Two Homes

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Two Homes

by Vanessa Tso, May 2017

Migration has been happening since life appeared on Earth and the reason is simply to find a better place for living. There are a lot of reasons that people move to other countries and those reasons become their own stories. The American Dream attracts people to America, which creates a country of immigrants with diversity. Most people come to America to seek for freedom and better life opportunities as their home countries might not be able to provide for them. However, one person didn’t come to America to seek a better life or freedom, but instead didn’t want to miss the chance and took it as an adventure. That person is my dad, who simply wanted to have an English learning environment for me. The time of submitting the paper to come to America was long; however, the time for making the decision to move was short. He viewed this as an adventure as he didn’t have any particular expectations, so he simply went with the flow. When he first submitted the paper, it was 21 years ago and there was no reason for him to move as he lived comfortably in Hong Kong. With the idea of deciding later, there appeared reasons for him to move with his family as the opportunity to move America came about. While before realizing that he was eligible he had never thought of moving to America as he had a stable life in Hong Kong, he took the opportunity as an adventure for himself as he wanted to provide an English environment for his family; nevertheless, the experiences that he has faced in America have shaped his two identities as an American and a Hong Kong citizen with two homes.

Hong Kong, a crowded modern city with many sky-high buildings, sounds a lot different than San Francisco and he believed it was his only home due to the love that he had had for Hong Kong during his childhood. Grew up and living in Hong Kong for more than half of his at that point, he considered himself a typical person who came from Hong Kong. As he describes them, Hong Kong people are aggressive, hardworking and adventurous. When I asked about his childhood, he said, “I think I’m lucky. I had enough food, I’m able to get into school and graduated after five years of middle school.” Hong Kong was already industrialized before he was born and this led to the increase of population. In the article “A Tale of Two Cities: Factor Accumulation and Technical Change in Hong Kong and Singapore,” by Alwyn Young, a professor of economics, he did a comparison between the economic growth in Hong Kong and Singapore. He stated, “A mass migration from Mainland China to Hong Kong in the immediate postwar era, which cumulatively raised Hong Kong’s population from 600,000 in 1945 to 2,237,000 by mid-1950” (Young 18). Many people from Mainland China moved to Hong Kong for job opportunities and better life as the economy in China during that time was unstable. Space in Hong Kong was small, and a family of six would have to crowd into a small apartment that was originally for two. Although he lived in a small apartment with his parents and siblings, he never felt uncomfortable or crowded. The educational system followed the British system and taught the English language. His parent was a construction worker and he started helping his parent in his early 20’s. He owned a small business and a home, so life was stable that he couldn’t ask for more.

Migration is always the hardest decision to make, as there is a lot to consider; however, he quickly decided to come for an English environment and saw a great opportunity to move as the economy was going downhill in America. After 14 years, the opportunity to come to America had finally come. After a few discussions with his family, he decided to leave everything behind and came to America along with his family. Although it was a short period to make a life-changing decision, he believed it wouldn’t be “too bad.” It was around 2009, which was the time after the Great Recession. He viewed this as a good chance to move. In the book Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy, written by Nobel Prize-wining Joseph E. Stiglitz, an American economist and a professor at Columbia University, he discussed the causes of the Great Recession in 2008 and how it affected America and the world. He stated, “In the Great Recession that began in 2008, millions of people in America and all over the world lost their homes and jobs” (Stiglitz xi). Fortunately, his life in Hong Kong wasn’t affected by the recession, but he viewed this as a chance to move. With the knowledge that the economy is a cycle and the recovery eventually comes, he knew it would be easier for him to invest in his life in America during that time. Yet the main purpose for moving was to provide an English environment for his daughter. He said, “I grew up in a British colony environment and I felt having the English environment is good for my daughter.” The idea of moving to America was to provide an English learning environment for his daughter, which was mindset motivated him to move to America. Since he grew up in a British colony, he realizes the importance of English as he considers it a must-learn language.

Decisions are made in order to take action. He didn’t see a reason for him to move due to his stable life in Hong Kong. When he submitted the application for immigration to America with the help of his younger sister, he didn’t make any plan to move at that moment. He said, “When I did the application, I didn’t make any decision yet.” He had the idea to decide when the immigration department approved his application because he knew it would take a few years for the whole process. The time he submitted the application to obtain a visa mailed to him took “14 years of waiting,” as he said. It was 12 years after he had applied when the US started to process his application and another two years of processing the application, which was a total of 14 years. For the book Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective, by James Hollifield, a Professor of International Political Economy, he did a study on immigration policy in the European Union. He stated, “There is a structural element to employer demand for foreign workers, such as in agriculture, construction, health care, domestic help, and hospitality” (Hollifield 4). This means there are policies to control the flow of the immigrants into the counties. The time that the U.S. Immigration Department started to handle my dad’s application was late 2008, which was around the time of the Great Recession. With the idea of starting a new life, he was ready to accept America as his second home.

As a positive person, he believes any problems can be solved; however, the discrimination that he experienced at his second job made him question himself as American or Chinese. Although he was never discriminated due to his name, Wing, he was discriminated against because of where he was from. There was no problem finding a job in America as he described. In the article “After the Great Recession: Foreign Born Gain Jobs; Native Born Lost Jobs,” by Rakesh Kochhar, a former senior economist at Joel Popkin and Co., he shared a report that analyzes the labor market during the Great Recession and how it affected the job rates in America. According to his report, “foreign – born workers gained 656,000 jobs while native-born workers lost 1.2 million” (Kochhar 1) after the Great Recession in the United States. This shows that the demand for foreign workers increased because of cheaper labor as the economy was slowly recovering and this made it easier for him to find a job. The second job that he worked was at a company that is owned by a Chinese-American businessman. The workers were all Chinese and the language was not the problem at all. He thinks the mistreatment that he experienced by his co-workers was based on where he was from. He said, “They were already in a group, which it was hard for me to join in and the uh…” I cut him off and asked, “Did you tried to?” He continued with an unpleasant look: “I think mainly because of the culture that I have as we grew up in a different world, where the cultures are different.” Although his ethnicity is Chinese, the city that he grew up in a British colony was different from Mainland China. The cultures might be similar; however, the differences are quite different as they can led to contradiction. For the book Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America, by Mary C. Waters, an American sociologist and a professor in Harvard University, she conducted research by looking through the immigration status data in the 1800s and 1900s in America, and about the discrimination against Europeans from different parts of Europe. Later, she looked at interviews of people whose descent was from Europe to see what ethnicity they would answer. She stated, “Sometimes I am tempted to just say American when people ask, especially when I think I might be lumped together with people I don’t necessarily consider to be authentically Irish” (Waters, xii). Just like how my dad simply tells others he is an American when asked. After this experience, his identity as a Hong Kong citizen grew stronger as he felt the culture that he knew was unique. On the other hand, he slowly settled down in San Francisco and this made him confident enough to identify himself as an American.

While most immigrants would compare their home countries to America in many different ways from their expectations that they had before the move, my dad doesn’t compare San Francisco and Hong Kong as he considers both are his home. From the crowdedness of Hong Kong to the lack of nice beaches to swim in in San Francisco, as he joked around, he restated, “Right now, I like, uh, San Francisco more than Hong Kong.” Although he spent more than half of his life in Hong Kong, he likes San Francisco more because he has his family, a job and, lastly “choose to live here.” He now considers San Francisco as his home, where his family is here and his life is as comfortable as his life was in Hong Kong. He never thinks of moving back to Hong Kong as he left everything behind and started a new life in San Francisco, so, “San Francisco is my first home and Hong Kong is second.” The time that he scarified and the efforts that he put into the move, made him fall in love with the place that he lives now as he tries his best. If he ever moved back to Hong Kong, he would have to start over again from scratch. It would not be practical for him as the physical and mental demands for moving are beyond imagination.

The American Dream has been attracting people from around the world, as they want to seek a better future. Funny enough, one person, who is my dad, didn’t seek a better life as he couldn’t imagine a much better life than he was having in Hong Kong. Still, he took the opportunity to come to America as an adventure. Before moving to America, he identified himself as Chinese, and Hong Kong was his only home. However, after moving to America he identifies himself as an American and a Hong Kong citizen: both America and Hong Kong are his homes. Most immigrants who have been in America for generations would identify themselves as American as they consider America their home. However, the identity of a person can never be defined, since the topic of identity is debatable. Only the person can define their own identity and their home as there are no model answers for it. Most people would argue that when people move to another country, they should assimilate to the culture and consider that place as their home, so they should identify themselves from there as well. Still, there is one thing to keep in mind, that identity can’t be defined by others and a person can identify with more than one identity. Also, the definitions of home vary since there is not a definite answer to it. Lastly, our identity and our home might not be important to others, but are something that we treasure as we believe in those, which can reflect on who we are.

Work Cited

Hollifield, James. Controlling Immigration: A Global Perspective. California. Stanford

University Press. 2014. Print.

Kochhar, Rakesh C. “After the Great Recession: Foreign Born Gained Jobs; Native Born Lose

Jobs.” Pew Hispanic Center. Washington D.C. October 29, 2010.

Stiglitz, Joseph. Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy. New

York. W. W. Norton & Company Inc. 2010. Print.

Tso, Wing. Personal Interview. 9 April. 2017.

Waters, Mary. Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America. London, England. The Regents

of the University of California. 1990. Print.

Young, Alwyn. “A Tale of Two Cities: Factor Accumulation and Technical Change in Hong

Kong and Singapore.”

First 10 min. of the interview – transcript

Where are you from?

I’m from Hong Kong.

Describe that place.

Modern city, there is a modern city, a lot of people there and the population is about 7 million and many sky-high buildings. Anyway a modern city, a big city.

What was it like when you were a child?

When I was a child, Hong Kong was a British colony. We have English subject and also Chinese subject. The educational system followed the British system. At that time, many Hong Kong people, their parents most were from China and at that time, most of their parents were hawkers and construction workers and… my parent are also construction workers.

How was your childhood?

I think I’m lucky, I had enough food, I’m able to get into school and I graduated after five years of middle school. The system is five years of middle school in Hog Kong. Maybe it is equivalence to high school in the US. So yeah, maybe graduated from high school.

When was your first time to America?

Around 20 to 25 years ago… 25 years ago, I had the opportunity to come to the US. That was the time when I participated my younger sister’s wedding ceremony. Oh yeah, attended the wedding ceremony along with the whole family.

What was the first impression?

Actually, we stayed for about… two weeks. (Uhum… mommy was it two weeks?) Yes, two weeks. Not much impression.

Did you have any impression?

I came here… and been to Yosemite but it was during winter time… I didn’t know too well. I have been to Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, but I felt like San Francisco was not much different than now… Yeah… not much different.

When was the whole thing started?

The beginning of the application?

No the first time…

Oh submit the application….

Yeah, when?

Ah, it was 21 years ago.

So it was before I was born

Yeah, my younger sister, who is already a, no when she became a citizen, she helped me to submit the form. This is 20 years ago

You didn’t even know I exist! Yes, I have to wait for 14 years, which the immigration department started to process my application and when the immigration department started to process, we have to wait for two.

Two years?

So the process was like that, so I submit the application it was 20 years ago and i have to wait 14 years, no, after 12 years, the United States became to process my application about two years. So 14 years of waiting.

So 14 years, really?

Yeah, the process has different categories, like parent and daughter would be shorter, brother and sister would be longer.

The wait? So different relationships are different…

Yeah, different relationships have different waiting.

And at that time, why do you…

Oh, at that time why did I take the action?

Yeah, like why you took the action. No, like what made you decide to move

When I was in Hong Kong, I grew up in a British colony environment and I felt having the English environment is good for my daughter.

But I was not even born yet!!

Ohhh, when I did the application, i didn’t make any decision yet. So, i just submit the application. After…

So, it just like the idea of submitting the application and decide later

Yes, when the United States starts to process my application, that will be the time…

That will be the time to start making the decision.

What are the difference between Hong Kong and America?

In America, there more races and in Hong Kong, there are mostly Chinese… Hong Kong is crowded. San Francisco has fresh air, which Hong Kong does not have. San Francisco doesn’t have good beach to swim.

Where do you like more? To live…

Right now, I like uh San Francisco more than Hong Kong.

Why?

I have my job, I have my family… oh no… why?… Because I choose to live here

Do you consider United States as your home?

Yes, because I’m United States citizen.

So…

My family is here

So you consider America your home, how about Hong Kong?

Eh… Hong Kong is my second home.

So America is your first and Hong Kong is your second home.

Yes

Okay, done!

A Window in the Dark

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A Window in the Dark

by Steven Wong, December 2016

This is about my mother, the hardships she endured to support her family, and the sacrifices she has made for us. She was born in Fa dao, China. Back in her school years she was always a good student, earning almost all A’s in her classes until she graduated from high school. There was no college to attend so she went to the work recruitment office and signed up for work. Her first job was in the chemical department of a factory that manufactured ammonia. She dealt with coal remains from midnight until the morning, containing and disposing them when she was only sixteen years old. Her next job was at a clothing warehouse, where she quickly rose to the rank of supervisor and then to inspector because of her hard work. Her aunt then introduced her to a man who was from the U.S. and who eventually became my dad. There were already signs pointing out that he wasn’t who her aunt had said he was, but my mother accepted the marriage proposal anyway, not for her own happiness but for her mother’s; her mother never came to the U.S. and always wanted to come. Although my mother had never been here and did not know the language, she came along to the U.S. She studied wherever she could although she didn’t know English, so she would always have her translator with her. From one job to another, she kept finding ways to make more money so she could support her children. She chose to give up her teen years to work and relieve some financial stress on her parents, gave up being able to choose who to spend her life, and has endured physical and emotional abuse in order to be in her children’s lives.

In China, instead of going out to party like other teenager would do, she helped support her family after she finished high school, and immediately went to the work recruiting office to get a job at a factory working in the chemical department. Her job was to maintain the coal remains to make sure they weren’t going everywhere by spraying them down once in a while. Then she would dispose of the coal remains by shoveling them into a big cart and pushing it to be dumped. About the time when she was working there, she said, “I was so small I couldn’t push the cart so the guy that worked with us had to push it with me.” My mother worked in a factory, which was a rough environment, and was doing what was considered a man’s job, not a job for a sixteen-year-old girl, but she did it in order to support her family. She also worked in a clothing factory, at which she quickly rose to the inspector supervisor position due to her hard work and dedication, to support her family. In the article “Where Are All the High School Grads Going?” which hypothesizes about why high school graduates choose to work over college, Alia Wong, a researcher, states, “They are also the ones who can land jobs that aren’t traditionally associated with higher-education degrees—blue-collar fields such as manufacturing, mining, and agriculture.” Because my mother didn’t have a college degree and needed to support the family, she chose to work in factories and warehouses instead of doing what any other teenager would.

My mother sacrificed the biggest parts of a person’s life and happiness in exchange for her mother’s happiness. My mother’s transition from China to the U.S., started with her marriage, which brought her over to the U.S. since my father was already an American citizen at the time. Recalling when she was about to get married, she said, “I wasn’t happy or sad about it I was just like whatever. I didn’t really care.” Although she didn’t like my father, she married him just because my grandma had never been to the U.S. before and she always wanted to go so my mother married my father to fulfill my grandma’s wish. She sacrificed one of the biggest parts of her life, marrying someone she didn’t even like, leaving everything in China to go to a new country she had no knowledge of: “When I got here, I didn’t know any English and was at Safeway. I didn’t even know how to say excuse me.” She allowed herself to come to America without knowing the language and having to learn to communicate. She said, “I was going to adult school and working at the warehouse across the block every day. I worked [whenever] there wasn’t school including Saturday and Sunday.” She worked hard and put herself into school so she could survive and afford to take care of my sister and I. She put herself through adult school and worked at the same time with no free time for herself. With this persistent dedication to adapt in order to provide for her children, she sacrificed her last chance at youth and happiness.

