oldest brother lost his job due to COVID-19, taking away the little financial support my family was getting from him. And the restaurant at which I worked temporarily closed as COVID began to spread.
In the midst of this global health crisis, we’re dealing with another of our own as a family. One of my sisters has an undiagnosed condition that we’re actively addressing. That means, frequent lab tests, travel between Minneapolis and Rochester to communicate with doctors, and accumulating bills. And that time off of work, for my mother, means no money for the entire family. And as the second oldest, I often travel with my younger sister and mother for support and guidance, which means less time to engage in academics, including scholarship and college applications.
Distance Learning Day-to-Day
In our house, there’s very limited access to online classes and Zoom video calls. The three little ones are still in grade school and need close supervision. Two of my siblings are in middle school. And three of us are in high school. So, in order for everyone to be able to do their work, we all take turns on four computers.
Because my mother is at work throughout the day, the responsibility of supporting my younger siblings falls primarily on me. As an 18-year-old, taking care of my siblings and grandma (who doesn’t live with us) has been a great struggle during this pandemic. I wake up every morning at 7:00 a.m. to make sure all my siblings have breakfast to start the day. As soon as 8:00 a.m. hits, I have to run around and make sure everyone else is awake. Honestly, some days it’s hard enough getting everyone up on time for attendance online alone. But here’s an idea of what the rest of the day looks like.
The first Zoom class starts at 8:40 a.m. sharp for one sibling. While the call is proceeding, I am cleaning and instructing my siblings to get ready for the day. At 10:00 a.m., I have to get a second sibling set for their Zoom call. After that, at 11:30 a.m., I have to help set up our youngest sibling for his call too. Now, keep in mind, that I have to be on call with all three of those siblings to make sure my mother knows about any important or updated information from their teachers
At about noon, I have to start prepping food for lunch—which is also the same time my two siblings in middle school begin their Zoom sessions with their teachers. Right after the call, they will have to use the computers for online assignments and enrichment for a few hours. Before I know it, it’s 3:00 p.m. and my mother is coming home. Knowing that she will be hungry when she comes home, I cook for her too. That way, when she comes home, she can eat and relax as much as she can before another exhausting day.
This is just a simple outline of how my day is as a high school senior at home during the COVID outbreak. Somedays, my grandma needs me to take her to a doctor’s appointment or grab prescriptions. Other days, my mother needs me to run errands for groceries and essentials.
Truth is, being at home adds way more responsibility and presents substantial challenges as I attempt to wrap up my last year of high school. Not only do I have my classes and assignments to complete online, but as an older sibling, I have an increasing amount of responsibilities too. I like to think of myself as the second mom when our mother is at work. I’m deeply committed to my family and academics, but these new circumstances make it harder than ever before to do both successfully and sustainably.
I have one set of experiences; imagine the thousands of silent voices and experiences that we have yet to hear and acknowledge.
Annie Moua is a senior at Patrick Henry High School and youth organizer at the Coalition of Asian American Leaders. She's an advocate and youth leader with Becoming Organizers, Becoming Advocates (BOBA). Annie believes that youth voices matter not only because they are the future, but also because youth are the present and their voices belong at the table.