Home Is Where the Family Is
By Yunxian Tan, December 2015
“To be a Chinese or to be an American?” This question has puzzled most Chinese immigrants in America. It is not a simple question, for behind it is a chain of other questions—how to understand the new meaning of “home” after immigration, how to reidentify oneself, and how to recognize and accept different nations and cultures. For an essay about an immigration story, the final assignment of my English 961A class, I decided to interview a Chinese immigrant, May Tan, who uses her own ways to combine the two different cultures together from the two different worlds, which are the world inside her home in America, where Chinese culture is one hundred percent kept alive, and the other world outside her home in America, where the American culture is wholly presented. As a Chinese woman, May is of medium height and is well-featured. With bright piercing eyes and a clearly cut bob haircut, she shows herself as capable, confident, optimistic and straightforward. May immigrated to the United States in her thirties with her other four brothers and sisters. Unlike other Chinese immigrants who immigrate to the U.S. for a better life, she immigrated to the U.S. to reunite with her family and to broaden her horizons. Compared with other Chinese immigrants’ long and hard immigration procedures, May’s immigration road has been, in her own words, “lucky and smooth.” From the application process to the interview with an immigration officer, May smoothly goes through all the formalities, and this gives her quite a good first impression of America. However, in her past twenty years’ life in the U.S., May has experienced a lot: hope and confusion, freedom and discrimination, and the collision of the American and Chinese cultures. May has persisted through all of these challenges and her persistence rewards her with a happy family reunion and much broader horizons; furthermore, she has also reidentified herself in the U.S. and has refreshed her idea of home: Home is where the family is. Now, May has totally merged with the America public society while staying in her own private Chinese circle, which is a very old and strict system that cannot be broken easily by any force from the outside. She lives to her own goals happily and confidently and has her own lifestyle in the U.S. How has immigration changed her views of what a home is? Having lived here for over two decades, how has she negotiated between the Chinese and American cultures? With these questions, we started our interview in a jolly tone at May’s home with the topic of the purpose and the way of immigration.
Unlike most of the Chinese immigrants, who have difficulties in finding ways to assimilate into western culture and who have limited choices in the matter of immigration, May has luxury of choosing to decide whether and how to immigrate to America. May was born in the city of Guangzhou (Canton), China. As the capital city of Guangdong Province, Guangzhou has long been regarded as the south gate of China, for it is located in the center of the Delta of the Pearl River, nears Hong Kong and Macao, and serves the role as the most important economic and cultural center and the hub of communications in the South of China. Before immigrating, May had spent all her life living, studying and working there. Growing up under the nurture of Chinese traditional culture, May immersed herself in Chinese Martial Arts, studying and practicing Tai Chi (a kind of traditional Chinese shadow boxing) from her early twenties. As the champion of Guangzhou Tai Chi Competition, May had a decent job and a happy life with lots of friends and Tai Chi students in Guangzhou. However, May had been taught since she was a child that, in traditional Chinese culture, a real home is where all the family members live under the same roof to support each other, so when her mother and her elder brother asked her and her other brothers and sisters to come to the U.S. to reunite with them, she readily agreed. In the interview, May mentions that in the immigration rush from the 1970s to the 1980s’ from China to the U.S., for example, in Guangzhou and other cities in the Delta of the Pearl River, most of the Chinese with overseas’ connections all tried their best to go abroad. The United States, especially San Francisco, a place that used to be called “Old Gold Mountain” in China, is described as “a place full of gold, full of opportunities and full of freedom.” Therefore, it has become the top choice immigration destination for Chinese immigrants who really wanted to have a rich and happy life. When I ask May whether she had the thought in mind to have a better life in the U.S. before the immigration, she says:
“For me, immigrating to America and having chance to see the outside world is good, but I don’t have much interest on that. I don’t count on it, or maybe you can say that. I just want to see what the outside world looks like, to open my eyes, to expand my knowledge and fulfill my life experience, that’s it.”
As a traditional Chinese woman who used to be taught to put family as the first priority, and who has had a comfortable life in China, May’s purpose of immigration is quite different from other Chinese immigrants in America.
May says that her main purpose for immigrating to America is to reunite with her family and to broaden her horizon, but she believes that people immigrate to America with many other purposes, for example, to pursue better lives, better education, and freedom. To those people who come from developing countries, America is like a heaven, full of freedom, full of chances, and full of treasure. That’s why people from all over the world are willing to pay whatever it costs to try to find a way to immigrate to America. Then, May tells us a story about her friend and schoolmate Sharan. In order to immigrate into America, Sharan was willing to sacrifice her lifetime happiness for a fake marriage with an American just to give her whole family a chance to immigrate to America and have better lives. May also mentions that, in other cases, people immigrate to America to pursue freedom. As everybody knows, in some developing countries, people are still living with no rights to speak out. Even though they have their own opinions, the governments will not allow them to express themselves, especially in public. For those people who live in countries without liberty of speech, America, as the symbol of freedom, is no doubt their first choice to seek freedom. With regard to the ways of immigration, especially the way of immigrating via fake marriages, May says she is not for it, and not against it, for everyone has the right to choose the way for his or her future life.
Our interview moves on, and I ask May how she immigrated to America. While there are many ways for people to immigrate to America, what May chooses is the most common and general one, family-based immigration. According to data from the American Immigration Council (AIC)’s official website, generally, there are five basic immigration types: family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, refugees and asylees, the diversity visa program, and other forms of humanitarian relief. Besides, the AIC also finds that “Immigration to the United States is based upon the following principles: the reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the U.S. economy, protecting refugees, and promoting diversity.” That is why people who want to immigrate to America try their best to find a way out. For those who have family members in the U.S., what they need to do is to follow the family-based immigration process, and wait patiently, as May did. May stated in the interview:
“My application of immigration belongs to the second priority according to America’s immigration law, so that, the process was not as difficult as it is at present. That’s why I just waited two years before I got the visa.”
