A Cleveland High School senior's Twitter post has reverberated across screens, from Seattle to France, with people sharing their own stories of overcoming job hurdles because of language. A strong theme: children feeling emotional toward their immigrant parents.
Emily Huynh decided to take matters into her own hands when her Vietnamese father received an insensitive email this week from a prospective employer, pointing out his lack of English skills.
The Cleveland High School senior posted about the message online, thinking just friends and a few others in the Asian community would relate. Instead, the 18-year-old ignited a conversation among children of nonnative English speakers spanning the country and globe who say the email speaks volumes about language discrimination everywhere.
The movement grew from a tweet by Huynh Monday night that shows an image of the email to her 52-year-old father — whose native languages are Vietnamese and Cantonese — from an Everett-based delivery company to which he applied for a job. The email, from an HR representative, said: “Let me tell you now, if you no speak English, I will send you home,” according to the screenshot.
The company, called Dash Delivery, fired the employee for making the insensitive remark, owner Kevin Bus said in an email. He added the employee was hired to help with recruiting and interviews. Bus apologized to the family, and Huynh said the former employee sent an email, too, that said he sincerely apologizes.
The former employee did not return phone calls for an interview.
Meanwhile, the teenager’s message reverberated across screens, from Cleveland High School to France, with people rallying behind the Huynh family and sharing their own stories of overcoming job hurdles because of language. A strong theme: children feeling emotional and protective toward their immigrant parents. A few said they even contacted Dash Delivery, which provides delivery and driving services across the Puget Sound, to express their disappointment.
“Idk why people think they’re so entitled to mistreat others just bc they can speak English?” one person tweeted.
“Our Asian parents get stepped on all the time,” another said.
Between homework and scholarship applications, Huynh said she usually proofreads her dad’s emails, checking for accurate grammar and punctuation. He keeps a notebook with key vocabulary terms and phrases by his computer to learn daily. But because she was busy this week, Huynh said she had no time to help, and her dad sent a message to Dash Delivery Monday without her guidance.
The subsequent response from the HR representative, Huynh recalled explaining to her father, “tried to make fun of you and mock you.”
Huynh’s father declined an interview through her with a reporter. He is embarrassed but not angered, she said.
“Discrimination always happens against immigrants on the daily, but they don’t always bring it to the spotlight,” said the teenager, describing her motivation behind posting the email. “I grew up here, and I know about racism, and I know what’s happening here right now.”
By Tuesday, the tweet went viral. Sitting in class at Cleveland High, Huynh said she was shocked by the stream of responses to her Twitter thread, which later attracted the attention of reporters from all over, including ABC News and Vietnamese and Chinese news outlets.
“This broke my heart bc I read this in my dad’s voice and it reminds me of how he struggles to communicate in a complicated language to white people who mock him,” one person tweeted.
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“My dad’s job requires them to take a quarterly written test about their job, but fears he’ll potentially lose it due to not understanding a certain word,” another said. “He’s by far the most hardworking man there.”
By Thursday evening, tens of thousands of people had shared the Seattle teenager’s thread, which includes photos of her and her father.
“I knew I wasn’t alone, but the fact that this many people have contacted me,” Huynh said. “It’s overwhelming.”
Elizabeth Hanley, a Seattle-based attorney who focuses on employment discrimination, said it is not unlawful under state and federal laws for employers to make English a job requirement if the language is “reasonably related” to the position, though very few employees have challenged them in court.
“My experience in dealing with this type of discrimination is, people who are in this category — when they have different national origins — are extremely reluctant to ever make claims,” she said. “It’s lower-wage workers, and a lot of people aren’t aware that it (an English requirement) could be unlawful.”
People generally accept it’s an employer option, and it is not always an employer option, Hanley added.
Huynh said her father forgives the HR representative and does not intend to take legal action because the former employee “has had enough” from backlash to the email.
Bus of Dash explained: “Our company is an equal-opportunity employer, and it is proud of its diverse workforce. Indeed, the majority of the employees performing the work for which Mr. Huynh applied speak English as a second language, and they represent a wide range of backgrounds and nationalities.
“We hope that everyone who has been affected by this insensitive remark can accept our heartfelt apologies,” he added.
Huynh’s father and mother moved to the U.S. from Vietnam and China, respectively, in 1995, Huynh said. He worked as an overnight truck driver for more than a decade before getting laid off about two years ago, she said, and he has been doing odd jobs and applying for full-time work since.
“My dad is hardworking, loving and prideful,” she said. “I think most immigrant parents are like that.”
Huynh’s mother, meanwhile, is a sales associate for a grocery store, she said. The family lives in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood; the parents speak Cantonese to each other at home, while Huynh said she and her younger brother, a sophomore at Cleveland High, make a point to infuse English into conversations to help their parents learn.