The four cardinal rules for breathing to follow as a scuba diver, as prescribed by the PADI Open Water Diver course:
1. Breathe continuously and never, ever hold your breath.
The first rule is rather ironic, I think, as my first dive in the open waters is breathtaking. The steady gurgle of oxygen, the unnatural magic of exploring a cranny of the world not intended for humans. Then, the familiar, familial rush of guilt. I wish my mother could experience this, too. Of the revelations I’ve had during this grant year, the most sobering of all is discovering the shared burden of guilt among those in our cohort who identify as children of immigrants. We are the bilingual children who learned to navigate the nuances of two languages. We translated important documents on behalf of our parents, stumbling through legal jargon and the hostilities of the English language. We felt guilt when we left home to go to college. We feel guilt, still, when we thrive away from home.
2. Breathe slowly and deeply.
The irony is not lost on me. I am teaching English abroad while my mother and father navigate the United States with rudimentary English skills at best. Nor is the completion of the story arc in which I participate in the Fulbright program many, many years after my father was the student of a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural, poor village in South Korea. I am, too, conscious that my love of the English language, my painstaking attention to its grammatical form, the time invested in over-practicing pronunciation is overcompensation on behalf of my mother and father.
3. Do not allow yourself to get winded or out-of-breath.
Recently, in exchange for leading English pronunciation workshops for local dive guides at a dive resort, I earned my PADI Open Water certification and logged four dives at one of the world’s most beautiful dive sites. It is chiefly through my mother and father’s sacrifices that I get to travel where I do and earn the opportunities that I can. No one knows so intimately or believes so unequivocally the American Dream better than the non-American.
4. If faced with a problem, stop, then reduce anxiety by maintaining or restoring slow, deep breathing. This helps you deal with problems based on your training instead of emotion.
I am regularly humbled by my students whose hard work harkens me back to my childhood days of tagging alongside my mother as she attended English as a Second Language night classes at the local community college. Growing up in a community of non-native English speakers whose undying fervor for the American Dream of hard work translating to material rewards has provided me a sense of purpose and direction. I continue to believe in such a Dream.