But not all the people have the luck May has. For those who have no family relations in the U.S., they have to seek other ways, such as paying large amounts of money to intermediate agencies to apply for an employment-based immigration; or paying a large amount of money to people who can arrange them to get married with America citizens or residents in order to apply for family-based immigration, as the case of Sharan; in addition, asking for political protection is also another way to fulfill people’s immigration dreams. If people can prove they have been abused by the government in their counties for political reasons, they may have chance to ask for protection from America, for America is the country that always puts human rights as the first importance. Moreover, crossing the border to come into America without documents is also a way to immigrate to America, even though that is illegal.
Our next topic is May’s difficulties in her early days in America. After arriving in San Francisco, May found her first job at a local Chinese restaurant with the help of her relatives. At the restaurant, May could communicate with her Chinese colleagues very well; however, when she was with the staff from other countries who spoke English or Spanish, she felt totally lost and had no idea what they were talking about. After a few weeks of 24/7 hard work at the restaurant, the original feeling of novelty, smoothness and happiness faded away. In China, May only had a middle school education and could not speak English; therefore, the language problem became the first obstacle in her new life in America. May was worried about her communication with others for she was over thirty and really had much difficulty in learning English. Besides that, as Chinese, she was also worried about being discriminated by others, such as her coworkers from other countries, native English-speaking customers, and even passers-by on the street. The once full confidence and pride in her was by then replaced by worries and confusions. May even began to blur the line between the outside world, “the real America” and the inside world, “the home in America” with Chinese culture standing stably. The pressure on May was so intense that one day when she saw the stars and stripes on the flag, she could not help crying out: “America, would you accept me?” Though facing so many questions and difficulties, May at last found the answer: she would rather actively go and face the new world than passively wait to be accepted by others.
In order to find out the difference between Chinese and American cultures, May makes the brave decision to move out of her home in San Francisco to live alone in Oregon. For May and most Chinese immigrants in America, no matter how long they have lived here, there is a common perplexing question: should Chinese immigrants adapt to the America society and assimilate into the America culture, should they keep staying in their own Chinese circle and maintain the traditional Chinese culture as they used do in China, or both? In May’s opinion, in traditional Chinese culture is a unique system, which has more than a five-thousand-year history in the human world. When one cultural system can be testified by thousands of years and still exists in present day, it must have its shining points and eminent elements. Like May saying in the interview:
“Chinese culture is broad and profound. Nowadays, people or you may say experts from all over the world are showing more and more interested in China’s traditional culture, such as Chinese culture in eating and drinking, traditional Chinese medicine theory, Chinese martial arts, and Chinese painting and calligraphy, etc.”
But at the same time, May also realizes that when one decides to spend a long time or even his/her lifetime in another country, he/she should accept and try to know about the culture, customs, and habits of this country, and try to merge him/herself into the society. As the proverb goes, “Survival of the fittest.” Everyone should find his/her way, try his/her best to be a part of the community where he/she lives. That’s why May decides to move away from her family in Chinatown of San Francisco to go to Oregon alone. What she wants to experience in Oregon is living inside the American circle, so she tries to understand what the American life looks like, and what the true American culture is.
When May starts her life in Oregon, there is no one she can rely on but herself; she lives with an American family, eats American foods, and speaks English all day long, forcing herself to completely dive into the American culture. She rents a room from an American family, and shares the kitchen, dining room and living room with them on the second floor. As she tells me in the interview, her landlord, Mathew, and his family are very kind and nice to her. But the different lifestyles and habits of different cultures make her feel a little bit unaccustomed. Answering my question further of what exactly the difference is, she explains:
“Well, first, the living style is different. I don’t like people to interrupt me during my lunch or dinner time, but they like to talk much and loudly while they are sitting at the table. Then, they like to put a key under the carpet in front of the door in case they forgot to bring the key with them; however, it makes me feel very uncomfortable and unsafely.”
As a cautious person, May is quite uncomfortable in the lax American attitude on safety. Raised on safety in the Chinese traditional education, May will never put a key outside the door; on the contrary, she always double checks whether the door has been well locked before she leaves the house.
“Secondly, the habits of eating and drinking are different. You know, Chinese people like cooking. So, when I cook, I have different ways to make the dishes, such as frying, stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, stewing, simmering, baking, and scalding, etc. But, what they like is raw foods, such as, raw vegetables, even raw meat, which makes me feel a little bit nauseated.”
May says Mathew and his family like her cooking skills and enormously enjoy the foods she shares with them, so, as a reward, they also share their foods with her. May says that at first she did not like American food, but she forces herself to eat it for no matter how the food tastes, it is the true American taste. After living with them for months, she accepts American food and begins to like to cook and enjoy it. That means May’s lifestyle has changed. While putting her legs out of the Chinese circle, she steps into the America society. According to Alberto Grandi in his article “Pizza, rice and kebabs: migration and restaurants,” “Along with language, food is one of the strongest elements of identity binding migrant groups.” Grandi believes that food plays a major role in communication and connection in a migrant community. Just as May mentions, lots of Chinese immigrants here do not accept the western food and are not willing to step into the America society. They tie themselves closely in the Chinese circle, speaking in Chinese, eating in Chinese restaurants, and keeping all the customs that their ancients did to show their loyalty to the Chinese tradition. May says that it is not easy for her to make such a change, to walk out the Chinese circle and step into the America society.