In the year 2008, my mother was extremely generous to my father even though he was cheating on her, but in order to keep the family together, she endured it for months. In August, my father came back from a trip to Vietnam. He had met up with a woman that he had been friends with. He called her his girlfriend. Every night around one in the morning he would call back to Vietnam to talk to her and my mother didn’t care about it too much until three weeks later. She asked him, “Are you serious? It has been almost a month and you’re still calling this late at night?” She gave him an ultimatum and told him he could call until the end of September. She wouldn’t care but if he called anymore after that she would divorce him so he could be with his girlfriend in Vietnam. I guess my father didn’t like the idea of my mother leaving him so he was trying to come up with any reason to make her feel as if she had done things to wrong him as well, although all those arguments were unreasonable and incomparable to him cheating. She said that “He yelled at me all night for about a week for any small reasons he could think of.” On those nights my father would yell at my mother. I sat there watching, making sure he didn’t cause any harm to her; I watched her look to the floor, not replying to him as he was yelling throughout the night. He stopped and it was almost two in the morning. Sarah Buel, a Colorado lawyer, said in “Fifty Obstacles of leaving,” her article about why domestic violence victims stay, “The victim believes the batterer’s threats to kill her and the children if she attempts to leave” (Buel 19). She could have left during those nights but chose to stay with her children thinking my father would harm us if she left.

My father did not let my mother go to work during those times; his reason for not letting her go to work was that she “worked too much,” although he didn’t help support the family financially for years; she had to work. A couple of nights later, he brought her into their room and locked the door. The yelling was more violent that night. My younger brother and I were standing outside in the dark hallway listening as we were coming up with possible ways to get our mother out of that room. We decided to get pool sticks from the living room and we ran back to the door thinking of ways that we could approach this. The yelling got louder. As I stood there I thought that that was enough and we really needed to get her out. We hid the pool sticks around the corner. I opened the door and pushed it in, but the chain latch was still holding the door. I yelled to him as I was pounding on the door. “OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR!” My father stopped yelling for a bit as he turned towards the door. This was it I thought, time to finally end all this yelling. He closed the door and unlatched the chain. He opened the door and yelled “FUCK ME? FUCK YOU!” As I saw my mother just standing there crying over his shoulder, I pushed him aside to go to my mother. I told her that we should go outside. My father grabbed me by the collar of my sweater. I yelled at him warning him that if he ripped my sweater I would hit him. With that being said, he ripped my collar, probably thinking that I wouldn’t do anything. I pushed him down to the side of the bed and he rolled on top of me so I punched him on his head but I held back my strength because he was old. He got off of me and I took my mother outside. He came out to the living room on the phone with his best friend telling him that I had hit him and he was bleeding. He said that his disobedient son hit him, and was making me seem like the bad guy since he didn’t tell his friend the whole story of why I had hit him. He yelled at me saying that I would get struck by lightning for hitting him, but I thought that at least he’s stopped yelling at my mother; things calmed down that night and my mother went to sleep with my sister at 10 pm. She could have left and run away but didn’t know what he would do to us children out of anger if she left. The following day he snapped, and was yelling, “Are you sure you want a divorce?” My mother replied with a yes. He swiftly and violently walked into the kitchen and I could see that he was searching for something in the drawers until the swinging door closed behind him. He grabbed a meat cleaver. Slamming the door open, he quickly walked towards my mother, towering over her with the cleaver over her head, threatening to kill my her; luckily, I was there watching as always so I grabbed his hand and pried the cleaver out of his hand as I shoved him away. After that afternoon, my mother felt that it was no longer safe for her to stay home so she called up her younger brother to pick her up since he was in town. My uncle was bigger than my father so he picked my mother up. My father didn’t stop her from leaving. In an article of an interview by Sonia Nazario, “The Heartache of an Immigrant Family,” she said:

“She followed Enrique north a few years later, leaving their daughter, Katerin Jasmín, behind. Enrique was determined that his daughter not endure the long separation he had faced, so when Jasmín was 4, he sent for her to come to Jacksonville, Fla., where the family had established a home.”

My mother left us knowing that I would be able to protect my siblings and that she would come back for us. The lady next door saw my mother and uncle leaving. She waved them over. She invited them inside and already had a gist of what was going on so she told my mother, “Ever since you guys moved next door I heard yelling frequently. Can you tell me what’s going on? Do you need help?” My mother replied that she shouldn’t say anything and that she was scared to say anything because she didn’t want to endanger her. My neighbor told her that it was okay, and she was more worried that something would happen if she didn’t step in. She asked my mother if she had gone to the police yet and if she had filed charges for domestic violence. My mother replied, “No, I didn’t know that kind of service existed.” My neighbor told her that she would call domestic violence services for her. Like my mother, many other immigrant women have no knowledge of public services that are available. In a survey asking 400 Vietnamese and Korean women participants how they feel about domestic violence, whether they feel if it is okay or okay to an extent, and if they had the knowledge of services that would be able to help them, by Mikyong Kim-Goh, a professor in the Master of Social Work Program at California State University, and Jon Baello, a researcher in the Department of Research and Evaluation at Paramount Unified School District, the results concluded: “First, the findings of the study suggest a need for active community education and outreach targeting less acculturated, more recent immigrant groups.” Kim-Goh says that there should be more knowledge of services throughout communities, especially in communities in which immigrants have recently migrated to the U.S. If my mother ha known of the services before, she probably would have left my father years before this incident. So after hearing about domestic violence services, she decided to give them a call. Domestic violence services told her that they would process her and find her a shelter, and in the meantime they offered to get her a hotel room.

My mother had to leave first to find a shelter that was in a livable condition so she could bring us after. My father still drove us to school like always after that but he didn’t bother us. After a couple of days went by, after school when my father came to pick my sister and I up, he was venting to us about how our mother took our little brother away. My sister and I were confused that we didn’t get picked up too. That night he went out scouring places where he thought my mother would be, and I felt abandoned thinking that our mother was supposed to pick us all up. My father was really mad because his youngest son was his favorite child, so I felt that my sister and I were going to be in danger. My sister slept in my room as I sat there with the chair against the door, making sure that I kept my sister safe. About a week went by, and I was sleeping in class when suddenly I was told to go to the vice principal’s office. I thought it was because I was sleeping in class. But I was met by a police officer and my sister in the vice principal’s office, and was told that we were going to be sent to a shelter where my mother and brother were already hiding. At that moment I found out that my mother hadn’t abandon my sister and I but she was leaving first to find a place, and she didn’t want to be alone so she took our little brother along: she had always planned to come back for us and she did. In an article about why some parents that are victims of domestic violence leave first and then send for their family after called “The Living Arrangements of Children of Immigrants,” by Nancy Landale, a Professor of Sociology and Demography at Pennsylvania State University, she says:

“One particularly troubling difficulty posed by migration is that it can separate child from their parents, either because one family member migrates first and later brings over other family members (stage migration) or because a parent is deported or deterred fro the dangerous border crossing.”

Immigrants parents first migrated without their family to make sure they have a stable living condition before they bring their family so that they are able to survive. Like my mother she left without us because she felt that even she had no idea where she was going and that she had to make sure she had a place to go before she sent for us.

I recently painted my mother when she worked in the factory as a girl, with dark colors and the smudges on her face representing how dirty it was, and the bright orange coal for the hot and dangerous environment. I portrayed her as a small girl pushing a cart of coal remains bigger than her. In the painting she struggles to push the cart signifying that this job is obviously not for a small sixteen-year-old girl, but she does it to help earn money to support the family. “I was so small I couldn’t push the cart, so the guy that worked with us had to push it with me,” she recalls. She worked after midnight so I drew a clock showing that it was after midnight. The smudges on her face show how dirty and rough it was in the warehouse and how she was willing to do almost anything to support her family. I used dark colors to portray how unpleasant the job was. I only painted one part of the factory because I wanted to focus on the department she worked in, the chemical department. I painted a bright orange in the coal to emphasize that it was still hot and inside the factory it was hot, to show that the job was a hazardous job.

I also pained a sunset framed by a round window of an airplane, against the dark inside of an airplane, to contrast the new world she was looking forward to, in contrast with with the dark old world, where she worked so hard. The light of the new world is glowing into the plane in hopes of changing her old world. I drew a sunset because it shows how beautiful San Francisco was while my mother wasn’t happy in the picture or sad, since she came here just to fulfill her mother’s dream of coming to the U.S.

She gave up the biggest parts of her life so that life for her family would be better. Although she could have made different choices, she put her family before her own wants and happiness, because all mothers want what’s best for their children and all children want to repay their parents by relieving them from work hard. She gave up her teen years to support her family, gave up being able to choose who she want to be with for the rest of her life, gave up her homeland, her friends and did it all for her family.

Works Cited

Landale, Nancy S. “The Living Arrangements of Children of Immigrants.” EBSCO. Future of Children, Spring 2011. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.

Kim-Goh, Mikyong. “Attitudes toward Domestic Violence in Korean and Vietnamese Immigrant Communities: Implications for Human Services.” EBSCO. Ed. Jon Baello. Journal of Family Violence, 15 May 2008. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Buel, Sarah M. “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, A.k.a., Why Abuse Victims Stay.” EBSCO. Family Violence, Oct. 1999. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Nazario, Sonia. “The Heartache of an Immigrant Family.” Google Scholar. N.p., 14 Oct. 2013. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.

Wong, Alia. “Attitudes toward Domestic Violence.” The Atlantic, 11 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.

A Journey of a Man Who Has Never Found an Ideal Home

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A Journey of a Man Who Has Never Found an Ideal Home

by Pui Man Stephanie Ho, December 2016

“To leave, or not to leave home?” This question is the major consideration of most immigrants. Home refers to the place where a person is born, the place where a person lives with his/her family, and the place where a person feels that he/she belongs. While living between two worlds, immigrants need to re-conceptualize the idea of identity and home inside their minds as well as acknowledge cultural differences when they step outside into the bigger world. From the research presented in “Where do US immigrants come from, and why?”, which aims at providing historical background of global migration and main reasons for migration from 1971 to 1998, the authors indicate that the source countries Mexico and Canada “form 82.5 percent of all US immigration over the entire period” (Ximena et al. 14). From these statistics, we can see that there are approximately 20,000,000 immigrants migrating to the US within the 28-year-period, just like Jackson Ho. Jackson Ho, an 83-year-old Chinese man who emigrates from Hong Kong to the United States, uses his own ways to integrate two distinct cultures and overcome major obstacles he encounters throughout his journey of life. This oral history project addresses the difficulties Jackson faces during his transition from childhood into adulthood and analyses how they change his sense and definition of home during the transition period between the moment he decides to move and now.

My interviewee, Jackson Ho, is a Chinese immigrant born in 1933 in Jiangmen City, Guangdong Province, China. Jackson experiences his first involuntary migration when he is two years old, due to the fact that he is forced by his family to go to Hong Kong by ferry through Macau, not only to reunite with his extended family, but also to strive for a better future in this international hub. However, the second Sino-Japanese War, which begins in Hong Kong in 1937, ruins Jackson’s childhood and creates a lifelong nightmare for him, which implies that he is born into chaos and suffering. After the surrender of Japan in 1945, and after the transfer of sovereignty in 1947, Jackson already foresees the shortcomings of living in Hong Kong; hence, he starts planning his second migration voluntarily in 1980s. After he arrives in the U.S. in1991, he works as an architectural assistant for ten years, while taking care of his grandchildren in his spare time. Until now, he reunites with his sons and daughters in San Francisco and enjoys his retired life. All the way through Jackson’s stay in the United States, he faces discrimination when his employer pays him less than the average wage, isolation based on language fluency when he works in the architecture company, and cultural clashes when he encounters the majority/minority religious shift of Buddhism; While he persists through all of these challenges, he finds life in the U.S. enjoyable and claims the U.S. is a better home.

While home is a place where a person satisfies his/her physiological needs, like the needs for food, water, and rest, Jackson does not view Hong Kong as his home because he cannot gain access to an adequate amount of resources during the second Sino-Japanese War. The most traumatic and appalling abuse Jackson faces during war period is the infringement upon his right to life. According to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which lays out the rights of every child, regardless of his/her race, religion or abilities, “Every child has the inherent right to life” (Article 6.1); besides, it emphasizes that all children have the right to a life more than physical survival, including a chance of development. Yet the second Sino-Japanese War is intruding on a child’s basic rights by reducing his/her amount of food intake and limiting his/her future potential. Food and other daily necessities are considered luxuries during the second Sin-Japanese War, so the Japanese army implements a quota system to limit the resources available in society. Jackson recalls his plight when he is experiencing food shortages:

“[I] have a large family with many siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, so we had a very hard time to find enough food for all people in the family. My mother told me that although we could be given a certain amount of food. They were usually rice and potatoes with little meat. So sometimes we needed to eat fruits and crops that grow in the field.”

This statement describes how Jackson is struggling in a dilemma between safeguarding his safety and upholding his right to life. If he wants to be safe, he needs to hide inside his family’s grocery store in the city center; if he wants to find extra food in the countryside, he needs to risk his life because he may be killed by the Japanese soldiers. During the second Sino-Japanese War, Jackson realizes his right to life is being violated and his physiological needs are not satisfied in Hong Kong due to the Japanese quota system, so he does not view Hong Kong as his home.

Home is a place where a person feels safe and secure; while Jackson experiences physical and psychological maltreatment under the Japanese army when he is living under continuous bombing in Hong Kong, he cannot consider Hong Kong as his home. During wartime, Jackson’s family needs to flee from their home in Central to their grocery store in Wan Chai so as to avoid attack from the Japanese soldiers. Jackson recalls, “No, I did not see the bombs, but the bombing happened near me. So we needed to find places to hide. I really heard bom, bom, bom!” In the daytime, Jackson and his relatives will sit on the staircases of concrete buildings to avoid being bombing targets; at nighttime, he and his grandmother will hug together and seek protection under the hard wooden bed frame to prevent debris from falling on them. One morning after a series of bombings throughout the night, Jackson wakes up and notices a young man who is covered with blood lying next to him. Although Jackson is not seriously hurt or injured physically, witnessing a human being dead next to him as a child will certainly leave a deep mark in his memory. In the article “Children and war: current understandings and future directions,” Dr. Helene Berman, Assistant Professor at the University of Western Ontario, examines the long-term physical and emotional disorders of children after witnessing death or murder incidents. She claims, “a small but growing number of investigators have documented the occurrence of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) in refugee youth…one survey reported that almost 94% of their sample met the criteria for PTSD” (2). She states that children are easily exposed to PTSD because they have limited cognitive comprehension of the world and have fewer mental skills to cope with the trauma; hence, even teenagers should particularly not experience or witness violence, like torture or murder of relatives during wartime. Luckily, Jackson does not seem to suffer from PTSD after witnessing the death of an individual, but the incident definitely depresses him and leaves a profound imprint on him. Despite the fact that he suffers from sad memories of that time, he is able to say, “I was already used to it, and there was no use for us to fear.” Jackson feels hopeless because there is no way for a child to escape from the harsh conditions under the second Sino-Japanese War. Fear does not help solve any problem. So in order to keep alive, there is no time to fear. Jackson spends most of his childhood running for his life during the second Sino-Japanese War, which leaves him with both physical and mental scars, and does not feel secure living under these conditions; therefore, he thinks that Hong Kong, a place without stability, cannot be his home.

After the surrender of Japan in 1945, while the economy of Hong Kong is starting to surge with the influx of Chinese workers, corruption also plays a role in society throughout 1950s, which makes Jackson think that Hong Kong, without chances of prosperity and success, cannot be his home in his lifetime. In the 1950s, Hong Kong undergoes massive changes politically and socially: for instance, the change of the Superior Court judge, the amendment of The Laws of Hong Kong, and the influx of Chinese labor and the increase in Hong Kong population. The new governmental officials not only change their ways of dealing with social issues, but also abuse their power by giving and receiving bribes. It is obvious that the behavior and policy of the government organizations will directly affect the daily lives of citizens. Jackson recalls, “So if they affect our lives, it is dangerous for us to stay in Hong Kong.” He claims that if Hong Kong is ruled by corrupted officials, citizens will live in misery, and he thinks he is correct looking at the news about the polluted environment and the high cost of living in Hong Kong nowadays. He believes that in a corrupted system, he has not only a limited potential, but also a smaller chance in achieving personal success. Under corrupted government officials, Jackson feels hopeless about his future and believes that his hope cannot blossom and fulfill itself in his homeland; hence, he does not deem Hong Kong his home.

