We are proud to announce the winners of our 2023 Stout Law Firm Scholarship Contest: Breanna Smith & Lillian Ching!
Read Breanna’s Essay
What Does Family Mean to Me?
My mom has worn the same three shirts and pants to this day. I’ve never questioned why she always wore a shirt that was twice her size or pants that were visually sagging. That was always what she wore, I thought it was her style. I never asked her why she never bought clothes or ever changed her outfits and we always had fresh uniforms and clothes, why she never bought herself a new pair of shoes in years, or why we walked for three miles on Fridays to the local food pantry and bought our clothes at the goodwill thrift store. When I was three my mom lost her entire rental unit to a house fire. The hotel downtown let our family stay there and in return my mom worked at the hotel. When I was twelve, we went to the pawn shop quite often. My mom usually had sold old technology in the house in exchange for money used for utilities because the government check she was given was not enough for the seven-person household.
When Christmas came around, my mom would take us to a church that would give children presents from local donations. We’d visit another local program for families with low income that gave the little kids a shopping spree at Walmart. This would go on until I was fourteen and by then I got my own job trying to help my mom with any bills I could. Even then she worked twice as hard; she worked two jobs and lost her access to government assistance. She would work a seasonal job at Salvation Army and a dishwashing job at a pizzeria. She wouldn’t come home until nine in the afternoon and still then had time to clean the house and take care of her remaining three kids in the house. She has made great sacrifices to keep me and my siblings in a good place and away from homelessness. I could always see it in her eyes, how tired she was, and how exhausted every day felt to her just waking up.
My dad was also a workaholic; he had worked two jobs up until I turned twelve. Even with my mom’s government assistance and his job, it just never seemed like enough to pay the bills. They were always late on the water bill, the light bill, and electricity; I’d be the first to notice the late utilities tag left on our door from the landlord when I walked home from school. They would always call for an extension, only paying what they had to to make sure the utilities stayed on. They have given me everything they could ever since the day I remember. I am working so hard to become a first-generation graduate in my family so that I can make them proud and get my degree. Family means more than love, it means sacrifice.
Read Lillian’s Essay
What Does Family Mean to Me?
My grandparents don’t say “I love you,” they say “have you eaten?” Hugs, kisses on the cheek, and general physical displays of affection are met with an awkward pat on the side. As the typical Hawaiian-Asian child, becoming extremely proficient in reading the almost cryptic emotional signals our relatives exude is a crucial skill to have when it comes to surviving family dinners. No matter the time of day, genre of meal, or mood; inquiring about the state of one’s stomach is an expression of affection. Rather than greet family with a warm embrace, the table is set with your favorite foods. A notable memory of mine, warm yet bittersweet, is one of my Papa.
He’s quite a gruff man. Eager to get things done; he hustles around the house with a hunch in his back, grumbling about what to do for dinner. His skin is aged by the harsh sun of Hawai’i. He loves poker, cigarettes, and feeding stray cats in his backyard. I swear there are more every time I visit. He may kick the occasional feral chicken for being a nuisance to his lo’i patch, but in his eyes, he’s protecting the garden that feeds his community. My family and I try to visit at least once a year. My grandparents’ house is rotting, and the blue paint is peeling. The result of years of humidity and termites. Lizards (or mo’o) scale the walls and blink slowly at you from the ceiling. Dust lines every bookshelf, but somehow not the pictures of the grandchildren, children, siblings, and cousins. The cabinets in the kitchen are hanging from wobbly hinges, and the wok needs to be reseasoned. The house may not be on the higher end of the socioeconomic rungs of society, but it is rich with the love and memories of its inhabitants.
My stomach had been particularly demanding that day. Groaning and whining for any craving it could think up. That morning, I had been unfortunate enough to have been dragged to one of my favorite shops, at which I was promptly told “no” to every sweet treat my heart desired. And so, a craving for brownies was born. I remember flopping onto a quilted couch, crafted from a thick lengthy blanket my Popo (grandmother) had stitched together years ago, and sighing loudly, muttering about how delicious a brownie sounds. Papa, who had been sitting in his recliner, rocking back and forth and perusing the daily newspaper, perked up at this. He grumbled something unintelligible and shuffled into the adjacent room. At first, I didn’t pay too much attention, that is until the sweet, sweet aroma of melty chocolate invaded my sinuses. It was heaven. I sprung up from my seat and dashed into the kitchen. My face so close to the oven door that my breath fogged the glass. Papa had made me brownies.
See, although Papa hardly says “I love you”, I always know that somehow the best cut of meat will find my plate, a bowl of mango will appear at my desk, and an extra serving of rice is always “accidentally” left in the rice pot. People are complicated, and my family taught me that love doesn’t have to be verbal or physical, it doesn’t have to be clear or dramatic. But it does have to hold meaning. They keep me grounded and remind me that sometimes when people say “I love you,” they may be forgetting the meaning behind it. Have they shown that they’d sacrifice something for your happiness? Are they willing to be the last to eat to ensure everyone else has had their fill? Love doesn’t have to be (and frankly isn’t) something of monetary value. It doesn’t need to be the shiniest, newest toy; or the loudest declaration. It simply needs to come from the heart.