It is hard to mix two different worlds together in one’s life, but May does it and does it well by absorbing the American culture and habits from the public outside world, and meanwhile reserving the traditional Chinese culture and habits for her private inside world. While May is talking about two different worlds, it reminds me of the article “Child of Two Worlds” in Andrew Lam’s book Perfume Dreams. Lam presents his mother’s view of the outside and inside world: “One cannot be both this and that. She sees herself simply as a Vietnamese living in exile” (8). Lam’s mother believes that one cannot have two different worlds at the same time. The question of whether to keep oneself in the inside world in the outside world, if put into May’s story, is whether May should keep herself in the Chinese circle and act as a Chinese, or keep herself in the outside world, adapt to the American circle and society, and act as an American. From her original confusion to her peaceful mentality between the two different cultures, May has spent more than twenty years in America, and has effectively negotiated between the Chinese and America cultures. Since she insists on living in the American circle, May accepts the American culture, follows the rules in America, and communicates with her coworkers in their way; therefore, all the ideas of the western world are not problems to her anymore. In the outside world, she is definitely an American. However, when May goes back to her home in America, and gets together with her family, she can also exercise the traditional Chinese culture pretty well, such as preparing and cooking the Reunion Dinner for the whole family on the eve of the Chinese New Year, visiting her elder brothers and sisters with traditional Chinese gifts at major Chinese festivals, like the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Spring Festival, and the Dragon Boat Festival. This means that her thoughts and actions are still totally Chinese when she goes back to her home and stays with her family. So when she noticed her mom was unhappy because she went to Oregon alone, she decided to go back home to accompany her and to stay with the whole family. From her childhood, May was taught that the most important thing in a family is family members staying together. Though it is not easy for May to mix these two different worlds together and to shift these two entirely different cultures form one to another in her daily life, she does it successfully.
May has been through the transition from one world to another, from one culture to another during her 20-odd years living in the United States. She witnesses that in America, a renowned multi-cultural country and a “melting- pot,” nothing is impossible. From rice, noodles and porridge to hamburgers, hotdogs and fried chips; from shirts, pans, and high-heels to jeans, baseball caps and boots; from the traditional Chinese ways of celebrating the Spring Festival to the purely western ways of celebrating Christmas, May has finally found the balance between the two different worlds. She also believes that, in such a “melting-pot,” lifestyles can be merged, eating and drinking habits can be merged, and different cultures can also be combined. As a Chinese immigrant, May experiences all this merging and combining, and it gives her a more clear view that Chinese immigrants should go outside the Chinese circle and step into the America society, accept the new concept from the outside world, while reserving the traditional Chinese culture for the inside world. In May’s thoughts, facing life bravely, accepting life’s challenges, and trying to be a part of the society can help people achieve their goals in the new living environment easily and successfully. Just as the well-known author Isabel Allende writes in her memoir My Invented Country: a person living in a new environment is similar to a relocated tree:
“The image of those trees from the home of my ancestors often comes to mind when I think of my destiny as an expatriate. It is my fate to wander from place to place, and to adapt to new soils. I believe I will be able to do that because handfuls of Chilean soil are caught in my roots; I carry them with me always” (Allende 30).
Although it seems impossible to live in two different worlds and to shift from one to another so smoothly, May uses her own ways to illustrate that cultures can be combined, worlds can be merged. Being an American Chinese, after all the experience of moving from one country to another, from living with the family to living alone, and then to living with the family together again, it becomes more and more clear to May that no matter where one goes, no matter how long one stays in one place, home is just where the family is.
American Immigration Council. “How the United States Immigration System Works: A Fact Sheet.” immigrationpolicy.org. 16 Oct. 2009. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
Lam, Andrew. “Child of Two Worlds.” Perfume Dreams. Berkeley: Heyday, 2005. Print.
Allende, Isabel. A memoir My Invented Country. New York: Perennial, 2003. Print.
Grandi, Alberto. “Pizza, rice and kebabs: migration and restaurants.” World History Bulletin Spring 2014: 27+. Academic OneFile. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.
Tan, May. Personal interview. 25 Oct. 2015.
Interview Topic: May’s Immigration Story
Interviewee: May Tan
Interviewer: Anny Yunxian Tan
Interview Date: October 25, 2015
Interview Location: May’s Home
Anny: Hi, this is Anny. Today, I’m going to interview May Tan. Thank you very much, May, to be my interviewee.
May: You’re welcome.
Anny: What we are going to talk about is May’s immigration story. And the purpose of this interview is that I am going to write an essay for my English 961A class, which topic is “Home Is Where the Family Is”. I believe that everybody has his/her own life story. People come to the United States from different countries, and I think that everybody’s immigration experience is unique. So, let’s start from this question:
Anny: May, can you tell me where are you come from?
May: Yeah, I came from Guangzhou (Canton), China.
Anny: Are you born in Guangzhou, or you move to Guangzhou afterward?
May: I was born in Guangzhou, and lived there about 30 years before I come to America.
Anny: Wow, 30 years is not a short time, right? So, why do you immigrate to America?
May: Well, I immigrate to America because I wanted to reunite with my family. For my mom and my elder brother are in here, I don’t want the whole family be separated by the sea, and two parts of the family even don’t know how’s other member’s life in the other side. As a family, everybody should live together, right?
Anny: Yeah, of course. So, you said you were born in Guangzhou, and also grew up in Guangzhou. Then, could you tell me what Guangzhou looked like in your eyes while you were living there.
May: At that time, en, Guangzhou was in the process of, en, including technique, city construction, living environment, which were in the process of development. But, as the common people, people still lived in the general level, not very rich, but also not really bad. However, everyone in that time were happy, I can say that.
Anny: Why? Why everybody were happy? They happy for what?
May: Well, you know, even though people were not rich enough to have whatever they want in that time, en, but you know, the relationship of the family, neighbors, coworkers, or you can say the big environment in the community was good. You know, there were not too much pressures to people, and also, people had not demand too much in their living status, what they wanted was very simple: had a place to stay in during the night time, and had food to eat during the day time, haha~ you know what I mean, right?
Anny: Yeah, totally got it. That’s just the basically demands for human being to live in the world, and family reunion is the most important thing for some people, let’s say, like you, willing to move no matter how far, or whatever country is to stay together. But in that time, did any friends, neighbors and coworkers around you have any other reasons, or did they have any purposes to move to another country for, en, such like a better life, a better future, and a good opportunity, etc.