After all the sufferings Jackson faces in Hong Kong, China, he decides to migrate to the United States with his brother’s petition in order to strive for a better future in late 1980s. Jackson believes that he can gain equal access to food and safety, foster hopes of prosperity and success, and avoid human rights abuses in the US. After twelve hours of direct flight from Hong Kong, he feels the breeze of San Francisco, which seems to remind him of his arrival to the Land of Hope once he steps out of the airport. While Jackson starts his life and career in the US, he realizes that he is still suffering from human abuses and discrimination when he receives unequal salary from his coworkers, when he speaks Chinese-accented English with simple vocabularies and when he put his belief in a religion minority; yet in a less intense way compare with his experiences in Hong Kong.

Working as an assistant in an architecture company is the first job Jackson lands when he arrives in the U.S.; however, his manager just takes advantage of his strong work ethic and pays him less than other local workers. America, without the full respect of human rights, changes his sense of home. According to the UDHR, “Everyone, without discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work” (Article, 23.2). When Jackson is working as an assistant, he receives pay that is lower than that of other architect assistants in the same company. He recalls, “Others are receiving around $20 per hour, and I am just getting about $10 per hour. But we are all assistants and we all draw drafts.” He thinks that he earns an unreasonable wage from the company because the company discriminates against his identity as an immigrant. Although Jackson realizes that his right to equal pay is being intruded upon, he is desperate to make money in order to maintain his living and does not know any other methods of finding a better job. Hence, he keeps working for the architecture company for ten years until he retires. Obviously, most U.S. citizens will have some degree of discrimination against immigrants in general, so they tend to take advantage of them by paying a salary that is lower than the average wage, which is an intentional violation of their human rights. Although Jackson receives unequal pay, the salary he receives does not have a great impact on his living conditions because he can still afford his basic necessities like food and rent; thus, his situation actually improves a lot compares with his life in Hong Kongm, when he did not have enough food to eat. Yet he probably thinks that the US is not his ideal home without the total respect of basic human rights.

While Jackson is working for the architecture company, he encounters some degree of language barriers and isolation when he tries to communicate with his coworkers; hence, Jackson thinks that without full acceptance and harmonious relationships America is not his perfect home. In Hong Kong, Jackson has a college degree of architecture, but he is just equipped with a junior level of English, so he barely speaks English and understands English grammar; therefore, this language barrier becomes the first obstacle in his new life in the US. At the architecture company, Jackson can understand his colleagues on architecture-related topics in English without difficulties, but whenever his colleagues try to talk about their daily lives or leisure activities, he feels totally lost and cannot comprehend what they are talking about. Jackson remembers, “Sometimes I cannot fully express what I mean, so I dare not to speak up. Then less and less coworkers talk to me, and I am alone all the time”; this statement describes how Jackson is being alienated and feels depressed due to the fact that he does not know much English and speaks English with heavy Chinese accent, so no one can truly understand him and talk to him in the company as he is the only Chinese in his department. Jackson worries that he will be discriminated against not only by his coworkers, but also by other English-speaking people. Jackson is once full of confidence and a sense of achievement upon arriving to the US, but now this is replaced by feeling of anxiety and uncertainty. In the article “Stress-Associated Poor Health Among Adult Immigrants with a Language Barrier in the United States,” which attempts to examine the stress-associated health status of adult immigrants with a language barrier in the USA, Dr. Hongliu Ding, Commissioner’s Fellow at the US Food and Drug Administration’s Center, and Dr. Hargraves Lee, Research Associate Professor in Family Medicine and Community Health at UMass Medical School, claim, “immigrants with a language barrier were of low socioeconomic status and they reported a higher percentage of unhappiness (32.42% vs. 8.84%), depression (19.29% vs. 6.27%), and anxiety (12.29% vs. 4.04%)” (3). Even when immigration is a personal choice, the processes of immigration and assimilation are very stressful, especially at the beginning of people’s lives as immigrants, like facing difficulties in employment, financial problems, cultural conflicts and lifestyles changes. Obviously, Jackson experiences unhappiness, depression, and anxiety in his first few years of immigration, but luckily he overcomes these emotions and does not let them affect his life as he realizes that life must go on. He still needs to learn English despite the fact that he is in his sixties, so he applies for nighttime college courses determinedly. Even though Jackson can only understand a little English and uses short sentences after learning English for several years, he already believes that “English grants opportunities.” With his limited knowledge in English, he travels to the New York on his own, and this eye-opening experience grants Jackson inspirations for his future plans, which lead to personal success in later years. It is clear that Jackson has a greater chance of prosperity and intellectual growth in the US than in Hong Kong because he has more opportunities to broaden his horizons and learn new things. Although Jackson faces discrimination because of his English speaking-style and usage during the first few years in the US, he later gets the chance to improve his English, which enables him to travel and to look at the world from multiple perspectives; however, he thinks that if everyone can respect others by showing love and acceptance in all aspects, America will be a perfect home for him.

To Jackson, a perfect home should have equality between religious groups, no matter whether it is for major or minor religion. While Jackson is living in the US, he faces discrimination based on his religious belief in Buddhism when he tries to assimilate to society in the 1990s. He trusts that America, with its relatively high degree of freedom, should accept all minorities and treat each religious group equally. Jackson recalls, “Although people discriminated against me because of Buddhism, I will keep my faith in Buddha. Although not much people believe in Buddhism in the US, I will keep my faith in Buddha.” Jackson has a strong faith in Buddhism not only because he believes in the words spoken by Buddha, but also due to the fact that he comes from a traditional Chinese family, which has roots their faith in Buddhism. However, it is common that new immigrants will be persuaded to put their faith in Christ, rather than Buddha, in order to become more Americanized. Some Christian Americans will think that Christ is more powerful, so they may say something that insults the believers of Buddha. Jackson remembers, “When I was buying food at the market, people would laugh at me because a smell of incense was coming out from me”; this incident makes him feel depressed as he thinks that he can never fit in. Dr. Fenggang Yang, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Southern Maine and Dr. Helen Rose Ebaugh, Professor of Sociology at the University of Houston, assert the idea that “religion continues to serve both ethnic reproduction and assimilation functions ” in the study entitled “Religion and Ethnicity Among New Immigrants: The Impact of Majority/Minority Sates in Home and Host Countries,” which aims to examine the changes of immigrants’ religious group throughout their adaptation to US society (2). It is evident that regular religious group meetings and strong religious belief can help new immigrants to assimilate successfully and expand their social circles by providing a social space for them to express opinions and meet new people. Buddhism is the religion of the majority of immigrants living in Hong Kong, but when Jackson moves to the US, it becomes a minority status. While shifts in majority/minority status of religious groups make up a part of the migration process, if immigrants can continue seeking strength in their religion, they can have a greater sense of belonging in the new country. Fortunately, Jackson can overcome the negative feelings of being discriminated against based on his religion and find his own way to assimilate into society, yet he thinks that if everyone can treat each religion equally, he will have a greater sense of belonging in America.

Jackson faces numerous difficulties and abuses to his human rights in Hong Kong, which include physical and psychological maltreatment during the second Sino-Japanese War and serious corruption that begins in the 1980s. Even though Jackson migrates to the US in his sixties in hopes of a better future, he still thinks that America is only a home with improved situations for his physical and psychological needs; the US is not an ideal home. After Jackson moves to the United States, he continues to suffer from discrimination at his workplace due to his language fluency and in society because of his religious belief. While Hong Kong can be considered Jackson’s natural home because he spends his childhood there, the traumatic incidents he experiences definitely leave profound impacts on him physically and psychologically, which do not let him consider Hong Kong as his home. An ideal home is where human rights are respected: sustenance is guaranteed, safety is safeguard, and intellectual growth is promoted. Actually, due to recent rapid development and globalization in the US, the misery of human rights abuses and discrimination based on identity and cultural background have been significantly reduced as people are educated to respect others’ rights. Jackson reflects, “I believe the decision I made back in 1980s was correct and I do not regret even after forty years.” Although he faces obstacles in the first few years of migration, he can see that America has been a great step forward in providing resources to new immigrants and transforming the US as their new ideal homes. So he does not regret his decision of migrating to the US, and he hopes one day the US can become his ideal home.

Works Cited

Berman, H. “Children And War: Current Understandings And Future Directions.” Public Health Nursing 18.4 (2001): 243-252. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

Clark, Ximena, Timothy J. Hatton, and Jeffrey G. Williamson. Where do US immigrants come from, and why?. No. w8998. National bureau of economic research, 2002.

Ding, Hongliu, and Lee Hargraves. “Stress-associated poor health among adult immigrants with a language barrier in the United States.” Journal of immigrant and minority health 11.6 (2009): 446-452.

Ebaugh, Helen Rose. “Religion and the new immigrants.” Handbook of the Sociology of Religion (2003): 225-39.

The United Nations. “Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Treaty Series 1577 (1989): 3. Print.UN General Assembly. “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations, 217 (III) A, 1948, Paris, art.

 

Sample Transcript

Pui Man Stephanie Ho: Where did you born?

Jackson Ho: Umm, I was born in Xinhui, which is a city district in the City of Jiangmen in the province of Guangdong in China. But actually I considered myself born in Hong Kong; however, I did not have a Hong Kong birth certificate, so I cannot claim that.

SH: So you do not have Hong Kong birth certificate, but you have China birth certificate?

JH: Yes. In the past, most of my family members moved to Hong Kong during the Japan-China War, but my mother and I stayed in Xinhui because she needed to take seniors at her home. My grandparents, father has moved to Hong Kong earlier. When I have the chance to go to Hong Kong, I was about two-year-old and being carried by my mother, arriving Hong Kong by ferry through Macau. This incident was so memorable because during the trip to Hong Kong, my mother told me to be silenced because we are afraid of the Indians who wore head accessories, called “mo luo cha” in Cantonese.

SH: So, it is your own decision to come to the US, but why do you want to come to the US?

JH: Umm, during that time, in the 1980s and I was born in 1933, I realized that Hong Kong needs to return to China in 1997. I grew up in a Hong-Kong-rooted family. At that time, my brother was preparing to immigrant to the US, so he was qualified to bring his siblings to the US. It is not a must for me to immigrant to the US, but based on my sophisticated friends’ and my judgments. I can foresee that the development of HK society will be affected by China because things have changed completely even after Japan’s surrender. From my memory, I can remember many things, even the establishment of The People of Republic in 1949. So with the chance of immigrating to the US, I definitely try to apply. So I already made up my mind to immigrant in 1980s. To exaggerate, I believed the decision I made back in 1980s was correct and not regret even after forty years. The things happened in the 21st century, were actually in my expectations. My family, which had three generations, already starts their lives in the US.

SH: So you start your life in the US in 1980s?

JH: No, I decided to come in 1980s, but arrive in the US in 1991.

SH: So when you arrived in the US, you were approximately sixty years old?

JH: That time, I was around fifty years old

SH: Did you bring any family members with you?

JH: Yes, I brought my daughter, Jessica, with me. Due to the fact that she was seventeen which was under eighteen or twenty-one, she can follow her parents to the US according to the immigration law. However, my other sons, Keith and Frank, cannot immigrate with me in 1990s. But I still apply for their immigration status after I have arrived in the US and have the qualifications to be the applicants. I hope that they can have a chance to come to the US immediately or anytime in their lives. So today, my dreams have come true.

SH: When you decided to come to the US, what would you expect from here?

JH: Personally…umm… You know the seniors in my family had moved to Hong Kong even before the Sino-Japanese War, but that time, Hong Kong did not have much development. I applied to the Hong Kong Technical College after I finished middle school and major in interior design and architecture. With this profession, I knew more people than are more sophisticated and educated than me. And they predicted, if I immigrate to the US, I will have a comfortable life than in HK. Throughout the past 10 years, I have participated in 9 out of 10 famous architecture projects as an architecture assistant. But you ask me why I come to the US and have what kind of plan in my mind, I can answer you. I have no plan in my mind when I come. I think the Chinese living in HK are comparable to the Chinese living in elsewhere, because in HK, we are already exposed to international culture, values and living styles. So when I arrived, I just have one relative in San Francisco. Besides, my relatives in HK has introduced me to a female Chinese designer, who is around 30 year-old and later introduced me to a Chinese architecture company with around twenty employees. And that’s suits me. But the architecture’s style is still different from HK, so I need to join some government subsided vocational courses in order to learn American’s style and the techniques of using computers. Later, some architecture companies seek new employees in our college, and then the principle has introduced some students for the positions, including me. I got the job in EQE which is in charge of preventing earthquake in architecture. Its head quarter is located at the downtown of San Francisco. I worked in EQE for 10 years. However, others are receiving around $20 per hour, and I am just getting about $10 per hour. I drew diagrams by hand and computers. As the job is easier than HK, I do not feel unsure or lost. I also do not think life styles or living in the US is an obstacle because as a HK people, we already exposed to similar situation in HK.

SH: So you did not feel scared or not comfortable?

JH: So I think I am a lucky person. No matter relatives in HK or the US, we both live comfortable lives. (12:33)

JH: I do not think there is a difference between what I expected before coming to the US and after I have arrived here. Everything is smooth. (13:15)

JH: I did not intentionally learn English after I arrived in the US because I already use English as medium when I was working in HK. I know almost all English technical terms about architecture, so it does not contribute to a barrier when I work. Besides, I can listen and speak simple English which is not a major obstacle in my daily life. Yet, sometimes I cannot fully express what I mean, so I dare not to speak up. Then less and less coworkers talk to me and I am alone all the time. But later after I learnt English, I can communicate with Westerners freely, although sometimes I still cannot fully express what I mean. I think westerners here are very friendly, so I am not afraid when I make mistakes in English. English is not a barrier to me. English grants opportunities. With understanding of English, I can travel to New York two times. I admit that my English grammar is poor, but with English vocabularies, I can live in the US without big problems. However, English only applies to my normal social circle, once I stepped outside my comfort zone, I cannot fit in and do not understand what other people are talking about.

(20:46)

SH: Do you think there is a difference between the life style in HK and the US, like eating habit?

JH: Yes. When I just arrived in the US, I am not very used to eating American food every meal. So I mainly just eat Chinese food. Actually in Hong Kong, I was exposed to different many kinds of cuisines, so I have a basic understanding about Western food. In the US, I also have simple American style lunch, like pasta, bagel, bacon, clam chowder and etc. But mostly I would prefer dinner in Chinese style because as a Chinese, I think it is important for us to have rice in our meals.

SH: Have you been influenced by the American culture?

JH: Yes. For example, I have been introduced to pot luck party, western style wedding, and buffet. However I do not understand American opera and drama due to my limitation in English. I can only understand American movies with Chinese subtitles.

(28:44)

(28:56)SH: Did you notice the cultural difference in the US? Like American usually eat slowly? Certain waiters/waitresses are responsible for certain tables? Tips are encouraged after dinning?

JH: I have answered this question before. I think as an immigrant from Hong Kong, I already exposed to western culture. Besides, I know that we need to adjust ourselves in order to fit into the new environment, we need to follow the US customs. For example, if you see a salesperson is talking to anther customers in grocery stores, you will wait in line due to politeness. For example, you will automatically give tips after meals because it is a custom in the US. In Hong Kong, we are used to give service fee at around 10%, but in the US, we need to pay about 10-20%.

(32:02)

SH: How about any differences in religion?

JH: There is of course a difference. At first when I came, people here put their faith in Christ rather than Buddha. This makes me sad because some people even look down on me. Although people discriminated against me because of Buddhism, I will keep my faith in Buddha. Although not much people believe in Buddhism in the US, I will keep my faith in Buddha. Of course in theses few years, the situation improved. But there is one incident I encountered in early years that I can still remember. When I was buying food at the market, people would laugh at me because a smell of incense was coming out from me.

