Tonight, the American Immigration Council will honor Maya Young Wong, the winner of the 14th Annual “Celebrate America” Creative Writing Contest, at the 2011 American Heritage Awards in San Diego. Maya Young Wong of California will read her winning poem, “My Grandfather Ben,” which was selected out of more than 6,500 entries by a host of celebrity judges, including Olympic Gold Medalist in wrestling, Henry Cejudo; the President of the America Federation for Teachers, Randi Weingarten; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and Holocaust survior, Gerda Weissman Klein; and President pro tem Senator Dan Inouye of Hawaii.
Maya’s poem describes the life and journey of her grandfather, who came from his Guangzhou, China to his “Gold Mountain” (American) where he worked in a laundry business, became a soldier and got married. Maya’s poem:
From China sailed my Grandfather Ben.
He came to America when he was four plus ten.
His Guangzhou village was small and poor
And he helped his mother with farming chores.
Every morning he gathered bits of firewood
And drew water from the well as much as he could.
From morning to night he slaved like an ox.
But it was never enough to fill the rice box.
So his parents said, “You’d better leave home
And go to America where you can roam.
Until you find a great place of your own.
America, Gold Mountain, is the place to go
Big and wide, and high and low.
Everything is yes, and there are never any nos.”
But here in America life was hard
And it wasn’t like a birthday card.
Golden Mountain didn’t have jobs
For Chinese men, and that made them sob.
From San Francisco to Saint Louis
Chances for Chinese were least to fewest.
Still his heart never gave way
Cause he knew hard work always pays.
So Grandpa Ben worked hard again.
Slaving in a laundry from five to ten.
And he lived in important USA times
Starting from cool Jazz Age crime
Right on down to the Great Depression’s
Brother can you spare a dime.
Until finally his big chance came
To show America Chinese are the same.
He joined the army in World War II
And fought in Europe for the red, white and blue.
All over he fought bringing supplies
To American soldiers on the lines.
Until one day he was shot in the back
And his jeep flipped over and he got smacked.
He didn’t win any fame or medals
Just came back home to wed and settle.
Still to me he is The Greatest Hero.
Cause he never gave up and never said no.
He loved America both good and bad
And taught his 5 kids not to be sad.
Work hard, dream big, and never give up.
And one day Gold Mountain will live up
To what is written on the Statue of Liberty
Chances for all and the gift to be free.
To my Chinese Grandfather,
Whom I love and honor.
Maya’s entry will be read into the Congressional Record and the top five winners will receive a flag flown over the Capitol in their honor.