May: En, normally, I didn’t chat with my neighbors about this kind of question. You know, it’s quite complicated and personal, right? For me, the purposes to immigrate, one is for family reunion; another one is that I want to go outside to take a look of this world. Everybody says that the world is big, then, I really want to know how big it is. If I have chance to see what the outside world look likes, it’s good for me in my life, en, it’s a good experience, en… or I should say that, it would be a good turning point in my life. Or, from another view point, en, when you get into another country, when you start your new life in an unknown world, that’s really a kind of challenge. You think so?
Anny: Yeah, It sure is! Now, I totally understand your purpose of immigration. But how about the people around you? What did they think about your decision to immigrate to America? En, I heard that, in the 1980s, there was an immigration wave in mainland China, especially in southern China. So, did any of your friends or relatives immigrated to another country for chasing the wave?
May: Oh, yeah. There was really a huge immigration wave in that time. Lots of people wanted to immigrate to another country, you know, especially to America. For me, immigrate to America, have chance to see the outside world is good, but I don’t put much exceptive on that. En, I don’t count on it, or maybe you can say that. I just want to see what the outside world looks like, open my eyes, expand my knowledge and fulfill my life experience, that’s it.
Anny: Sounds good!
May: Yeah. But, you know what, lots of my friends, who wanted to immigrate to another country, have their own ideas and purposes. In their eyes, the moon in the outside world is much rounder and brighter than that in China; everything in the outside world is better than that in China. That’s common view for people who were chasing the immigration wave in that time.
Anny: Really? Well, could you tell me more about that, or do you have any specific stories of your friends in this situation?
May: Sure! I have a friend, whose name is Sharan. Actually she’s one of my schoolmates. She lived in a family who put all their hopes in the immigration. However, in that time, they don’t have any direct relationships for applying immigration to America, she just has an aunt (her father’s sister) living in New York. So, when she was in her 20th, Sharan’s mother try her best to ask her sister-in-law to find someone in NY to marry with Sharan, then, can bring her to America.
Anny: What? Just find someone, no matter who he is, no matter how old he is? Even though they had never met before? Then get marry for just having a chance to immigrate to America?
May: Yeap! Can’t believable, right?
Anny: absolutely! Can’t imagine!
May: But, that’s the truth.
Anny: Then, what’s reaction of Sharan, did she agree with her mother’s arrangement for her future life?
May: Uh, at the very beginning, she was quite disagree with that. But later, under the pressure of that she was the only one who can bring her whole family to the America, then, she accepted that.
Anny: Wait, why do you say so? Well, I’m quit confuse of that? I mean, how could she bring her whole family to the United States?
May: Well, it’s not as complicate as you imagine. Another word, it’s simple to see the route: first, she gets married with an America resident who has the legal identity in America, or it would be better if she can marry with an America citizen.
Anny: Yes? And then?
May: Then, she can apply for immigrating to the United States in a short time. I mean, en, what I say it’s a shot time is compared with other immigration types, such as the time that parents apply for their children, and brothers and sisters apply for their siblings, etc.
Anny: I see… ok, if Sharan married with an America citizen, there’s no doubt that she can apply to immigrate to America for reunion with her husband, but how come her family can move with her?
May: Nope. Of course her family can’t move with her at the same time. But, think about it. Since she gets a legal identity in America, let’s say, a green card, you know, then she has rights to apply her parents to come to America for family reunion in the coming future; And, if her parents can immigrant to America, let’s say, within five years, then, they can apply for Sharan’s brother to come too.
Anny: Wow, it looks like an interlocking link.
May: Yeah, isn’t it? One immigrate benefits a whole family. You know, that’s the way… that’s the way that a whole family can have chance to go outside in that age. You see? So, en, I want to say that people would do whatever they can to send the first one to move outside, then, later, one by one, until the whole family move out of the country.
Anny: Oh, now I see what you mean. En, but as I know that you’re not in this line, right? You immigrate for family get together, and also for giving yourself more chances to see the world, to accept the challenges from the life, right?
May: Yeah, of course. My purpose to immigrate is quite simple and clear.
Anny: Well, do you remember the process of applying for immigration to America? Or I may ask more details, en, like, how long it takes from you apply for the immigration to you finally get the visa?
May: Well, let me see. En, in that time, I think it was acceptable, as I remember… it just took me about two years.
Anny: Just two years? Wow, that’s quite fast, I must say.
May: Yeah, if you compare with nowadays, it is. For that age, it was still not so much people to have chance to apply for immigration. Well, even though, the immigration wave started at that time, but in my case, my mother apply me to immigrate America was belongs to the second priority according to the immigration law, so that, the process is not as difficult as it is in present. That’s why I just waited two years, then got the visa.
Anny: How did you feel in this two waiting years? Everything went smoothly?
May: Yeah, I’m quite lucky. In the process of the immigration was going quit smoothly.
Anny: Do you still remember that the detail of the immigration process? Was it just go through like what it does in nowadays? I mean, starts from your mom summit the applying forms and data to the immigration department, then, you follow…
May: Wow, it’s been a long time. You know, honestly, I don’t remember all the details right now. Uh, but generally, I think the process of immigration doesn’t change too much, or you can say, it is quiet similar with it in present. What I remember is that, I did not need to do too much paper work in that time, for that mostly were done in the America side, which means, uh, my mom asked for help to a Chinese community organization who are volunteer for helping Chinese people, their folks, to deal with such kind of immigration issues. They are very helpful and enthusiasm; they filled out all the forms for my mom, prepared and checked all the data what immigration department need for my mom. So, there were no more left for me to do in my side.
Anny: They are so great! What a wonderful organization!
May: Yeah, they really are! I am so appreciate for their help. You know, without them, I think, my process could not go through so smoothly. I remember that, I did nothing but just waiting for the notification of the immigration interview in Guangzhou US Consulate General in China, and then, took the physical exam and the notarization of no criminal record after we received the interview notification, that’s it.
Anny: Sounds quite simple. Well, about the interview, that’s part I’m also interested in. Could you tell me more about your immigration interview? Is it hard to communicate with the consular officer? What language did the officer using to talk with you during the interview?