 

(36:00)JH: I can tell how Hong Kong changes from good to bad because I experienced the transformation myself. I have participated in the project of demolishing the old HSBC building and constructing the new building. I am responsible for drawing part of the design. Um…um…The project was in-charged by a British architect. So the design was finished and edited in Britain, then passed to Hong Kong and implemented here. In Hong Kong, our company needed to revise a bit so as to fit the rules here. I took part in projects like the University of Science and Technology, horse racing valley in Shatin, Kowloon Park, and Ocean Park. So you know…uh… Hong Kong has so many main buildings that I have participated in. But suddenly 1997 reached, and many foreigners came to Hong Kong and disturbed our pattern of life. Also, the political structure, in my opinion, would change in the near future. Now, it proved that I have a correct prediction. Talking about the feelings when I returned back to Hong Kong nowadays. I realized that the buildings I took part in were still here, but the buildings that were built later were scattered all around the place without organization. The entrepreneurs know the law well, so they tried to construct buildings as much as they could without considering places for rest area and playground. So the difference is that there are no green leisure areas in Hong Kong anymore. Besides, the country side of Hong Kong is also being commercialized in order to cater the needs of citizens. At that time, I predict that Chinese would just walk from Luowu and Shenzhen to Hong Kong on foot. They have the right to cross the broader, so we could not stop them. But we need to consider the consequences ourselves.

(39:21)JH: The judge has changed, so their ways in dealing with the environment have changed also. I have seen that many people would abuse their power by giving and receiving bribe which contribute to corruption. The behavior and policy of the powerful people would directly affect the daily lives of citizens. So if they affect our lives, is it dangerous for us to stay in Hong Kong. The air maybe polluted, the environment maybe damaged, and the pregnant women needed to be careful when they go out and buy formula milk. But we do not need to face these situations in the past. Maybe we need to compete for water next week despite the fact that the water is polluted. In the near future, the price may increase due to monopoly. So educated people could think of the consequences in the future. So you have a feeling…wow…when you go back to Hong Kong, some people would carry a lot of luggage. They come and visit Hong Kong, so it is no right or wrong for the behavior of shopping. Sometimes they would hurt you with their luggage in crowded environment, but they would not say sorry, instead you need to say sorry to them. I know I am old, so my memory is limited. Although the one who is at the same age as me and also a Hong Konger, not many people can remember as much as I do.

(42:17)JH: In 1947 during the peaceful time after the Sino-Japanese War, you guess how many people are living in Hong Kong. I think at most around a few hundred thousand. Now with population increase to over 1,000,000people, the proportion of survivors of the war is very little. At that time, I was only eight or ten years old. Can you imagine how many people can speak freely and record interviews just like me.

(50:47)JH: Now let’s talk about the Second Sino-Japanese war. At that time, I have a big family with all my uncles and aunties. But my relatives were very smart because they separated our family into small groups then arranged places for us to hide from the Japanese. My grandmother cares me very much, so she hugged me and we both hide under the bed inside our store. Because that time, the bed frame is made from wood, so it is very hard. At the same time, my aunt accompanied me and my cousins and walked them to Lockhart Road in Central because there is no public transport during war time. They went to the concrete buildings and sat on the stairways in order to avoid bomb.

SH: So you see the bomb in person?

JH: No, I did not see the bomb, but the bombing happened near me. So we need to find places to hide. I really heard “bom, bom, bom”. Umm..umm.. ok…My grandmother hugged me and hide under the bed frame as usual. The Japanese soldiers will throw bombs from Kowloon side to Hong Kong side at night. “Weeeeeeee, bom”! But I am already used to it, and there is no use for us to fear. Then the next morning when we woke up, “wow”, we can see a young man. That time, the internal structure of our store is very simple as it was made of wood for most of the parts. The young man died and lay next to us, very near to my shoulder. He is dead and covered with blood. Then the British soldiers came to pick the bodies up at around 11am. OK. Talking about the general days during the war. My aunt brought us to Admiralty during the day and let us sit on the stairways in front of the concrete buildings. My aunt said did not sit on the first two or three steps because the Japanese soldiers could see us up in the sky, and do not sit on the last two or three steps because we would be trapped inside the house if it was bombed. Talking about my mother. The corner on Cochrane Street was surrounded by bricks walls so as to prevent bombing from the Japanese. Umm…one day, my mother walked passed that corner, and heard “bom” from bombing. Luckily she passed it quickly, so she was not hurt by the bomb. But the lady behind her was hurt because of the bomb. Also tell you this thing. My mother needs to go out to buy rice and necessities during war period with quotas. When she came back home, she told us that in Kennedy Town pier a Japanese soldier killed an old man ,who jumped the line for rice, with a gun and pushed the dead body into the sea. So when you are talking about the war. At time, my grandfather was buried in Waterfall Bay, South of Hong Kong Island. Many other people who passed away also buried in that cemetery, so many relatives would come and give a salute. For Chinese customs, we need to burn incents and money for dead people. However, if any Japanese soldiers saw any one who practices the traditional way, they would beat them up until half dead. So Japanese are very bad and I do not like them. Ai…ai… I am really mad at them. I just stood in front of my grandfather’s grave, and the Japanese soldier in suit would spy on you and keep an eye on you. He did not have any facial expressions. I was so sacred. But during Japanese invasion, he has the right to treat you in any way. So I am so lucky that I did not die. Talking about how lucky I am to be alive. (57:42) You know that the Central Police station is in Central and on the corner right opposite to it is a secondary school. I was studying in the primary school organized by the same organization. During summer holiday, no one wish to walk passes the Central Police Station because two Japanese soldiers will guard the door. So people tend to walk another way to reach their destination. If you walk pass them, you need to bow in order to show your respect. If you do not bow, they have the right to beat you up. During summer time with the invasion of Japan, my classroom which I used to learn in was bombed by the Japanese. You know bombs do not have eyes, so they will not care where they bomb. Luckily, I was not at school that time, so I can be safe. After I heard that my school was destroyed by a bomb, I quickly went back and take a look. But all I saw was just debris.

Referring back to the war. When the bombing stopped, my aunt needed to go back to Central. You know that there are railroads in Central. It was normal when I walked from Central to Wanchai before the bombing, but all I could saw were dead bodies lying on the railroad when I walked from Wanchai back to Central after bombing. The dead bodies were just covered by white cloth, and when I needed to walk across the street, I need to walk like I was dancing because the bodies are lying around irregularly. If you do not walk like you were dancing, you would be tripped by the bodies of citizens or soldiers. Some were dead, but some were just badly injured.

SH: So did you saw any people dead in front of you in person?

JH: It was so lucky for me because I have never seen any people died in front of me. But the experiences developed have contributed to a new self, including new personalities and new perspectives to the world.

SH: Is there anything you typically remember from the war?

JH: Ah…I think hunger. I have a large family with many siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, so we had very hard time to find enough food for all people in the family. My mother told me that although we can be given a certain amount of food, they are usually rice and potatoes with little meat. So sometimes we need to eat fruits and crops that grow in the field. I do not like the feelings of hunger, but I do not have a choice.

SH: You experienced three years and eight months of the Japanese war?

JH: Such a good question you have asked. I just experienced two years and eight months of the second Sino-Japanese War. In the last year of the second Sino-Japanese war, my mother noticed that the prices of daily necessities, like rice, are rocketing. For example, rice cost $10 per 10 pound, but during that time the price increases every day. So my mother brought me and her two other children with her and travelled to her hometown in China. Her hometown was just a small village with farmlands. Then we came back to Hong Kong one year after the Japanese government surrender, which is 1946. You know that my mother needed to support the expenses of our family back in her hometown, so she needed to go to work from morning until midnight. So from that time onwards, I was responsible for preparing the dinner for my family, which includes my sister of age 2. Every night after dinner, we would wait for our mother in front of the bus stop with tears on our face. But it is useless for us to cry, so I became more independent and brave.

SH: So you do not fear about the future in the US because your experiences during war time have trained you in a certain way?

JH: Yes. Now I can even drive to Canada myself. But I admit that as I grew older, I have some health issue, like eye problem and sensitive skin. But these are common health problems faced by most senior. I say that as Hong Kong people, we have different degree of adaptation due to our living environment and standard.

 

 

 

War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

Vietnam photos by David Staniszewski, 213th Assault Support Helicopter Company

   War Is Fragmentation, Art Is Construction

By Tim Matakovich, June 2016

Some people say that the 20th century was the deadliest time in the history of humanity; indeed, this is arguable. What is not arguable is the amount of death during the American intervention in Vietnam. From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, Vietnam was in a civil war between pro-communists in the north and nationalists in the south. Civil wars occur when a country faces an identity crisis. The Hua family, from Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, was brought into the chaotic environment of the war. Sang Hua, the youngest son, was enlisted and sent off to fight alongside the other South Vietnamese. The North Vietnamese captured Sang after which he endured forced exile and horror for seven years. Some of the Huas moved to Germany in fear of the war, with attempts to save themselves from the bloodshed.  After the war, the remaining Hua’s would move to the country of their invaders: the United States. The American involvement in Vietnam, though attempting to aid the south, made things worse for people in South Vietnam, and Sang Hua would have to learn to accept this as he moved his family to America. Because of the war, the Huas wanted to find refuge and redefine their family as Americans. Ai Le, Sang’s daughter, would be forced to construct a new American identity, and would do this by embracing her culture and past. Even though the core of the Hua family was destroyed, and the family was coercively fragmented, as Vietnam broke into multiple identities, the Huas became whole again. Fragmentation can lead to the destruction of any household’s identity, and the Hua family understands this aspect of war; however, not all families are capable of rebuilding their relations and identity. The Hua family was coercively fragmented during the war, and Sang remembers his family’s traditions and art to maintain his old identity, and create a new one; Ai Le, Sang’s daughter, would also embrace her family’s past traditions and art while attempting to establish her new American identity in the United States.

While Vietnam underwent its first civil war, when the internationally recognized name of the country changed from French-Indochina to North and South Vietnam, the Hua family’s identity would be assaulted by the policies aimed at marginalizing Buddhist Vietnamese; however, Sang would use tradition to rebuild his identity. The Hua family is from the Bien Hoa region of Vietnam, the South Central area on the Vietnamese peninsula. They have a Taiwanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese background. Sang Hua’s struggle for his identity would come at a very young age because the national policies would fragment his family. He would grow up in an increasingly violent society, and would bear witness to horrid atrocities. After the French had left the country, Prime Minister Diem would kill an estimated 12,000 people for having pro-communist tendencies; these incidents would ultimately lead to civil unrest. Civil unrest, then, is caused by families questioning the identity of the nation, of its policies, and of its leaders.  Prime Minister Diem would start instituting pro-Catholic doctrines to appease the West, which would eventually cause even more loss of support by the majority Buddhist Vietnamese because it marginalized them. The Huas, being Buddhist themselves, would naturally feel isolated by the regime. While reminiscing on her family’s traditional background and practice, Ai Le says, “Not extreme but not a little: we’re vegetarian on Buddha’s birthday but not in our entire life. Or when someone in the family dies we have to be vegetarian for three months.” By stating this fact, she emphasizes that Buddhism, for the Huas, is mainly about tradition, not a conservative religious following. So, seemingly for the Hua’s, Diem’s measures were aimed at their identity as people. Israeli scholar of Jewish and trauma of Jewish World War 2 victims Gustav Dreifuss conducted an analytical study named “The Analyst and the Damaged Victim of Nazi Persecution.” He recalls a story of persecution under the Nazi regime. The story is about a boy named Tadek, and how he had to pretend to be Catholic to escape Nazi persecution. Dreifuss states, “The time in the monastery was catastrophic for the patient [Tadek] as he needed to keep his Jewishness a secret, and participation in the monasteries’ activities seemed to him to be a constant lie” (166). What was occurring to Tadek, as Driefus analyzes, is that he had ultimately begun to live a lie because he feared embracing his identity. During times of cultural and religious persecution, this alienation happens to people. Tadek’s story is similar to the Huas’ during the Diem regime, because national policies marginalized both due to religion. Sang would attempt to create his family’s identity by marrying his wife, Chi. Sang and Chi would then begin to find themselves, and try to construct a new identity in a desolated world. By engineering a new family, Sang Hua was able to find happiness in a time of death and destruction. Culturally, for the Vietnamese, marriage is a sacred tradition that dates back thousands of years, so Sang and Chi’s marriage allowed them to reconnect to the traditions that the violent world was destroying.

The evolving level of confusion with Vietnam’s sovereign identity would eventually erupt into a second civil war, which would be a destructive blow to the Hua family by forcing them into exile, by making some of the family move the Europe. During the Cold War, Vietnam would have factions armed and funded by both US and Soviet interests. These two factions would be the Northern communist, armed by Russia, and the Southern nationalists, armed by the United States. The multiple foreign interests caused the destruction of the country and the Vietnamese people. What made the national identity of Vietnam, even more, lost was the history of the country. Before World War 2: Vietnam was conquered by the French, then occupied by Japan, then re-colonized by the French, and then told it was its people’s country and parceled on the 16th parallel. For the Vietnamese, this brings in an identity crisis due to all of this flipping of political power within a fifteen-year time. Proxy conflicts would erupt as a response to this destruction of the Vietnamese identity, which eventually escalated to American military involvement. However, most Vietnamese did not even know why the Americans were there, which added to the confusion because some saw the Americans as invaders. This perceived invasion by America would have adverse effects on the Vietnamese psyche and ultimately lead to one of the deadliest wars in the 20th century. The Hua family was sucked into this conflict by living in Bien Hoa, near one of the largest air bases for the American military in the conflict.  Some Vietnamese saw this intervention as an occupation of their homeland, so the northern war effort became more extreme. In an engagement and analysis of American intervention by North Vietnamese political and war analysts, conducted by Le Duan, he states, “We know the U.S sabotaged the Geneva Agreement and encroached on South Vietnam in order to achieve three objectives….At present we fight the US in order to defeat…them from turning the south into a new-type colony” (Porter 1). This quote shows the North viewed the United States as invaders, and saw the Vietnam War not as a civil war, but an invasion; subsequently, the North saw the Southerners as traitors. The two factions symbolize the complete destruction of the national identity of the country. Seemingly, it suggests that the Northern Vietnamese viewed people, like the Huas, as traitors and US-bribed puppets because they were living in the southern region of Vietnam. For the Huas, they would feel isolated in their own country because foreigners were leading them, and their fellow citizens hated them, which aided in the destruction of their core identity as Vietnamese. This destruction of their core identity as Vietnamese would ultimately be the reason why most of the family would move to Germany, in an attempt to escape the war. As Ai Le says, when referring to her grandmother’s refuge in Germany, “They were able to escape the war.” In a sense, most of the Huas were not only surviving the brutality of the conflict, but also avoiding the destruction of their homeland. The fleeing from laying witness to their desolated country symbolizes that they were escaping everything they knew of as Vietnamese, and were willing to embrace change and foreign culture to not only save their lives but to run from the destruction of their identity. Some of the family stayed during this time, Sang being one of them, but the fact that others had to flee means that the entire family was ruined, their homeland was destroyed, and their core identity was fragmented into multiple pieces.

