For some people, realizing the American Dream is a lofty goal worth pursuing. For others, the American Dream is simply a fight for survival. Patrick Ma has fought and won an inspiring fight for his American dream. Patrick’s story may not be pleasant, but it is most certainly inspiring.
Patrick was born Hiep Ma in 1990 in Viet Nam. Patrick’s father was an abusive raging alcoholic, which led his mother to flee to the United States, leaving her one-month old son behind. Furious that his wife had left him, Patrick’s father turned his resentment on the baby who so resembled her. The only thing that kept the infant Patrick alive was the fierce protectiveness of his paternal grandmother and aunts. They would hide Patrick at a neighbor’s home at the first sign of his father stumbling home from another night of drinking. Patrick would have to hide until his father’s drunkenness had passed. Sometimes, when they failed to hide him in time, they used their own bodies to shield Patrick from his father’s drunken wrath.
Even with protection from the ones that loved him, Patrick was still the subject of violent abuse from the tender age of six months old. As a toddler, Patrick learned to fear the sound of the front door slamming shut and the stale smell of alcohol on his father’s body, as they might indicate another beating was on its way. To this day, Patrick still has scars on his back from being whipped with electrical cords, belts, and thin rods. When Patrick was nine, his father took him and moved out of the shared family home. Patrick was now alone with his father, whose glib charm in public concealed the violent abuse he inflicted on his son in private.
Physical violence was not the only thing Patrick experienced. Often, Patrick would get in trouble at school for owing tuition fees. He rarely had enough food to eat or any decent clothes to wear. Patrick was embarrassed to be seen at school with his old, ragged clothes. Neglect was a frequent visitor in his childhood, yet he didn’t dare make his needs known to his father. In fact, making his father aware of his presence was a dangerous act in itself.
The turning point came on Patrick’s 13th birthday. Instead of being showered with presents and attention children his age would expect, Patrick experienced an event that would change his life forever.
On that dreadful day, his father came home way after dark. Patrick sensed the alcohol stench in the air even though he was half asleep. His father came straight to the ragged bed where Patrick was sleeping and dragged him away from it. As Patrick fell onto the floor, his father swung his hands around to find objects he could use. The beating began. Patrick huddled in a fetal position and didn’t dare to make a sound. He knew it would only intensify his father’s drunken wrath. Tears rolled down Patrick’s cheeks and onto the floor ever so quietly as if even they knew it was best to remain silent. Patrick’s pain did not end there. For some unknown reason, Patrick’s father stripped him and forced him to stand outside their house, completely naked. Their house was on a busy, highway-like street. Patrick crouched in agonized shame as he was exposed to passersby in the freezing cold February weather. He didn’t know which was worse: being naked in public while going through puberty or having blood drip from his untended wounds onto the ground beneath him. Anyone who attempted to help was shouted away by his father. If someone ignored his father’s warnings and forced their way to Patrick’s aid, he was dragged back inside and beaten again. Eventually, he lost consciousness.
When Patrick woke the next day, his head spun with unanswered questions: “What did I do to deserve this? What is the point of continuing to live this miserable life? Why was I even born?”
Not being able to find the answers he needed, thirteen-year-old Patrick hobbled to a close friend’s house while his body was still in excruciating pain. Locking himself in the bathroom, he cut his wrists with a small knife he’d hid in his pocket. Patrick slowly laid down on the floor. His body was covered in bruises but his mind drifted away with a sense of ease. He knew his father couldn’t reach him where he was going.
When his friend checked on him and could not open the door, his friend’s dad broke down the bathroom door. His friend’s parents whisked Patrick to the hospital, covered all the fees for his care, and forbade him to tell anyone about the incident. In Viet Nam, having suicidal thoughts is severely stigmatized. To tell someone you are struggling with mental health is to burden them with problems they do not care to bear. It brings shame to everyone involved.
Patrick stayed for a few more days at his friend’s house. He dreaded going “home”, but he knew not going back would lead to worse consequences as more time passed by. So Patrick went home. Due to his regular drunken stupor, Patrick’s father had barely noticed his son was gone. Yet his eyes were glaring the moment Patrick walked through the front door. There he stood, unbuckling his belt.
There is nothing left to lose. Patrick thought to himself. It’s now or never.
Patrick picked up a thick stick by the front door – one that his father often used to beat him. Patrick hit his father with all the strength he had. Considering his young age and battered body, there was not much force, yet it was enough to knock his father out. Patrick stepped over his father’s unconscious body, checked if he was breathing, gathered his few possessions, and escaped to his grandmother’s house.
When Patrick’s grandmother opened the door, she found her grandson shaken up and sobbing. “I can’t go back there!” he cried, begging her to let him stay. His grandmother took him in. For a moment, Patrick thought his nightmare was finally over.
Patrick’s grandmother doted on him. She’d had eleven children, not all of whom had survived. Patrick’s grandma did not have very much, but she wanted him to have what he needed. With his grandmother, Patrick might have been able to heal and grow in a stable and safe environment. But Patrick’s reprieve was doomed to be a brief one, followed by more struggles and pain in his ongoing fight to survive.