May: Haha~ it was really interesting. You know what? As I remember, the consular officer was a white lady, and she talked to us with Mandarin, which surprised us quite a bit?
Anny: Us? What do you mean? You took to interview with other people else?
May: Oh, yes! I should tell you first. Xixi~ I forgot! My mom apply me and my other four siblings to immigrate to America in the same case.
Anny: Wow, which means, five of you were in the same immigration case. So, when you got the notification of the immigration interview, five of you came together, to take the interview in the same time, right?
May: Yes! You are right.
Anny: Hey, that’s quite a big team, isn’t it? I’m just imagine what it looks like while 5 siblings standing together in an interview window, which designed for maybe just one or two people. It must fun and crowded, right?
May: Haha~ it sure is. We really had fun during the interview. Especially when the officer saw five of us showed up in front of her, and told her how excited we were for having a chance to reunion with our mom and brother who living in America and we didn’t see for a long time, she was so happy for us.
Anny: Really? Wow, she’s so nice!
May: Yeah, she is a very nice officer, I must say that!
Anny: So, you say that she was very happy for you all, what did she happy for? What questions did she ask you guys during the interview?
May: Not too many questions she asked. But what I remember clearly is that, she said, “Good, it seems that you guys are the new blood for America society. You are all in the prime of life, so you guys are going to work after you arriving in the United States, right?”
Anny: Good question! And your answer is?
May: Well, I said, “Of course we will! We’re going to find a better work as soon as possible, and we also want to go to school to learn more knowledge too.” I also told her that we have confidence to make lives by our own. We will not be the burden to our mom and our brother, also to the society at all, and the fact is that we haven’t go back on our words.
Anny: Excellent! I’m so proud of you all!
May: Thank you!
Anny: So, after the officer got your answer, what did she say?
May: She was very happy for our answer, and said very loudly to us, “Very good! I hope you guys enjoy your new life in the United States.”
Anny: Wow, everything was going smoothly, right?
May: Yeah, you can say that. For the office was really happy that the main purpose that we want to immigrate to America is for family reunion. Before that, I had no idea of that American also put the family as the first place in their life. But in China, especially in the southern China, mostly people think that family is very important in their lives. So, they will do whatever they do to stay with the family. And if the family can stay together, no matter how hard the life is, they can go over it and feel happiness.
Anny: I agree! That’s a part of Chinese tradition to have all the family members stay together, help each other, care each other, that’s the meaning of what a family is, right?
May: absolutely! So, when the officer knew that a big family would be reunion in the United States, and all of us willing to work hard, study hard, and make no burden to the family and also to the society, she was really, really happy for that, and I am sure that we gave a good impression to her, as well as she did give a good impression to us and the America during this interview.
Anny: I think so too! So, let’s go back to your story, when the officer said that words to you guys, was that means she approved your applications and gave you all the visa?
May: Yeah! She did! After she said that, she sign her name on the form and asked us to pick up our visa in that afternoon.
Anny: So fast? You can get your visa in the same day of the interview day?
May: Yeah. It’s normal in that time to get your visa in the afternoon if you have an interview in the morning. But if your interview is in the afternoon, you also can get your visa in the next morning, I mean, if you can pass the interview.
Anny: I see. Did you pick up your visa by yourselves, or sent by the consulate department?
May: We picked up the visa by ourselves. For just waiting half day, you know. There’s no need to use snail mail, especially you don’t want to take the risk of losing the visa while in the way of mailing, right?
Anny: That’s true! But, that’s quite different between this days. As I know, nowadays, people just can get a visa within a week by mail. They don’t have choice to pick up the visa by themselves as well as they don’t have way to chase the process of mailing. What you can do is just wait, wait, and wait; what you need is be patient!
May: Hahaha~ time changed! You know…
Anny: Yeah, isn’t it? Haha~ so, since you got your visa at the same day of the interview, had there any limits on time to leave your county to move to America?
May: I am not quite sure about that, for we just moved to America within a month after we got our visas. You know, when I thought about that my mom was lingering for seeing us in the other side of the ocean, I could not wait longer to fly to her. You understand it?
Anny: Yeah, of course, that kind of feeling is hard to express by words, right?
May: Exactly! That’s why when we got our visas, we got all the stuffs in Guangzhou done as soon as possible, and packed our packages as simple as we can, then, bought the ticket to fly to America through Hong Kong.
Anny: Why you guys needed to fly to America through Hong Kong?
May: Well, firstly, there is the only airport nearby Guangzhou, which has the direct flight to San Francisco, the city where my mom and my brother lived. Secondly, we do have some relatives living in Hong Kong, so we want to visit them before we leave China.
Anny: How often you guys come to Hong Kong to visit your relatives in that time?
May: Actually, we never did before that time. For we didn’t have visa to go outside the country in that age, so, normally, it was them who often came back to Guangzhou to visit us instead.
Anny: What? Outside the country? Are you saying Hong Kong is the outside world, or another country?
May: Well, you should know that, before 1997, Hong Kong was still the colony of England, people who lived in mainland China needed to apply for a visa if they wanted to go to Hong Kong.
Anny: Got it. I just suddenly forgot that, xixi~
May: It’s ok. People sometime forget, haha~
Anny: Yeah, sometimes. So, was there a good experience to step on the ground of Hong Kong, the so called “outside world” of you guys? Was everything going smoothly in there?
May: Oh, that experience! I must say that, it was a hard and difficult time for us during our visit in Hong Kong.
Anny: Hard and difficult? How come?
May: Well, you know, it was the first time for us to step out of the country, and walk into another world, which we called it the “outside world”. Everything in there was new for us, or I can say that everything in there was quite differents from our own country, which made us feeling uncomfortable.
Anny: For example?
May: For example, the traffic direction on the road is totally opposite. In Hong Kong, the traffic rules are following by England system, so, they use left side going up, right side going down, but in China, we have our own system, which use right side going up, and left side going down.
Anny: Yeah, that’s really completely opposite. Anything else?