While Sang questioned the country’s identity–traditional background and culture–it would act as a coercive force fragmenting his identity into multiple pieces; however, he would use art to rebuild it. Sang would be forced to go to war and he would be captured and sent to a P.O.W camp for seven years, completely isolated from the family of his past, and the new one he had created. During this time, Sang would grasp on to his creativity by painting pictures of Chi. Ai Le, Sang’s future daughter, says, “While he [Sang] was in jail [POW Camp] he painted pictures of my mom [Chi].” She further states, “It [painting his wife] was a way for him to escape reality.” Initially, Sang used art as a way to remember his wife, and it suggests that he is himself remembering being whole by envisioning the person that brought him happiness. By using art to paint portraits of his wife, from memory, Sang traveled down a pathway of acceptance, a pathway of unity and tranquility. In a study on trauma conducted by Birgitt Gurr, a cognitive psychologist, titled “Rebuilding Identity After Brain Injury: Standard cognitive and music-evoked autobiographical training,” she found that music and memory can help patients rebuild memories after receiving brain injury. This rebuilding of memories came from playing music from the patient’s childhood and would then stimulate happiness and evoke higher levels of recovery from trauma. She states, “The patient in this report recovered benefited greatly from the combined intervention in terms of orientation within his past therapy environment, recall of his past life, subsequent construction of identity and emotional well-being” (295). Although this study was conducted on people who suffered physical injuries to the brain, similar effects can be concluded for those who suffer from torture and emotional harm. The interesting connection between the Gurr study and Sang is that both cases used a memory of times when they felt whole, from an earlier part of life, with an attempt to construct identity in a therapeutic manner. Sang would escape captivity through his painting; in captivity, Sang felt isolated, exiled, and fragmented. He reverted to his creative side to attempt to remember who he was and to embrace the times when he felt whole.

War has a way of destroying a family’s perception of themselves and each member’s individual role in the family; Sang lost his role in the family and attempted to feel reconnected to his family by painting his wife, Chi. Violently robbing family members, having them go off to fight and die for a vague notion of political power, stems from the confusion of the country’s identity and can only be reaffirmed with the confusion of each family’s identity. When Sang Hua went to fight the North Vietnamese, he was attempting to establish a national identity, yet tragically war erased his identity. Doctor and professor of psychiatry Patricia Lester explored this topic in her article titled “How Wartime Military Service Affects Children and Their Families.” Here, Lester is attempting to correlate the effects of war on the troops’ families, and how it can lead to psychological problems. Surprisingly, Lester found that the long-term absence of the family member at war is not always the most challenging aspect, it is the return of the veteran. As Lester says, “having come home from war, [one] must be reintegrated into families whose internal rhythms have changed and where children have taken on new roles” (1). Lester suggests that war causes the psychological response of the family to become worse because of the fragmentation of the household. Initially, as a soldier goes to fight in a war, the family reasserts new roles and new responsibilities; the family must find new ways of functioning without the soldier. This re-alignment is a response to wartime fragmentation of the family’s identity. Also, it suggests that the soldier is re-establishing his identity because the soldier no longer has that family influence with him. Sang experienced exile when he was in the military and captured by the North Vietnamese. Sang would use art as a tool to reconstruct his broken identity, to achieve happiness. As his daughter Ai Le recalls the story, she says, “It was a way for him to escape reality.” She is saying that while he was imprisoned he painted, and that the painting helped him forget about the hardships he was enduring. More importantly, he was painting pictures of his wife, as he wanted to see beauty in a time of chaos. The fact that he was painting his wife, though, shows that Sang felt like his concept of identity was lost, his core family was destroyed, and he needed it back to make him whole again. By painting his wife, Sang was able to briefly see the beauty of his reconnected identity; for that brief time in his captivity, he found unity in a world of destruction.

Exile is a term used to define the forced exclusion of one from a country or region; the Huas were exiled by the new state of Vietnam and forced to construct a new identity by adopting various aspects of American culture. Identity is full of a variety of micro-categories such as culture, family, and others. However, there exists a notion of a nation’s core identity, its core culture; if core culture does not reflect its people, they will use art to construct alternative customs to those of the national identity. As Edward Said, Oxford professor and author of Orientalism, says:

“The official culture is that of priests, academics, and the state. It provides definitions of patriotism, loyalty, boundaries and what I’ve called belonging. It is this official culture that speaks in the name of the whole… there are dissenting or alternative, unorthodox, heterodox, strands that contain many antiauthoritarian themes in them that compete with the official culture” (578).

Seemingly, Said is saying that exile causes people to identify with alternative cultures and construct new cultures as a way to express themselves. In a sense, when one feels forced to follow a national culture or a national identity that he or she doesn’t particularly like; his or her feelings of exile surface by adapting new cultures and constructing new identities. When Sang and Chi felt this way, felt exiled, they knew that they needed to find a new place create a new life for Ai Le. After the fall of Saigon, the new Vietnamese government had gone through draconian measures that marginalized the Huas. The Huas, who had been through so much brutality, knew they could not allow Ai Le to grow up in this environment. They felt discriminated against for their position in the war, and that position was because of the region they are from. Sang thought it was better to move to America to build a new family identity and to pursue happiness. As Ai Le recalls her family’s feelings of discrimination she states, “I guess it was discrimination because my parents were doing well and they made my parents sell all the land for cheap.” The Vietnamese regime targeted the Huas’ property due to their participation in the war. This discrimination would ultimately force the family to question the “official culture” of the newly established Vietnamese state. This questioning of the government’s new culture made Sang move to the country of his invaders, which forced him to learn American culture to build a new identity for Ai Le.

The Huas looked for a healthy community that they could relate to while moving into the United States’ Vietnamese community; therefore, they moved to San Jose and this decision would help Ai Le begin to construct an American identity because she was able to maintain her Vietnamese culture. As Ai Le says, “The easy thing about it was that there was a lot of Vietnamese people in San Jose. So it would probably be more difficult to move to South Carolina or Tennessee, you know?” The ability of the family to identify with community and culture helped them in their construction what is a community when one has been fragmented. Community, in this sense, is a term meaning common language, expression, and food. By embracing old phonic expressions, language affects one’s concept of community through similar vocabulary and linguistic thinking. In a study called “Does Language Effect Personality Perceptions? A Fundamental Approach to Testing the Whorfian Hypothesis,” conducted by Sylvia Chen, a professor of applied social sciences, she shows that language affects the way each person thinks. As Chen states, “In other words, language influences thought and behavior by evoking a culturally congruent cognitive mindset (e.g., individualism vs. collectivism)” (2).  This study suggests that having a similar language group affects the way people see themselves and see the world, which is the basis of a communities’ identity. By being able to identify with a common language, the Huas were able to find a similarity with the Vietnamese Americans. The fact that they were able to find this similarity expedited the process of construction because it reminded them of their homeland. For the Huas, South Vietnam will always be their home, yet, as the national identity of Vietnam transformed, their new community in San Jose would help them embrace the changes that they sought by allowing them to maintain their Vietnamese identity.

The Huas relied on vigorous education while they labored to build their identity because the family knew that education could solidify Ai Le as a well-defined member in the new society; however, Ai Le felt like she was being forced into the new American culture and she resorted to art, like her father, to maintain her identity. As Ai Le recalls the emphasis her parents placed on education, she says, “Education gives people the chance and opportunities to become more productive members of society; they can advance in their goals and achieve their dreams.” Considering the focus of the Hua family was to establish their new identity, education would come as a necessity for this. Ai Le, while growing up, would be forced to attend school as much as possible to enable the possibility of achieving this dream. However, Ai Le felt like she was being forced into this system that did not reflect her background; she wanted to embrace her past and experience her Vietnamese side. She states, “Because I always had to study when I didn’t want to. I wanted to go out and have fun. My parents would always put me in summer school so I could learn more.” It did not reflect her aspirations because she wanted to learn her family’s traditions, not the American traditions. However, she continued to excel in the creative traditions of her family, and remembering this she says, “I was the creative one in my whole class. Everyone just knew me as someone who could draw, creative like making stuff. I guess I wasn’t one of the outsider kids.” Ai Le initially utilizes art as a way to maintain her Vietnamese identity. She asserts that she uses art as a way to identify beauty and pursue happiness, and to seek happiness one must be able to have a high concept of herself. This family tradition of art is shown while evaluating what art has meant for her and her father. Ai Le says, “It was his form of happiness, and he wants that for me as well.” She is suggesting that her father used art to find happiness, and when he found out that Ai Le possessed the same interests, he encouraged her to be artistic as well. In a world of turmoil and animosity, one must understand that happiness for everyone is different. The trend that becomes clear is that happiness is found when people find a definition or a reason for themselves to be who they are, to be happy with themselves: to have a whole identity. “My dad emphasized it [art] growing up, and all of my siblings are artistic, it shows people are smart and well rounded…for me, it is a way to communicate your feelings without judgment.” By allowing art to be her form of happiness, Ai Le finds joy as she identifies herself through drawing without outside judgment. In a study to see how art affects one’s self-esteem, author and expert on mental health Theo Stickley found some results that show how art helps patients with mental disabilities; his article “Artistic Activities’ Can Improve Patients’ Self-Esteem” emphasizes this. According to the research’s findings:

“Many of the participants said that they could relax as they were drawing and painting. Others said that using Guidelines to Art gave them self-confidence and a sense of achievement that related to their abilities rather than disabilities or illnesses” (2).

Stickley shows that art can help people who are struggling with issues resulting from negative self-esteem, and also apply to some who are struggling with issues of self-identity. Meaning, as one is lost for a core identity, their self-esteem is attacked by making it much harder to find acceptance, and this is true with Ai Le when she feels forced to accept the American identity. Initially, art helps Ai Le find herself in times that she feels exiled, just as it helped her father while he was fragmented and exiled during the war.

Art can help in times of disaster and destruction by relieving oneself from traumatic situations; for the Huas, for whom art is beauty and tradition, art would be a way for them to express themselves and make it easier to find who they are. Ai Le was unable to figure out who she was as a person, and says, “Asian American, never really American and never really Vietnamese.”  She did not know what culture to identify with, which traditions to adopt or how to maintain her family’s identity while she grew up. Sang, however, would show her that by using art she could retain some of her family’s culture. While reminiscing on the family’s foundation with art, Ai Le says:

“Because life would be boring without color, and music. My dad was a musician too; he would always put me through school for viola, piano, singing lessons. He even tried to teach me how to play guitar. I guess he thinks it will bring more happiness to the family. It makes the household livelier.”

She is suggesting that for the family to feel complete in the United States, they feel it necessary to revert to the old traditions that they emplaced in Vietnam. This tradition, for the Huas, is a way to feel whole again. She was raised to understand this ritual because her father found it as his only happiness in horrendous circumstances. Caelan Kuban, a doctor of psychiatry at UC Irvine and the author of multiple articles referring to trauma, suggests that art helps children of trauma express themselves which is therapeutic in nature. In her journal article titled “Healing Trauma Through Art,” Kuban says, “Art also provides youth with a medium to express and explore images of self that are strength-based and resilience-focused” (3). Initially, Kuban is suggesting that art acts as a tool for children who have experienced negativity by helping identify who they are as a medium of self-expression and exploration. Art acts as a healing process for people who have undergone hardship, such as war and forced relocation. Ai Le, who was forced out of Vietnam, was searching for herself in the United States; through the tradition of art, she was able to find herself. Sang was looking for his own identity during his captivity and used art to reconstruct it. Sang encouraged Ai Le to utilize art as a way to help her transition into the newly found American culture. Thus, Sang and Ai Le both use art as a family ritual to maintain part of their Vietnamese tradition, to remind them of where they are from, while they focus on establishing a new identity.

Ai Le was torn between two cultures and had to come up with ways to integrate both of her sides to define herself as whole, this shows that Ai Le was able to incorporate different aspects of herself as a way to establish herself. Ai Le states, “I speak Vietnamese at home but I speak English everywhere else. Not only Vietnamese, I integrated Vietnamese and English with my parents. The only thing that reminds me that I am Vietnamese is because my family held on to part of the culture.” Her family’s holding on to her Vietnamese side is a way of saying that they are maintaining their culture to express themselves, the tradition of her family. Similarly, Vietnamese author Andrew Lam was also exiled from Vietnam and had difficulty finding balance within a fragmented sense of identity. Lam would create multiple identities to try to find balance in the conflicting cultures. As Lam says:

“Speaking English, I had a markedly different personality than when speaking Vietnamese. In English, I was a sunny, upbeat, silly, and sometimes wickedly sharp-tongued kid… A wild river full of possibilities flowed effortlessly from my tongue, connecting me to the New World…enamored by the discovery of a newly invented self” (7).

Lam is suggesting that by integrating a new language, he created a new sense of himself. Initially, he created multiple identities, unlike Ai Le, to juggle the conflicting layers and cultures in his life. He does not feel like an American: he was born Vietnamese, but has lived in America for most of his life. Lam continues to question his identity, even after creating a new self. These feelings of being lost and fragmented run through the core of Ai Le as well; however, she uses her creativity to find ways to incorporate both aspects of her identity together. Ai Le was finding unity by embracing both identities, and Lam was finding confusion while attempting to embrace either part of his identity.

The violence caused the Hua family to fragment into multiple identities and forced Sang to question who he was as a person, but by maintaining his traditions and painting he was able to find himself; Ai Le would also use tradition and art to create her identity in the time of exile. Using culture and creative arts was a way for the Huas not only to hold on to their old identity, but also to help create a new one. One might argue that family traditions do not create anything new, that it is only a way to remember the past. This argument is futile because it does not take into account the fact that people must remember where they come from to understand who they are. The beauty of culture, art, and tradition is that it allows people to express themselves in their way and learn new ways. It can draw an emotional connection across the globe, and bring a new way for people to establish themselves, and their families. War, on the other hand, comes from people questioning their identity or others’ identities, which leads to murder, destruction, and fragmentation. Luckily, as with the Huas, some families can escape and build new traditions. Others are not so lucky, as millions have died in the name of political and national confusion. Identity plays an important role in violence, because its definition symbolizes opposition. During a war, a group will identify themselves in response to perceived aggression. The United States’ and its involvement in Vietnam pushed the Northern Vietnamese to struggle as an opposite of the United States. The U.S. identified the Vietcong as the enemy, so the Vietcong identified the U.S. and its allies, the Huas, as its enemy. Amin Maalouf, writer and scholar of work relating with identity, discusses the concept of identity and its role on violence in his book In The Name of Identity Violence and the Need to Belong. He states:

“The identity a person lays claim to is often based, in reverse, on that of his enemy… One could find dozes of… other examples to show how complex is the mechanism of identity: a complexity sometimes benign and sometimes tragic” (14).

Maalouf is making the claim that identities can cause conflict and violence because it necessarily results in opposition to other identities. For the Huas, war forced them to construct a new identity; it forced them to find a place to belong. Interestingly enough, their Vietnamese American identity is one of opposition to the American involvement in Vietnam, and similarly it acts as their savior. War is the destruction of life, but through diligence, perseverance, and open-mindedness, people can conquer the devastation of war, and by achieving this feat people invent themselves in a more experienced and wholesome light.

Works Cited

Chen, Sylvia. “Does Language Affect Personality Perception? A Functional Approach to                          Testing the Whorfian Hypothesis.” Journal of Personality 82.2 (2014): 130-43. Print.Dreifuss, Gustav. “The Analyst And The Damaged Victim Of Nazi Persecution.” Journal of Analytical Psychology 14.2 (1969): 163-76. Print.

Gurr, Birgit. “Rebuilding Identity After Brain Injury: Standard cognitive and music-evoked autobiographical memory training.” International Journal of Therapy & Rehabilitation 21 (2014): 289-95. Print.

Kuban, Caelan. “Healing Trauma Through Art.” Reclaiming Children & Youth 24.2 (2015): 18-20. Print.

Lam, Andrew. Perfume Dreams. N.p.: Heyday Books, 2005. Print.

Lester, Patricia, and Flake Eric. “How Wartime Military Service Affects Children and Families.” Future of Children 23 (2013): 121-41. Print.

Hua Ai Le. Personal Interview. 19. March. 2016

Maalouf, Amin. In the Name of Identity Violence and the Need to Belong. N.p.: Penguin Books, 1998. Print.

Porter, Gareth. Vietnam: The Definitive Documentation of Human Decision. Vol. 2. Standfordville: Earl M. Coleman, 1979. N. pag. Print.

Said, Edward. “The Clash of Definitions.” Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000. 569-80. Print.

Stickley, Theo. “Artistic Activites Can Improve Patients’ Self-esteem.” Mental Health Practice 14 (2010): 30-32. Print.

