Uncovering Our Stories: Nebula Li

Uncovering Our Stories NebulaNebula Li is a queer first generation Chinese American from Chicago. Nebula’s mother petitioned for her brother as soon as she arrived in the US, but had to wait 12 years for him to immigrate. When Nebula’s mother was hospitalized for a stroke in 2012, the person she desperately wanted to see was her brother.

I am a first generation Chinese American living in Chicago. I want to share a story about my mom and her brother. My mom was the oldest of five children, but when I was growing up, she told me the most about my Uncle Stephen. When they were younger, my mom would pack his lunch, walk him to school, and help him with his homework.

My parents immigrated to the United States to search for better opportunities. My dad found work as a researcher and obtained green cards for us, his immediate family. As soon as she gained citizenship, my mom petitioned for her brother.

It took Uncle Stephen 12 years to join us in the States. That’s 12 birthdays, 12 New Year celebrations – 24 if you count Lunar New Year, too – and 12 Christmases without her family.

In August 2012, my mom had a stroke. I booked a next-day thirteen-hour bus to North Dakota. I walked into the hospital room and saw my mom lying in the bed connected to tubes. She looked scared. I felt so helpless, but through my sadness, I was relieved that I could be there with her.

We found out that she could not move the entire left side of her body; she had to practice sitting up for 30 minutes at a time, relearn how to move her entire body, and how to do everything one-handed. While she recovered, she said the person she wanted to see most was her brother Stephen.

I was able to stay with my mom during her recovery. It was especially meaningful for me to take care of her because we had a strained relationship partially due to my sexual orientation. Supporting my parents helped a lot to mend old wounds. Being there was everything.

When I think about the Senate bill’s elimination of sibling visas, I think about my mom and her brother. I think about how important my own family is to me, and how life was different for my mom without her brother. Just last Christmas, our entire family was finally able to spend the holidays at my uncle’s house in California. And although he could not attend my mom’s wedding years ago, he did attend my brother’s.

To me, family means cramming people into your house for the holidays. It means driving hours to be there. And family means taking care of each other, especially when we’re sick.

I don’t understand why immigrant families are being treated differently from other families. I wonder how members of Congress would feel being separated from their siblings for 12 years – or, if the bill passes as is, indefinitely. I wonder how they would feel knowing a family member was sick, but being unable to visit.
Comprehensive immigration reform must include all families – siblings, adult children, and LGBTQ families. Ninety percent of Asian immigration is family-based, and over 904,000 LGBT immigrants reside in this country. We will not be ignored or traded off. I am just as much an Asian American as I am queer. Comprehensive immigration reform must ensure all immigrant families are treated with the kindness and respect we deserve. That is why I will only support a version of immigration reform that prioritizes bringing immigrant families together.