May: Yeah, of course. There were so many sky malls in the city, which gave you a feeling like you were living in a stone forest; and the roads in the city were so narrow and tortuous, up and down, and sudden turn round, which made you totally dizzy if you were sitting in a bus or a car; moreover, the city was so crowded, and people who living there looked so busy, they walked liked they were running… uh, there were many, many things, which made us feel pressure and uncomfortable during the time we were there.
Anny: Wow, it sounds that you were really had a hard time there. So, how long did you stayed in Hong Kong before you flied to America?
May: In that time, people who took an international flight from Hong Kong international airport could stay there seven days, after that, you must left. That’s why we felt time was not enough for us in Hong Kong, for we had too much things want to do in there.
Anny: Like what?
May: Liked, we wanted to visit some of our relatives; we wanted to sacrifice our grandpa who buried in Hong Kong; we wanted to take a quick look of Hong Kong, etc. All in all, we just felt time was flying, and we still had many, many things want to do, but finally had no time to do. For we needed to step on the way to our destination, America.
Anny: What you guys felt in that moment while you arrived at the San Francisco international airport? Excited?
May: Well, kind of, if you ask. But honestly, my brain was suddenly empty at that moment. I just followed my siblings and went to the line for new immigrants, I mean, the custom counter. I knew we need to pass the custom, and signed some documents before we went outside the airport. Because, my mom told me about that through a long-distance phone call before we started our journey.
Anny: That means you knew what you need to go through when you arrived at the airport, even though you didn’t know the whole thing, but at least, you knew the general process for new immigrant inside the terminal, right?
May: Yeah, I generally understood what would happened, and what we needed to do before we met our families who were waiting outside the door in the terminal.
Anny: By the way, when you went through the custom, did you understand what the officer said to you? How you guys communicated with the custom officer?
May: That’s funny. Actually, we didn’t talked much in front of the custom desk, for we really didn’t know what he said. What we did was just keep smiling to him, and “yeah, yeah, oh, oh…” you know, we just guessed what he asked, and then, responded by facial and body language, haha~
Anny: What? Was he ok with that?
May: Yeah, as what I mentioned that I was lucky, I mean, we were lucky. The custom officer was also a nice old man, he knew what new immigrants look like, or maybe he had lots of experience to deal with such cases daily in his position, so after he checked all of our documents, he asked us to sign. For this part, my mom told me several times before head, and asked us to practice our signature months before.
Anny: What did her said?
May: She told us, “You guys are better to practice your signature seriously, you can sign in Chinese, and also can sign in Pinyin (Mandarin). But, since you sign your name in the forms in the airport custom, it will show in all of your later legally documents, you cannot change it until you are at the moment to become an America citizen. So, no matter what, just practice you signature as well as you can.”
Anny: That was a very clearly guidance, and did you guys following by your mom’s direction?
May: Yeah, of course we did. So, when the officer asked us to sign, we did have a good sign on the form, haha~ After all of us signed, the officer said, “Ok, you can go now, welcome to America.”
Anny: Yeah! You did it!
May: Yeah! But when we heard the officer said about that, we felt quite surprise, we looked at each other and thought, “What? That’s it? We are in the America right now?”
Anny: Hahaha~ for you didn’t expect that would be so easy to pass from the custom, right? You must prepared lots of information for answering questions, which you thought the custom officer would ask you, right?
May: How did you know that? Hahaha~ yes, that’s what we felt in that moment. You know what, the much funny thing was, when we got to the packages picking area, we saw our families were waving to us outside the glass wall.
Anny: Wow, I think that must be the very exciting, and emotional moment, when you saw your families waving outside the glass wall, right?
May: It sure was. All of us were cheering and waving back inside the window, I mean the glass wall. Laughing, just couldn’t stop, haha~ one of our relatives drove to pick us up, my mom, of course, was there, for she was the one who was longing to see us for a long time. For that relative who drove to pick us up also serial years no see, so we really had a good time to get together that night, and of course, to have a wonderful dinner together after we got to our home in here, San Francisco.
Anny: How did you feel your home here? I mean the first impression.
May: Believe it or not, I didn’t put lots of attention to the “home”, but to my family members, such as, my brother who was the one first settled down in San Francisco, and applied my mom to immigrate to here. I was so happy to see him at that night, because we had not seen each other for more than ten years. So, when we saw each other at the dining room, we just kept chatting, even forgot to eat. Haha~
Anny: So, it seems that you had a very good first impression to America at that time, right? From the very beginning to the end, all the processes of immigration were going smoothly; you had a happy experience of immigration interview; you met a nice immigration officer; furthermore, you had your mom, your brother, and several relatives in San Francisco who can take care of you since you arrived.
May: Yeah, I must say that I am very lucky. Everything was so smoothly, which made me a little bit surprise. You see, from the interview, I noticed that all the staffs in the immigration department were so nice; even the officers of the custom in the airport were also very nice to us.
Anny: Their attitude were good, right? Even though there would be some language battle between you guys and them, but, you could understand what he means, and also he could understand you, right?
May: Exactly! So, we did have a very happy experience in the process of immigration. However, when I went over the flight sick and time jet a week later; when I looked at the Stars and the Stripes on the flag, I felt myself like in the dream, I also asked myself, “What? That’s it? I am in America now, am I in the dream?” then, I started to think.
Anny: What did you think? Finally you got to America, finally you could get together with you mom and brother, a family reunion in here, what did you feel? Did you feel hope to your future life or a little bit lost for far from your hometown?
May: En~~~ It’s hard to say. At that moment, I even didn’t think so deep, like you say, feeling hope to the future, or feeling lost for leaving my hometown. I just felt I had no idea where and how to start my life here. I gave up my life in my hometown, which was no bad and you know, China was on her way to development, everything were going well at that time. I gave up all of my life, my relationships in my hometown to America for family reunion and open my eyes, but I didn’t know how to start, at least, at that moment, a week after I reached here, I had no idea how, so when I saw the Stars and the Stripes, I even asked, “America, will you accept me?” (Emotional, like a lump in the throat). Sorry, I have a little bit emotive.