   Interview Transcripts

Interview Topic:                      Vietnam War and forced exile

Interviewee:                            Ai Le Hua

Interviewer:                             Timothy Matakovich

Interview Date:                       March 19th, 2016

Ai Le: I am doing good and nothing weird happened. I took a really long nap

Tim: What do you normally do during the day

A: First I wake up, get ready for work, walk to work, and then after work I go to the grocery store and buy food for the night, go home and heat up the food. I work on my career portfolio or I just surf around on the internet. Sometimes I go out with my friends. When my boyfriend isn’t busy with school we hang out.

T: When you go out what do you like to do?

A: you have to be more specific, by myself or with my friends?

T: Just whenever

A: I like to go out and explore new things, if there is an exhibition I will go there, if there is a sale I will go there, if there’s an event I will go there.

T: What kind of exhibitions do you like?

A: Art exhibition, fashion exhibition, history exhibition; if there’s a really cool science exhibition ill go there as well. But mostly art and fashion exhibitions are what intrigues me the most.

T: What intrigues you the most about art and fashion exhibitions.

A: I get to learn about new artists or new photographers. I just get to see new art. And in fashion exhibitions I get to see vintage pieces in real life, instead of art books and photographs because once it is tangible you get to see the details. In pictures its not always what it seems

T: Have you always been fascinated by art?

A: Yea, since my dad is really creative he always promoted me to draw when I was young. That is why I like animation.

T: Would you say that you can express yourself through art?

A: Yea because you can draw whatever you wants its like how singers can sing whatever they want. For me drawing is an easier way to communicate what you want than writing an essay. If someone is eating a pizza you can just draw it instead of writing about it.

T: Why do you think your father promoted your artwork or creative side?

A: Because life would be boring without color, and music. My dad was a musician too, he would always put me through school for viola, piano, singing lessons. He even tried to teach me how to play guitar. I guess he thinks it will bring more happiness to the family. It makes the household livelier.

T: So would you say your dad enjoys expressing himself through his creative side?

A: Yes

T: Im going to go a little off topic here, but how old were you when your family moved here?

A: I was 3

T: Where were you born?

A: Bien Hoa, Vietnam

T: Growing up have you always thought of yourself as an American, or a Vietnamese national?

A: Asian American, never really American and never really Vietnamese

T: Would you say this categorization of yourself led to confusion?

A: Not really, most households are like this now a-days. I speak Vietnamese at home but I speak English everywhere else. Not only Vietnamese, I integrated Vietnamese and English with my parents. The only thing that reminds me that I am Vietnamese is because my family held on to part of the culture. Such as celebrating new year’s, practicing Buddhism and taking off the shoes when you enter the house.

T: So it was a relatively easy transition for you to adapt to American culture?

A: Yes, very easy because my parents are very open minded. They raised me to always keep my options open.

T: For your parents it was also easy?

A: Ummm, yes but I think what was hard for my parents was raising me and my siblings who were younger. They were used to Vietnamese parenting tactics and ways. At first they were really strict but over time they realized they can’t control everything, and once they realized that, everything became really easy for them. They did try to demand at first that we had to get good grades etc. you know the normal Asian stereotype. But I think that most of it was that they were more concerned of our future. We get good grades we get a good job. They also didn’t want to be embarrassed by their relatives having more successful children. So I guess from that aspect they were pretty strict. The easy thing about it was that there was a lot of Vietnamese people in San Jose. So it would probably be more difficult to move to South Carolina or Tennessee ya know?

T: So because your family had a strong community to support them, it made their transition easier?

A: Yea because if there wasn’t a big Vietnamese community it would be harder.

T: When you are feeling upset or sad do you use your creative side to express your feelings?

A: Uhhhhhhhh sometimes, I mostly eat if im stressed. If im sad I mope around the house I clean to distract myself and if I am mad I listen to music. If I am not happy or if I have to do it I would use my creative side to do it. Because I wouldn’t have any motivation too, id be too pissed off. If I was mad at my boyfriend I wouldn’t be like oh yea im going to start drawing.

T: Have you ever thought about drawing as a therapeutic way

A: Ummm yes and no. I feel like if I talk to another person is better. If I am not motivated to draw my picture will be crummy.

T: How did you express yourself while you were growing up and upset.

A: By stomping my feet, slamming the door, not talking to someone. Basically throwing a tantrum

T: Would you ever spend alone time working on your art when you felt lonely?

A: Yea.

T: What would you do when had no deadlines or work to do?

A: I would go out and explore, hang out with people. After a week of doing that I’d get bored I guess I would start drawing and sketching and I feel like I have to update my work

T: Do you think your father exhibits his creative side when he is attempting to express himself?

A: Yes I guess he does it to kill time as well, like when he was in jail he drew portraits of my mom.

T: When was he in jail?

A: Not jail, but the concentration camp

T: Do you know how long he was in there?

A: Ummm 7 years.

T: So if he was painting pictures of your mom it seems like he was using it as a way to escape a horrible life experience, do you agree?

A: Yes

T: So do you think he learned that he could use this creative side to express his difficulties in life.

A: I don’t understand your question

T: Do you think that he learned that he could draw and do other things when he was in a bad situation and it would help him feel better

A: Yes, it was a way for him to escape reality.

T: Do you think that maybe he encouraged you to learn this creative way of expressing yourself as a way to escape bad situations like him?

A: He encouraged me when he found out I was creative and that I was interested in that area and he just pushed me in that area because I guess it was his form of happiness and he wants that for me as well.

T: When did you start realizing that you wanted to pursue a creative arts career?

A: Probably middle school

T: Can you explain how your life was while you were in middle school?

A: Ummmm, In middle school?

T: Yea

A: I was the creative one in my whole class. Everyone just knew me as someone who could draw and creative like making stuff. I guess I wasn’t one of the outsider kids. I had a really good time in middle school, but I regret being mean to some people.

T: Who were you mean to?

A: Ummm this really unpopular guy, a lot of people were mean to him. But I got caught making fun of him and I had to go to the principal’s office and write a letter as to why it was wrong making fun of people.

T: Why did everybody make fun of him?

A: Because he had a turban and he was just really weird and unpopular. I feel really bad I don’t want to be known as a mean girl. It was middle school, it’s like peer pressure.

T: What would you say the ethnic diversity was at your school?

A: Huge, massive. We had everybody.

T: What ethnicity was the majority

A: Asians and Latinos

T: Were there a lot of middle eastern and western Asian people?

A: What do you mean?

T: Such as Pakastani, Iranian, Iraqi, or Indian etc.

A: I didn’t really pay attention to that, all I knew was a lot of people were Asian and Latino. A lot of the Indian people stopped wearing their turbans once they went to high school, which is really sad. The kids just wanted to be popular and I think it is really sad. They just wanted to fit in and be popular.

T: Did you ever wear any traditional Vietnamese attire to school or out in the community?

A: Never to school, but for Chinese new year’s I wore a Chinese dress to go to the temple. To take pictures with my family.

T: So you only dressed traditionally Vietnamese when you were with your family on special cultural occasions.

A: Yea, only when I had to.

T: How about for your older siblings? Did they ever wear traditional clothing while in school?

A: No, same as me.

T: What about religious symbols.

A: What do you mean?

T: You know how Catholics might wear a rosary or cross, or how certain Muslim religions wear certain Turbans, or how maybe Jewish people wear yammacas on special occasions.

A: No not really, we mostly have statues at home. We have a little alter at the house and a little shrine.

T: Even on Chinese new year’s?

A: What do you mean?

T: Would you go to school in traditional dress during Chinese new year’?

A: No.

T: Did your mother and father ever express mixed feelings about you not wearing traditional clothing?

A: Never.

T: Do you think this shows that they were embracing the change into American culture?

A: Yea, they don’t dress up themselves. Unless they’re going to the temple and on Chinese new year’s, and my dad never wears it only my mom.

T: What do you think the hardest thing growing up was?

A: Getting good grades.

T: Why was that the hardest thing?

A: Because I always had to study when I didn’t want to. I wanted to go out and have fun. (Sighs) My parents would always put me in summer school so I could learn more.

T: If given the opportunity would you say your parents enjoy the united states or they would of rather not come.

A: I think they enjoy it because there’s more, I think after the adaption to the new culture they don’t want to go back. I mean in the beginning probably, but now no.

T: Do you think your parents focusing on your schooling so much represents the fact that maybe they did not have that opportunity back in Vietnam.

A: Yes, and my dad graduated from college here in the United States. However, my mom took English for 10 years and I did her homework for her so she wouldn’t learn anything. (Laughs)

T: Are there still non-religious cultural customs you and your family practice?

A: What do you mean?

T: Certain holidays, such as thanksgiving and fourth of July.

A: Lunar festival, Chinese new year’s

T: How much does your family practice Buddhism

A: Not extreme but not a little, we’re vegetarian on Buddha’s birthday but not in our entire life. Or when someone in the family dies we have to be vegetarian for three months.

T: But your sister is different right?

A: Yea she’s more devout.

T: Would you say that that is because of her husband, or has she always been more devout.

A: I guess because of her husband.

T: How old was your sister when the family moved?

A: She was 12 because I was 3 and she is 9 years older than me.

T: Do you think she had a harder time then you transitioning.

A: Yea because she was a teenager and had to learn the language quick, for me I was still learning Vietnamese so it was easy. She was in the ESL programs, and during that time ESL wasn’t very cool so she had to deal with that.

T: Does your sister dress more traditional then the rest of your family?

A: No, why would she dress more traditional.

T: Does your sister do any creative work such as art or poetry or music.

A: Yea she drew pictures a lot. She liked to scrapbook, and she likes photography and there was one point she would do photoshoots of me and my other sister.

T: How was your sister’s relationship with your parents compared to yours. Did she get into trouble a lot?

A: No she always tried to please them, once she started adapting to American culture she realized that her friends and everyone didn’t act the way that people acted in Vietnam. Once she adapted she changed my parents had to change. Now that they’ve all changed everything is all good. When they were adapting they weren’t adapting at the same pace so it was difficult for my parents and my sister and they would argue over things like being able to go out. My sister was the first to break down the barrier and when my brother was a teenager he broke it down more. When Thu and I became teenagers they weren’t able to control us and stopped trying.

T: Do you think age played in the different paces?

A: What do you mean?

T: Do you think that since your sister was so much younger than your parents she adapted quicker than your parents.

A: Yea and she was going to school.

T: So while you were in 8th grade, your parents had already experienced their children growing up with the American lifestyle and they were used to it

A: Yea they already understood the culture, so I was the lucky one.

T: Why were you lucky?

A: Because I didn’t have to go through the thing that she had to go through.

T: What do you mean go through?

A: First boyfriend, college, adapting to a new lifestyle. When I was a teenager my parents were already Americanized so it was much easier for me to go out with my friends have boyfriends stuff like that.

T: How old were your parents when the family moved here?

A: Ummm I don’t even know. Early 40’s maybe.

T: Did your parents feel like they were forced to move here due to what was going on in Vietnam

A: Yes and also because they had an opportunity to fly here. My parents were sponsored by the United States.

T: Did they see it as an opportunity to amass wealth and have access to more economic resources?

A: My parents were well off in Vietnam, I guess it is more of an education for us.

T: What do you mean they were well off.

A: My dad had a business and some houses. So my dad took over the family business. It wasn’t like we were poor or we were billionaires, we had money.

T: What kind of business was it?

A: A super-marketish store. Family owned business, a market. My grandma left him houses, but since Vietnam became communist they had to sell it. The government came to my parents place a week before we left and asked when they were leaving and my dad lied to them about the time. People told my parents later that the government came with a police force to stop my family from leaving. It was a good thing we had already left. They were trying to find a reason to stop us from going

T: How did the government treat your family considering your father’s prior role in the war?

A: I don’t know.

T: You don’t know if there was any discrimination?

A: My parents don’t talk about it. I guess it was discrimination because my parents were doing well and they made my parents sell all the land for cheap.

T: So it could be said that other factors besides your schooling drove your parents to move.

A: Yea.

T: Why did your parents choose USA instead of Germany like most of your family.

A: Because the USA sponsored my family to come, to get citizenship. You don’t get that very often.

T: Would your parents have chosen Germany or the United states.

aA: I don’t know, it’s hard to say because I have relatives in both countries.

T: Why did your grandma and aunt and uncle move to Germany?

A: Because they were able to escape the war.

 

 

Impact of Immigration on a First Generation Immigrant

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Impact of Immigration on a First Generation Immigrant

by Fiona Fong, January 2016

Home is one’s birthplace, formalized by memory. Home to billions of people is China. The Chinese civilization is the world’s oldest and today its largest. China is home to more than fifty distinct ethnics groups and a wide range of traditional lifestyles, often in close partnership with nature. China is home to the world’s largest mountains, vast deserts ranging from the searing hot to the mind-numbing cold. China is known not only for its beauty but also for its immense social and environmental problems. China has an unfair distribution of wealth that has caused poverty, social outcasts, and civil unrest. People move to other countries for many reasons, but for undocumented migrants it is usually because they need to escape from poverty, natural disasters, violence, armed conflict or persecution. My grandfather, Moon Fong, is one of the many people who have immigrated from China to America, where it is more accommodating to his standard of living. Moon’s decision to move to America was provoked by the suppression of speech, which the Chinese government enforced, and the opportunity for economic security, which he now feels was worth leaving his family for.

Moon, an immigrant from Taishan, was exiled from his home on the year of 1951 at the age of twenty-nine. He was forced to leave his family and move to America because he had bad-mouthed the government during a meeting. Moon illegally immigrated to America by filing documents with his auntie’s friend as his fake father. Moon obtained valid documentation to come to America but wasn’t immediately released until the Angel Island Detention Center permitted him to be. In America, he worked as a janitor at a hotel and as a produce transporter for Safeway; he made just enough money to send to his family in China and saved a little to spend on himself. When Moon was separated from his family, he met a Caucasian man named John Smith in the U.S. who forever impacted his life on the night of Thanksgiving. Through John’s help, after around fifteen years of living in America, Moon was able to learn English and bring his family over to America through The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, which established a new immigration policy based on reuniting immigrant families. After Moon’s ninety-three years of living in America, he has finally been able to share his story of coming to America with his granddaughter, Fiona.

I, Fiona Fong, have had the honor of interviewing my grandpa through my English 96-1A class at City College of San Francisco, facilitated by Professor Mayers. If I had not taken this class, I might have never fully gotten to know my grandpa’s story. Throughout the semester, we analyzed excerpts of oral histories published by Voice of Witness, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to make the unheard voices of individuals heard. In our class, we read insightful books that show different viewpoints about immigration. They Take Our Jobs!: And 20 Other Myths about Immigration, by Aviva Chomsky, covers how immigration plays a part in the economy, the law, race and government policies. Underground America, the third book in the Voice of Witness series, presents individual oral histories of men and women struggling to sculpt lives for themselves in the U.S. For our last project of the semester, each student will interview one person who has experienced moving from one place to another. The significance of our fourth and last project is to introduce a more intimate and realistic perspective of immigration by asking questions and evaluating our interviewee across a table, face to face, with only a recorder between us.

Moon’s choice of words caused his exile from Taishan, China; he believes that illegally coming to America was worth carrying out because he has found his freedom of expression even if he had missed the occasion of seeing his family for fifteen years. Freedom of expression was a political factor that drew Moon to America for the benefit of himself and his family. During a meeting, he pondered on a thought and shared it with the group. Moon said, “There has been a huge increase in population.” “Should we immigrate to America?” In this statement, Moon realizes that China’s system of government cannot comprehend the increase of population effectively. His family and village were starving. He was indicating that America was more capable than China in handling the issues of overpopulation. China is increasingly responsive to special interests and not to the public interest. The government eventually found out what Moon had shared. The next day, government officials came to Moon’s house with intentions of arresting him and forcing him to take back what he said about the government. “In China, you aren’t allowed to say whatever you like.” Moon had to filter what his true feelings were for the sake of the government. He was threatened the moment he expressed his true feelings. He felt he couldn’t benefit from the government’s views, which enhanced his longing to go to America—the land of the free.

