My Friendship With Juanita
Posted by Tim Huang on May 18, 2014
[At Nipun's request, I'm posting a short story on gratitude that I had shared during an Awakin Circle two weeks back.]
Last year at my university dormitory’s dining hall, I met Juanita, an elderly chef's assistant who immigrated from Mexico nearly a decade ago. When I saw her during lunch and dinner, she was so kind and sweet - always working so hard behind the scenes to prepare our food with love and cleaning up. Everyday, I spent some time thanking her for everything she did for us, and she would always offer up a big smile and thank you back.
One day about 3 weeks into knowing her and saying thank you to her, I came back a bit late for lunch after class and I noticed that Juanita was eating lunch alone. All the other students had left at this point. I asked her if I could eat lunch with her. All of our interactions up to that point had just been small talk and thank yous, and so I wanted to hear her story and get to know her a bit better. She was gracious enough to say yes. As though I were her close friend, she began to open up about her life story. She told me about immigrating to the United States to provide better opportunities for her daughters, and how difficult it was for her to leave her daughters behind during the first few months. She promised them she would return to Mexico to bring them over to the U.S. after she had organized housing and a job. They were all crying, and Juanita said leaving her daughters, even just for a few months, was one of the hardest things she ever had to do. She told me about her struggles when she first arrived in the United States, harvesting tomatoes in the fields and being forced to work long hours in the heat without water. And she told me about how her endless love for her daughters motivated her to work through these struggles.
A few months later, she fulfilled her promise. She returned to Mexico to bring her daughters to the United States. Today, one of her daughters is succeeding in high school, and her other daughter graduated from college and runs her own restaurant. Juanita is so remarkably proud of them.
There was something really powerful and beautiful about the moment of connection we shared over that lunch. As she was telling her story, she started to cry, to be vulnerable, and to share her love for her daughters and her journey, the story that hasn’t been told to others at my university because no one ever cared to ask. I started to cry too, because I didn’t realize how much her story reminded me of my own blessings – how much my own parents love my sister and me, and how much they did for both of us when they immigrated to the United States from Taiwan. We formed a close relationship and throughout the rest of the academic quarter, she was able to teach me more Spanish and I was able to work with her on her English. During my birthday, she surprised me by gifting me a necklace that her daughter made from candy and dollar bills. By the end of the academic quarter when I had to move out, I gifted her a hand-made trinket and a thank you card, written in Spanish (some of which she had taught me). We were both very touched and we shared a huge hug. These moments with Juanita actually taught me about how deep of a relationship you can cultivate with someone over 10 weeks. I really felt like I had known her forever, and this relationship started with a simple thank you.
Before meeting Juanita, I used to say "thank you" to appreciate others for what they did, but Juanita taught me the enormous power and effect that a simple "thank you" could have on both of our lives. She taught me that gratitude is not just about what people do, it’s about opening our hearts so that our beautiful gifts of love and kindness can reach the world. I hope that we can all do the same with people around us every single day -- it starts with a simple thank you, a bit of gratitude.