Anny: It is ok, I know what you feel! So, any decision did you make after you took time to think about your future?
May: Yeah, I did have a plan at that time, but not a completed one.
Anny: What was it?
May: I decided to find a job first, for I didn’t want to be a burden of my mom and my brother. I need to live on my own. Then, one of my relatives introduced me to work in a Chinese restaurant. More than ten hours per day, six days or even seven days a week working in the restaurant didn’t let me down, oppositely, I worked harder and harder without any complaint, for I had a clearly goal.
Anny: Wow, more than 10 hours a day, seven days a week, that’s too much, I think. What’s your purpose?
May: According to my plan, first step was to make money for living. When I got my salary two weeks a time, then, I could pay the rent by myself and had no problem in living. After that, I started to save extra money. I seldom spent money except that was necessary to used. So, several months later after I arrived San Francisco, I had enough money in my pocket, then, I started to travel around, from the western America, to the Eastern America, then, Canada.
Anny: Wow, work hard, save money for travel, in just few month later. You really have difference thinking with other new immigrants.
May: Yeah, lots of people, especially my relatives say so. They were so surprise that I spent all my saving money for travelling, some of them even thought I was crazy. You know, in their minds, as a new immigrant, I should work as hard as I could, saved money as much as I could for my better live in the future.
Anny: Yeah, that’s a common sense. Now, I am quite interested in your motive of travelling America around in such a short time after immigrated to here.
May: If you still remember one of my aim to immigrate to America is to go outside and see what the outside world likes like, right? So, since I had enough money, why shouldn’t I go around and take a look of this world? I wanted to open my eyes, and knew more about the local people’s life style and customers.
Anny: You have an open mind, and really want to merge into this society. So, did you travel by yourself?
May: Nope. I travel with my mom. You know, she had been America for more than ten years before we reunion here, but seldom had chance to go around, for my brother was busying for making more money to support the whole family. All my mom did in the days in America was so hard and boring, but she didn’t say a word, and didn’t ask for anything. (A little bit swallow, emotional) So, when I saved enough money; when I decided to travel around, I brought her to go with me. That’s one of my dream, to go around the world and see what it looks like, and broaden my horizons by travelling. And also, I think my mom deserved to enjoy the life and go outside to see the world too. I wanted to give her a good reward, because she did satisfy for the whole family so much for a long time.
Anny: You mean, your mom didn’t go anywhere before you brought her out of the city, even though she had been here more than 10 years?
May: That’s the truth. You know what, most of the senior Chinese here, just kept working every day, the daily routine is very simple: home-work place-home. That’s it, nothing more! Day after day, year after year, they just lived in Chinatown, speak in Taishanese, or Cantonese, until they turn old. That’s why some of this senior Chinese people recognize Oakland Bridge is Golden Gate Bridge.
May: Surprise, ha~ But that’s the truth. For they even didn’t have chance to go closer to see and recognize them. Since they arrived here, most of them would spent 10-15 hours to work in the restaurants, laundries, and clothing factories. They worked very hard. Compared with them, I was quite soft, after few months, I just worked eight hours a day, and then, I spent four hours in study.
Anny: What classes did you take at that time?
May: I started from English 50A, the very basic and simple class for new immigrants. Started from ABC, very simple class, but it was not easy for me to learn for it was my first time to take English class formally. However, I told myself, no matter how hard it is, I must finish it, and I must learn as much as I can for I need it to find a better job in my future.
Anny: So, did you find it? A better job latter.
May: Yeah, after two years of full time work in the Chinese restaurant and part time study in the CCSF, I finally found my first job working for an English speaking company. And then, two years after that, I jumped into another America company, which is bigger than the former one. From then on, I stepped into the America society step by step, even though that was not the upper class society, ha-ha~
Anny: Wow, That’s amazing! What a big progress! I am so proud of you!
May: Thank you! I also proud of myself too, and I feel myself can merge into the America society very well. Ha-ha ~
Anny: Do you accept the America culture?
May: Eh~ at the very beginning, honestly, no! I didn’t accept that, and I always made troubles and misunderstood with people too. Thinking back right now, it was so funny. However, for I had learned how to say sorry, excuse me in the school, even though made a mistake or misunderstood, I still could fix it soon and pass that gap quickly.
Anny: As I know, lots of Chinese immigrants in Chinatown of San Francisco are willing to stay around in the Chinese cycle, which they don’t need to speak English; which they can communicate with each other in their own way and without any misunderstanding, so, most of them will not and also cannot leave the Chinese cycle, and will not accept and even don’t want to know about the America culture, such as, the America life style, social behavior, and custom, etc. What do you think about this?
May: I think, since someone decide to immigrate to a new country, and he/she is willing to stay there for a life time or a long time, he/she should try his/her best to find out and know their culture as much as he/she can, and try to merge into this society as soon as possible; be a part of them but not always isolate himself/herself from the society.
Anny: But there’s some saying that Chinese people should not abandon their own traditional culture; even though they are living in other country, they should keep the traditional Chinese culture and expand it more to the outside world. You think so?
May: I am not saying we should abandon our traditional culture. As the “descendants of the dragon”, I am proud of Chinese traditional culture, and willing to expand it widely as much as I can. That’s why I teach Tai Ji (a kind of traditional Chinese martial art) in here. But, what I want to say is that every countries have their own unique cultures, we should not so extremely in accepting one country’s culture then you must abandon another one. I mean, culture can be combined. We should learn from other’s strong points to offset one’s weakness, right?
Anny: Totally agree! We should make the best of the both worlds. Yeah, nowadays, lots of foreigners are interested in Chinese traditional culture, such as Martial Arts, Yi Jing, Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, etc. Many people around the world are learning Chinese too.
May: Exactly. Chinese culture has thousand years history, it must have its shinning point, which worth to study. But, western culture, say, American Culture, it also has its own shinning point too, which worth Chinese people to learn and study as well. For example, following the setting rules, respecting to everyone but not just the nobles, having chance to speak out and express your idea, etc.