Moon’s aunt was able to convince her American friend to acknowledge Moon as his son so Moon could come to America. Moon and his imitation father underwent a trial with a jury. Throughout the trial, the judge asked Moon’s fake father questions like, “How old is your son? What is your son’s favorite food?” To Moon, the judge asked what was in front of his father’s house. “What kind of tree is outside of your house? “What is in front of your doorstep?” The judge asked the same questions and if both of them did not answer correctly, Moon would have never been able to stay in America. During the interview, he said, “The reason why I came to America was because America protects the freedom of speech and this right belongs to everyone in America. You can even bad mouth the president. So that is why I came to America.” America was the place for Moon where he knew he didn’t have to refrain from voicing his true feelings. Moon was attracted to America more than China because America protected his rights as a human that China oppressed.

After successfully obtaining the proper documents to come to America, Moon left his family in China for fifteen years and worked two jobs, a sacrifice he now feels was worth regaining his family. Angel Island was an immigration station where immigrants entering the United States were detained and interrogated. “By the time I arrived in San Francisco, California, I was not immediately released from the custody of the Angel Island Immigration Detention Center.” The detention center did not permit any immigrant to leave the island until they had gone through proper the procedures of being “decontaminated.” The only two jobs Moon ever worked in America was as a janitor at a hotel and a produce transporter for Safeway. He made just enough money to send money back to his family in China and pay his own bills in America. Until his day, he has been working and sending money back to China. “During the time when I was not a citizen, I felt really lonely. I came to America all alone. My family was all in China. My wife, my son that was 13 years old and my 14-year-old daughter were in Hong Kong. Because of the fact that I wasn’t a citizen, I couldn’t bring my wife and my two children, Anton and Helen, at the time. ” Coming to America came with consequences, Moon came to earn more money in America and gave up his time with his family in exchange. Family was the reason why he moved to America but his support from his family wasn’t reachable. He had Newton, his third child at the age of 50. His fifteen years of separation from his family caused a 30-year gap between Helen and Newton. “ I have missed the chance to be there to witness the peak of my children’s growth. When I saw my wife when she arrived to America, I noticed signs of aging on her features. These fifteen years without my family was very hard to bear.” This shows that his opportunity of coming America came with a price. To earn more money and human rights, Moon left everything in China. Moon felt that obtaining proper documents to come to America and working two jobs was a sacrifice that was worth enduring for his family.

The article “Assessing Immigrant Assimilation: New Empirical and Theoretical Challenges,” by Mary C. Waters and Tomás R. Jiménez, was published in the Annual Review of Sociology in 2005. The contributing authors are professors at Harvard University’s Department of Sociology. The research article focuses primarily on how immigrant assimilation is changing. Waters and Jiménez examine the change in immigrant assimilation through quantitative studies using four indicators of assimilation: “socioeconomic status, language assimilation, geography of immigrant settlement to measure immigrant assimilation.” The many experiences of European Immigrants during the Great Depression and the restrictive laws of the 1920s created historical geological movement as an independent variable predicting the degree of assimilation. Waters was able to analyze immigration through political and economic lenses. Through political and economic forces, Waters and Jiménez were able to measure migration and support Moon’s actions of moving to America to become economically stable. Through this article Mary C. Waters and Tomás R. Jiménez dissected immigration looking at immigrants’ socioeconomic status, language assimilation and the geography of settlement to measure immigrant assimilation, which also shows that Moon’s decision to come into America mirrors those of many.

On the night of Thanksgiving, Moon was expecting to spend the evening alone, for his family was in China, but he spent it with John Smith, the man who finally gave my grandfather the ability to bring his wife and two children to America, to learn English as his second language and to believe that migrating to America was worth it. Living in Chinatown helped him endure his sense of loneliness. Chinatown was a little taste of home he found in America. “Well, living near Chinatown made me feel like the aspect of China was present: fumes of lit cigarettes and buckets of stale water thrown out of fish markets.” Moon’s description of his sense of smelling and seeing showed that the Chinese culture and customs in San Francisco’s Chinatown weren’t that different from China’s. Even though he was away from home, San Francisco Chinatown gave him a piece of home he longed for. The year he came to America he expected to spend Thanksgiving alone. On the night of Thanksgiving, my grandpa was sitting in his dimly lit apartment alone with tears dripping down his face. He heard a knock on the door; he quickly wiped his tears and opened the door. Standing outside was his friend, John Smith. “Would you like to come and live upstairs with me?” John asked. From that day on, Moon promised himself to never isolate himself to the verge of tears. John provided the sense of family that Moon had longed for in America. John saw the ethic of hard work in my grandpa. John never asked my grandpa to pay for the monthly rent for the apartment they shared together. One night, John noticed that if Moon was able to speak English, it would help alleviate an anxiety that Moon experienced in America. John said, “You don’t know English. I will teach you English.” By helping Moon diminish the language barrier, John was able to give him a sense of belonging in America. After mastering English, Moon as able to apply for citizenship for himself and his family. From the night of that one Thanksgiving, John was able to help Moon feel it was worth it to come to America by helping my grandpa overcome his language barrier, his habitual living conditions and his longing for his family and become a citizen of the U.S.

Moon’s decision to move to America was provoked by the suppression of speech that the Chinese government enforced. Although he missed being a part of his children’s childhood, he believes immigrating to America was worth it because he has found his freedom of expression; moreover, it was here he met the man he feels forever indebted to for helping him learn English as his second language, reunite with his family in America, and achieve economic security.

Works Cited

Foner, Nancy. “The Immigrant Family: Cultural Legacies and Cultural Changes”. International Migration Review 31.4 (1997): 961–974. Web.

Waters, Mary C., and Tomás R. Jiménez. “Assessing Immigrant Assimilation: New Empirical and Theoretical Challenges”. Annual Review of Sociology 31 (2005): 105–125. Web.

 

Sample Transcripts

Fiona: What is your name?

Sarah: I will be translating for Mr.Fong. My name is Sarah.

Fiona: How old are you?

Moon: I am 93 years old.

Fiona: What country did you immigrate from to America?

Moon: I immigrated from Taishan, China.

Fiona:Do you currently live in The U.S?

Moon: I currently live in San Francisco , California.

Fiona: Did you immigrate during a historic event?

Moon:Yes, I did immigrate during a historic event. There wasn’t any food to eat.

Fiona: Why did you leave Taishan?

Moon: I was forced to leave because I had spoken against the government. In China, you aren’t allowed to say whatever you like.

Fiona: What did you say that caused the government to exile you from Taishan?

Moon:When I outspokenly said. “There are too many people the population. Do you think we should immigrate?” And the people began to think I was rebelling against the government.

Fiona: How did they force you to leave?

Moon: The government said they were going to catch me and imprison me if I didn’t take back what I had said.

Fiona: Is there a reason why you chose America as your asylum?

Moon:Yes, the reason why I came to America was because America believe in the freedom of speech and this right belongs to everyone in America. You can even bad mouth the president. So that is why I came to America.

Fiona: Did you come to America illegally?

Moon: Yes, there was no choice.

Fiona: How did you come to America?

Moon: My father’s sister knew someone from America who was willing to sign papers as my father so that I can come to America. We began to recognize each other as father and son only on the paperwork.

Fiona: Was it a long process to get into America?

Moon: Yes, I couldn’t have immediately gone to America after the paperworks were processed. When I came to America I was imprisoned on Angel Island. They kept us immigrants on Angel Island because they believed that we were contaminated with germs and diseases. The Imprisoners disrespected and invaded my privacy.

Fiona: May you please specify on what happened during your process of coming over to America?

Moon: In order for me to come to America I had to go through a trial before a judge. The trial involved the judge, my father and I. But the judge individually interviewed me and then my father. Throughout the trial the judge asked my fake father questions like, “How old is your son? What was my favorite food? And as for me, judged asked what was in front of the house. “What kind of tree was outside your house?”” What was in front of your doorstep?” The judge asked the same questions and if both of us did not answer correctly then I wouldn’t have been able to come over to America. That’s what before we went to see the jury we prepared ahead of time for the questions he was going to ask. And our objective was to answer the questions or I couldn’t have come to America.

Fiona: Did you pass the first trial?

Moon: Yes I did pass.

Fiona: In America, what struggles did you go through that the citizens wouldn’t have?

Moon: During the time when I was not a citizen, I felt really lonely. I came to America all alone. My family were all in China. My wife, son that was 13 years old and my 14 year old daughter were in Hong Kong. The fact that I wasn’t a citizen, I couldn’t bring my wife and my two children at the time.

Fiona: What jobs did you work in America?

Moon: I had to work two jobs so I can send money back to China and pay off the rent in America. I was working at Safeway as service clerk and a janitor at a hotel. If I didn’t work both jobs I wouldn’t have been able to support my family and myself.

Fiona: Did you family eventually come over to America? If yes()ask how long

Moon: It took 20 years to bring my wife and two children to the U.S. When I left China my children were still around 10 years old. By the time they came to America, my children were already 30.

Fiona: What complications had the missing time period of 20 years with your family affect you in what ways?

Moon: I have missed the chance to be there to witness the peak of my children’s growth. When I saw my wife when she arrived to America, I had noticed signs of aging on her features. These 20 years without my family was very hard to bear and heartbreaking. Because I couldn’t see my lover. But without these experiences I wouldn’t have met the man I am greatly in debt to.

Fiona: Did this man help you cope with the feelings of immigration and loneliness?

Moon: This caucasian man is older than by 20 years. The man knew that My whole family was in Hong Kong. Thanksgiving was the hardest night for me to go through. Thanksgiving is the time to gather with family members and have a meal. On the night of Thanksgiving I was all alone in my room crying and missing my family. The caucasian man came down to invite upstairs to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family. I will never forgive those words he said that made me forever in debt to him. He said to me, ”You don’t know English. I will teach you English. “He shared the comfort of his home to me. He never asked me to pay for rent. He also helped me send money over to my family. He is the biggest contributor to all my success in life. Now every Thanksgiving after the one the caucasian man invited me to, I do not eat alone anymore. I have someone to spend it with now.

Fiona: So that answers the questions: What struggle did you face that a citizen wouldn’t have? As in he wasn’t able to see his family and the other question, which was How did you assimilate to the customs and culture of America? So because of that man, grandpa was able to learn english and able to mediate some of the stress he had.

Moon: Thinking back to those experiences it’s really hard to think of without feeling sad.

Fiona: What did you experience in China that you did not experience in America?

Moon: The Statue of Liberty is a symbol I would represents America the place of freedom where you wouldn’t be under arrested for bad mouthing the government or political figures.

Fiona: How did you bring your wife over?

Moon: After twenty years of waiting, I was able to bring her to America because of the Democratic party. The president during that time signed a bill that granted immigrants citizenship if they admitted to being undocumented.

Fiona: How did the political experience affect you?

Moon: Through this experience, I will be forever rooting for the democrats. If it wasn’t for democrats, I would have never seen my family again.

Fiona: Are you or were you limited to health care?

Moon: I am currently with CCHP because I do not qualify for a white card. Because I am considered middle class I, a 93-year old man have to paying around $300 dollars for simple medications such as eye drops, ear drops, vitamins and cough syrup. Whereas a person with a white card doesn’t have to pay a penny.

Fiona: Did you move to other countries?

Moon: No, I really like America?

Fiona: If you could sum up one reason why you like America what would that be?

Moon: The freedom of speech that is exhibited throughout America.

Fiona: What perspective of immigration have changed or remained the same?

Moon: Back then, if you were a real citizen, you can document your family as citizens within half a year. Now, the process is even more extensive. Another perspective of immigration that has changed is that back then you can become a citizen if your sibling was but now the reforms have changed.

Fiona: Why do you think Immigration in America changed?

Moon: Immigration in America changed because of the increased levels of poverty and immigrants.

Fiona: What kind of culture and traditions that still stuck to you from China?

Moon: Well living near Chinatown made me feel like the aspect of China was present; fumes of lit cigarettes and buckets of stale water thrown out of fish markets.

How much did you pay for rent?

who was john smith

in a way did you pay him back?

Fiona: Thank Moon for sharing your story.

Moon: You are welcome.

Home Is Where the Family Is

 

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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.

Works Cited

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 Transcripts

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.

Anny:  What?

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!

Roles, from Generation to Generation to Generation

Roles, from Generation to Generation to Generation
by Sean Lerche, December 2014

My name is Sean Lerche. I am a second generation immigrant, son of Victoria Xin, grandson of Heng Xin. I am the result of the teachings given to my grandfather being passed down to my mother and then to me. My life is destined to always be influenced by the beliefs and actions of my predecessors, by my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, and that influence by the past is no different for my predecessors. I was taught by my mother, my mother was taught by my grandfather, and my grandfather was influenced by his past. For my grandfather, Heng, speaking of his past meant speaking of being brought up in a poor family, of working to gain an education, and of establishing a family of his own, all the while trying to escape poverty through schooling; for my mother, Victoria, speaking of her past meant working to fulfill her parents’ wish for her to gain an education and establish a stable life of her own in the United States. Just as my grandfather would shape his values and views on life around his upbringing in a poor family and working to escape it, my mother would shape her beliefs around her father’s teachings, and she would influence how I would come to see the world.

Victoria Xin is a first generation immigrant from Hong Kong, having immigrated to San Francisco at the age of two years, and she views the United States as her home, for it is where her family is. To her, China is not where she belongs, hardly where she wishes to be, for her origin is not what determines home to her. Instead of stories of China, she would tell me stories of her youth, particularly how she interacted with her family and how she acted in school. My mother told me that, after school ended, her father would walk with her home. And along the way, they would stop at a few stores. They would buy candy and sometimes a comic book or two. They would return home to my grandmother and my mother’s four siblings. My mother told me that my grandmother would take care of every household chore: cooking meals, cleaning the house, taking care of the children; she would be strict with her children when they did wrong, to the point where she was practically feared. Victoria described, “Mm. Well, Gong-Gong worked as an accountant, and Pa-Pa stayed home to take care of me and your uncles and aunt. She did the cooking and the cleaning around the house. Umm . . . well, she was very strict.” Besides Victoria, who was the youngest, my grandparents had four other children, three sons and another daughter. The sons would fight constantly, as siblings do, and were known to go after one another. The first daughter, Victoria’s older sister, actually had moved out rather quickly, marrying in her late adolescence. While still an immigrant from Hong Kong, Victoria’s life revolved around her family in the United States, not around where she once lived.

For my grandfather, Heng Xin, a traditional familial structure seemed best, one in which the father works, the mother remains at home, and the children focus on attending school and getting good grades; having seen how his father could not care for his entire family, Heng came to see his parents’ family as being unstable and wished never to return to that, eventually pushing his daughter Victoria to seek to establish a stable, traditional family. His father was a polygamist and had multiple wives. As a result, Heng had many half-siblings, a few which he did grow close to. His father however did not make much money, and the family often had to eat what they could. His mother would fight with the other mothers in an effort to get food for her own child, but she rarely spent time with Heng because of it. To Heng, this familial structure, in which the father works to care for multiple wives and many children, may have appeared as faulty. His father could not provide much of a life for his children, and Heng likely saw this as a failure on his part. To avoid ever being in such a situation once more, a family with only two parents and kids, in which both parents had certain roles to play in the structure, had stability. In regards to Victoria, the expectation was to find stability in her own life, to first gain an education and a good job, then to start a family. Victoria noted, “I didn’t move out until I was, mm, 27, I think. It was easier to afford college living with Gong-Gong and Pa-Pa (Cantonese for one’s grandparents on one’s mother’s side; Gong-Gong for one’s grandfather, and Pa-Pa for one’s grandmother). They never really minded, as long as I was in school.” For me, though, my mother actually works. My grandfather, however, never minded. He did still expect me to work to attain a stable job; he did hope that I would be secure in my future and thought that it would provide me with happiness, as it had for him. In an effort to find stability in his life that was absent from his childhood, Heng came to believe that he must push his descendants to seek stability as well, both in the workplace and in one’s family; while Victoria did establish a family, she chose to have her own career instead of being the caretaker at home.
Without the guidance of his parents, being that they were normally too preoccupied as to pay heed to him, Heng learned to act on his own, working to succeed in school so as to escape poverty. In order to attend school, he would ride his bike for miles. When he became tired, he would go so far as to hang onto the back of a bus while it moved down the busy streets of Hong Kong. For him, he came to view school as being an important part of his life, seeing it as the pathway to a new life far from his poor origins. It is completely possible that Heng even felt pressure in his schooling to succeed as well. Writer Lau Sing notes, “Chinese students regarded interest and effort as being a more important factor for success in work than American students did. They also saw having personal assets such as good luck, wealth, and intelligence as being more important,” after reviewing over what students in both Hong Kong and the U.S. view as being the purpose of schooling. Heng very well may have feared that there was no other path than schooling, even if it was at the expense of classmates. Without his parents, Heng learned to act in school independently, finding his own drive to succeed.