Anny: You’re right! America is a multi-culture country, we can have chance to know and learn more other cultures in here.
Anny: By the way, since you immigrated to America, are you just staying in San Francisco without any moving?
May: At the first ten years, yes! I worked here, studied here, and also lived here with my whole family in San Francisco. But, after that, I made a big decision in my life.
Anny: Really? What’s that?
May: I decided to move to Oregon alone. The reason for me to move out from the family is that I want to take more challenge; I want to be more independent; I want to know more and experience the local American life. You know, living with the whole family is happiness.
Anny: Yeah, always many people around you and give you their hands whatever you want, right?
May: Yeah, in that time, being taken care by my mom and brothers and sisters, I need to worry about nothing. But, I know, there must be one day that I need to face the world by myself. So, I decided to take this challenge as early as I can, that’s why I made such a decision in that time. I really want to know, what the local American’s life looks like; what would my life turn to be if I leave the Chinese cycle, as well as I leave my whole family.
Anny: That’s really a big decision, I must say. You’re so brave. Then, how’s your days in Oregon?
May: Well, I have no idea about there’s a big gap between Chinese and American’s culture unless I rent a room and lived with an American family in Oregon.
Anny: What’s the biggest difference between the two country’s cultures in your experience?
May: Well, first, the living style is different. I don’t like people to interrupt me during my lunch or dinner time, but they like to talk much and loudly while they are sitting at the table; they like to put a key under the carpet in front of the door for in case they forgot to bring the key with them outside, which makes me feel very uncomfortable and unsafely. Secondly, the habits of eating and drinking is different. You know, Chinese people like cooking, so when I cook, I have different ways to make the dishes, such as, frying, stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, stewing, simmering, baking, and scalding, etc. But what they like is raw foods, such as, raw vegetables, even raw meats, which makes me feel a little bit nauseated.
Anny: Yeah, Chinese food is well known in cooking. Do your landlord like you cooking in their home?
May: Yeah, they are no problem with that. Actually, they are very enjoy when I share my cooking Chinese foods with them. They said, “Yummy, yummy, Chinese food!” Ha-ha~
Anny: Wow, seems you are a god chief, right?
May: Ha-ha, not good enough la~. But I am very appreciate of myself, who made a smart decision to learn how to cook, and got a certificate of Chinese and western cooking, which gives me a good chance to work for any kinds of restaurants, not just limited in Chinese cuisine. You know what, when you command a skill that can make you live on, you don’t need to worry too much of your life.
Anny: I do think so. So, you start your life in Oregon, everything is just depends on yourself, nobody can help you, and you are totally involve a new environment, and experience the American life, how do you feel the Oregon? Have you ever had any experiences of discrimination during your life time?
May: In California, I must say, there is less race discrimination to Chinese people than in other White people living states. Maybe because there are so many Chinese people living in California. You know, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the biggest Chinatown in the world. And LA’s Chinatown also well known in the world. So, as a Chinese, you will seldom feel being discriminate in California. But in Oregon, I witness how those local American see the minority people as the second class residents. When they look at you, you can see the sardonic smile on their face. They look down Chinese, and think we are stupid, we are lazy, and we can do nothing big, etc.
Anny: Why do they have such a thought in Chinese people?
May: I don’t know. But as I know, Oregon is a state of forestry. There aren’t have so many immigrants living there. So, you may say there is a little bit reservation in there. Anyway, in my case, I would not let them to look me down. I can turn them around in the view of Chinese people, who is not as what they think, like, stupid, uncivilized, weakness, and lazy. I can prof myself as a Chinese, I can do whatever they can do, and even do it better than them, except speaking English. Ha-ha~
Anny: That’s not a problem, right? For English is their native language, just like, your Chinese absolutely is better than anyone of them, right? As an ESL, you can communicate with the native English speaker without any problem in such a short time since you immigrate to here, you are so great!
May: Oh~ thank you! You know what, what I am so proud of myself in those days living in Oregon is I am not just turn around what their view on Chinese people, I also bring Chinese traditional culture to them. Chinese culture is broad and profound. Nowadays, people or you may say experts from all over the world are showing more and more interested in China’s traditional culture, such as Chinese culture in eating and drinking, traditional Chinese medicine theory, Chinese martial arts, and Chinese painting and calligraphy, etc. They are so interested and feel amazing of Chinese traditional culture, especially the theory of Yin Yang, which we called it Yi Jing, they called it “the book of change”.
Anny: Wow, amazing! So, since you far away from your family to Oregon, how long did you go back home during that time?
May: I had worked and lived in Oregon alone in almost one year. During this time, I flied back to San Francisco frequently, say, like a month a time. Usually, I would take airbus to travel back and fore in the weekend, and the ticket was not so expensive in that time, at lease I could afford it.
Anny: You enjoy to live there alone?
May: Yeah, pretty comfortable and enjoy the life there, I must say.
Anny: Then, why did you move back to San Francisco later? Any pressures there?
May: Nope. I feel no pressure to live alone in Oregon. All the pressures are come from my family, especially from my mom. She always call me and say that she’s worrying about my safety, and my healthy. If I got sick, there’s nobody can take care of me, she feel so sad that I go so far away from her, which make me upset too. When I think of her, think back what she had done for me and my whole family, now, what she need is the family get together, how could I keep letting her down; how could I so selfish just care about my feeling, my own will? So, after a second thought, I decided to move back to San Francisco to accompany with my mom and reunion with the family again.
Anny: And that also your purpose to immigrate to America too, right?
May: Exactly! Through this experience, what I learn is no matter where you go, you can’t just go alone, because your family is always a link of you, which you can’t just put it down; which you will always miss them from your bottom of your heart. So, the conclusion of my experience is that I finally figure out that: home is where the family is!
Anny: What a conclusion, which full of philosophy! Thank you very much for sharing your story to me! Wish you have a wonderful time with your family here!
May: Thank you!