Seeking stability in his life apart from the poverty he experienced in his youth, Heng focused on finding stable work and establishing a family, even as World War II and the civil war in China threw his life in disarray. As the years passed for Heng, he went on to study to become a marine customs officer. He actually worked from a fourth-level officer to a first-level officer. He claimed he wished he could have remained an officer. When Japan invaded China during World War II, he cleverly avoided being drafted into the Chinese army by remaining a customs officer, but even he had to escape northward across China to avoid the invading Japanese army. To his luck though, Heng met his wife along his escape. He vied to her parents for marriage and won them over. They would eventually have five kids in total. The war had its losses though. Heng would later find out his sister had been a casualty. He didn’t really voice how close he was to her, and he didn’t show any signs through facial expression. Even after World War II, there was an ongoing civil war between the capitalists in power, led by Chiang Kai-shek, and the communist party, led by Mao Zedong. When the communists won, they spread their government control all the way to southern China. Heng was told he had to give up half of his belongings. He found this to his disliking, for he’d long worked for what he owned. He and his family left for Hong Kong across the bridge connecting mainland China to the island, which he said was rarely guarded well. The schools in Hong Kong were incredibly competitive though, and his children were having difficulty. So he left Hong Kong soon after for the United States. I asked him about his political thoughts on the civil war, about whether he agreed with capitalism or communism. As was uniquely my grandfather, he answered with a big smile that it didn’t matter to him. The communists took his stuff, and he didn’t like that. All that mattered was creating a stable life for himself and his family; affiliation to any political side or even China meant little in comparison.

Already having grown used to thinking and acting independently in his childhood due to the inability to depend upon his parents, Heng would come to see that he could not so easily trust either his nation or the rest of the world, having experienced both World War II and the communist revolution, and that his loyalty lies solely with his family. In the midst of fighting between the Chinese army and the Japanese army and between the GMD and the CCP, Heng could not feel any allegiance to the Chinese army or either the capitalists or the communists. No side guaranteed his safety or even the safety of his family, for which he sought stability for. In World War II, his sister died. In the communist revolution, he had to flee with his family to Hong Kong. No side worked to aide him; he could only trust his own thoughts and actions. To Heng, the only ones he could trust were his family, and that was where his loyalty would come to lie; my grandfather would come to instill the same sort of loyalty in me. Growing up, my grandfather came to be aware of my efforts to remain strong for my family, not by asking but by observing the same behavior in me he had displayed. I would not show distress to my family, and he was able to see me acting as such, for he had done so for his own family. Victoria says of her father, “I don’t think I ever saw him cry. He was always smiling.” Working to become the pillar for my family, he would come to be a pillar for me. Having thought and acted independently, unable to see how he could have trusted others to aide him, my grandfather would come to believe that, as the pillar of his family, he could not show his distress; having done so himself, he would be able to see how I acted to do so for my own family and act to be a pillar for me. Having come to believe that he must act to protect his family due to two wars that threatened his family’s and his own safety, his independent thinking and dedication to his family would be what would eventually allow me to relate to him, as we both had worked to protect our families.
Heng would come to pressure his own daughter to seek higher education, and his daughter would come to pressure her son to seek higher education. To him, the education she gained would have been a result of his pushing, and that education would have guaranteed her future, even if it meant she would resent him for it. At the same time though, this very pressure he placed on her would eventually become my own burden. My mother would come to place this very same pressure to succeed upon me. As much as she wished she had not experienced it herself, she would come to expect me to succeed as well. She would come to always remind me of how smart I am, of how, if I made more of an effort, I could succeed. She would come to act as her father had, as his past had pushed my grandfather to pressure himself. For me personally, though, I can’t help but wonder how important an education really is. I understand that an education would guarantee my future, that it would mean my safety in an economy with an expanding financial gap between the rich and the poor. “At the same time, technology is making education a significant barrier between the rich and poor in America. If you have a college degree in the US, the unemployment rate is 4%. If you don’t, the unemployment rate is near 20%,” as Eric Jackson stated while observing the reasons for the shrinking middle class in the U.S. I do question, though, whether that diploma will be for me or my mother, whether it will mean my happiness, or whether it will solidify my mother’s success in raising me. In asking that, I must also question how my grandfather felt as well, as to what his push to pressure my mother to gain an education was for as well. It is his action in pressuring my mother to seek higher education that would eventually cause her to believe that she must pressure me to seek higher education, even as I try to find my own drive in doing so.

Having been raised in a poor family, in which his father was a polygamist and could not provide his family with more money on his menial pay and neither of his parents had the time to pay heed to him, Heng came to believe that he had to act independently, seeking an education so as to find stability in life; when he established a family of his own, Heng instilled the values he learned and placed high expectations on his children, believing that such actions would eventually provide them with the happiness that he found. Heng’s upbringing taught him his views on life and himself, and his past would come to influence his children and even his children’s children, for his teachings would become the foundation for how his children would raise their children. Having sought an education and succeeded, Heng would pressure his children to seek educations, and they would do the same to their own children. The past that had caused Heng to seek an education and search for stability in life would come to eventually affect how his children, including Victoria, would be raised and how they would raise their own children; his past would affect not only him but also the next generation and the generation after that. Even so, while my grandfather believed in thinking and acting independently, I grew to be independent entirely of my own volition, without having been pressured by him to do so; I had chosen to act independently so as to better serve my family, just as he did, and knowing that we had both done so allowed for us to grow close through that similarity. My mother was also able to form a life independently, apart from her father’s influences; while her father believed in a traditional family structure, in which the wife is to fulfill the role of caretaker for the house, Victoria started a career as a lawyer, though her father never really objected to her seeking a career. While my grandfather does still influences both my mother’s and my views on life, both my mother and I are still able to think and act independently of his teachings; however, my grandfather will always be the teacher of my mother and me, teaching us his values and views on life, just as his past had taught him. So it is for all people; their pasts influence the way they view life, and they will go on to teach their children their values, eventually influencing the next generation and maybe even the next one through their children.

Works Cited

Sing, Lau, et al. “Chinese and American Adolescents’ Perceptions of the Purposes of
Education and Beliefs about the World of Work.” Social Behavior & Personality: An
International Journal 28.1 (2000): 73. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 May 2014.

Jackson, Eric. “Why the Middle Class Matters in both the US and China.” Forbes.com
(2011): 21. Business Source Premier. Web. 16 May 2014.

The Metamorphosis of a Larva into a Butterfly

peonies-with-butterfly

The Metamorphosis of a Larva into a Butterfly

by Jiankun He, July 2014

Everyone is an editor who uses his or her whole life to edit his or her own story book named Life, whereas immigrants are not only the editors of their own story books, but also the subeditors of a history book about immigration. Lei, a 24-year-old Chinese woman who emigrated from China to the United States, gives people the impression of a positive, happy, and diligent person. The first part of her story happened in her hometown, Taishan, China, and while she had a great draft of her future story in China, the decision of immigrating to the US changed her story. Once she began to live in the USA, she had to drop her draft of her story about her future in China, and begin to edit her life story in the USA. During my oral history interview with her, I read a part of the chapter “The Metamorphosis of a Larva into a Butterfly” of her life story, which is about her life beginning in the USA. While she had a comfortable life in China, and could have had a bright future, to fulfill her parents’ American Dream, she started a harder life in the USA; in this country, which has a better education system, she has overcome different obstacles in this different milieu and has achieved academic success by working hard and getting support from her family.

Lei immigrated to the United States with her parents, little sister, and little brother, four years ago. Before they came here, Lei’s parents had run their family business, which had had been passed down from her grandpa, with her uncles and aunts. She was a college student. Being supported by her family, Lei hadn’t faced any big problems in her life, and had planned to help her family operate the family business after she graduated from college. They had happy lives in China. In 2010, there was an opportunity that only comes once in a blue moon. Her family could immigrate to the US with the help of her mother’s sister. Lei hadn’t any special feeling about this news, but her parents wanted to move because they wanted to pursue a better future for the next generations. They were willing to sacrifice their own happiness in China and put their kids first, only for the American Dream for the children. Because of her parents’ American Dream, Lei and her siblings migrated to the US with them. She tries to get used to life here, continues education, and is becoming mature.

Home becomes a home, when it not only provides a place we can live, but also gives us the feeling that we belong to it. Taishan, Lei’s hometown, is a small town located in Guangdong province, China. Lei says, “I really remember is that it was a nice place to live and I had a really happy childhood there. And it is not a like very big city like Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou, and it’s a very tiny town.” In this town, Lei describes, people are very nice and friendly, and it is a tourist city. She loves San Francisco, but calls Taishan home because she has many relatives and friends there, and many memories of Taishan. Lei recalls that there is a lovely of tourist attraction called Black Sand Beach in Taishan. Unlike the sands on other beaches, the sands there are all black. She has an unforgettably happy memory with her friends there. Her most precious memories relate to this town; her roots are planted here, and most her relatives and friends are there. She could have operated her small family business someday and had a happy life in the town. She had everything there; she belonged to this place, which she calls home.

Beyond the feeling of belongingness, Lei has found that home should be a place that has family to giving her the courage to face any obstacle. In June 2010, Lei left her home and landed in this country with her family. This country gives Lei the impression that “the US is a country of freedom and diversity. There’re a lot of immigrants from all over the world. People here have easier ways to fight for what they want or what they like.” It is really different from her hometown, Taishan, with a different culture, different language and so the American different from what she familiar. She is just getting used to this country and its culture. In the report “Opening the Door to the American Dream: Increasing Higher Education Access and Success for Immigrants,” Wendy Erisman and Shannon Looney analyze the situation of immigrants attaining higher education in the US; they say, “among this group of 18- to 24- year- olds, 98 percent thought that a college education was important, but many were worried about taking on debt and losing out on opportunities to earn needed income by working” (Shannon, Wendy 20). Lei also has to overcome these problems to continue her education and find a job here. Even though she is facing different challenges she had never met, Lei still gets support from her family: she doesn’t worry about the rent because her father works hard to afford to it and her mother takes good care of their daily lives. Under her parents’ support, Lei can try her best to pursue the success which belongs to her. Since Lei has been living here for four years, she has a new definition of home; she thinks that San Francisco is also her home, which she defines as her second home because she can make friends here, create memories here, and, most importantly, lives with her family here. As she says, “I followed my family. That’s why I am here. So where they are is where I am. It’s home. It’s very simple.” Because her family gives her support and a sense of belonging, no matter how the environment changes, wherever her family is, the place is her home.

The first and biggest challenge Lei had to overcome in the USA was the language barrier. She had been a college student before she migrated to the US. Even though she was working hard at school just for her majors, she did not pay much attention on English. As Lei recalls, “On a scale of one to ten, when I first landed at San Francisco International Airport four years ago, my level of expertise in English was about one or two.” This means that she had to live in a nation where she knew nothing; everything she had learned became nothing to her here. No matter that she wanted to continue going to college or working, language barrier became her biggest obstacle. She chose to progress both ways at the same time: to be a fulltime student and find a part-time job. She thought that if she worked hard at learning English, she could do well in school and her life. Lei says that she had tried to take six classes in a day, starting at 8: 00 a.m. and ending up at 5: 00 p.m. or 6: 00 p.m. She tries her best to seek any opportunity to practice English: “to talk to people, to talk to neighbors, to talk to teachers, to talk to my classmates. Even like when I sit down on a bus, I just say hi to begin to talk to a stranger [in English].” After school, she volunteers at different museums because she thinks she can get more opportunities to practice speaking English. “If you ask me on the scale of one to ten, I see myself as a six or seven.” Lei says this proudly. To keep working hard is the only way Lei can overcome her obstacle of her language barrier.

Another challenge Lei had to overcome in the US was finding a job. To find a suitable job is an obstacle for many new immigrants. Lots of employers don’t want to hire newcomers who do not have any experience. If they do hire one, it will probably offer very low pay and long working hours. She says that, because her English was not so good and she did not have any work experience, it was hard for her to get hired. She recalls unbearably, “a crazy day I think I had never done. I went to more than 10 interviews in a day.” On that day, she left home very early in the morning and told her mom that they did not need to wait for her for lunch or dinner because she might be home late. She went home really late at night and she had no expectation that any company would hired her because she had poor language skills and lacked work experience. But she also had hope that she could get more interview experience, which could help her to get a job. Lei says that she kept finding jobs and accumulated interviews and work experiences; she tried working at Chinese restaurants as casher or a waitress. She got minimum wage, and these kind of jobs didn’t give her enough chance to practice English, but she thought all these were opportunities to make her become matured. When her English was getting better and better, Lei finally got a part-time job as a private tutor and a job as an officer assistant at school after school. In her words, she can’t earn too much from these jobs, but the income is enough for her daily use, and she can learn a lot through her jobs. Never give up; she is growing up into maturity and approaching success by accumulating experiences of success and failure.

Beyond Lei’s hard work, the better education system in the US is another factor that helps her to achieve a better education. She was a student in a college like City College in China after she had graduated from high school. The Chinese education system is different from the American, and even she worked hard at school, but it was still hard for her to transfer to a good university in China. She says that Chinese education is exam-oriented education. Yang Zhifu, author of “Examinations, Coping with Examinations, and the Relationship Between Exam-Oriented Education and Quality Education,” explains, “What is involved here are questions relating to examinations, to the whole phenomenon of coping with examinations, and to the relationship between what we will call ‘exam-oriented education’” (Zhifu). It is a system that only lets students get good grades but ignores students’ knowledge absorption and limits students’ creativity. Lei gives an example: “When I was in China, my professors, they might just talk. They will give lecture every day, but they don’t really ask you questions. Or they might ask you questions, but they don’t do the way that like the same in the US.” She also explains that students don’t even understand the topic but will still say to professors that they all understand. She had been taught in this way until she migrated to the US. The first year she came to the San Francisco, she enrolled into non-credit English as Second Language classes in City College of San Francisco because she couldn’t afford the tuition of credited class in school. The first time she found she had aged classmates and it was the first time she learned the true sense of equity education: everyone can get education. After she enrolled in credited classes at CCSF, during these two years, she came to understand the meaning of better education: quality-oriented education. Lei gives an example of her understanding: “in the US, you are free to ask any questions. You just being creative if you don’t know. And like teacher, they will cooperate with students; they might assign you as groups to discuss about the question. And we might come up with different ideas, different solutions.” From a student in exam-oriented education, she became a student in quality-oriented education. She says that she has understood “such more knowledge than ever before.” She keeps working hard in such a good educational mode to be a straight A student, and finally she can transfer to the world-class university University of California, Berkeley, to get further education. In similar level colleges, she achieves more than what she learns here because of the better educational mode; and her hard work and the better education system give her the chance to get further her education at a good academic university.

Facts show that the way which immigrants achieve success in a new country is hard. Lei is still on the way to attaining success in her life in the United States. In this country which has a better education system, being support by family and working hard, she has overcome obstacles which come to a new immigrant and gets the chance to a get better education. These are only achievements of her life; as a good woman she is, she is sure to fulfill her parents’ American Dream, which is to have better future.

Works Cited

Erisman, Wendy and Shannon Looney. “Opening the Door to the American Dream: Increasing Higher Education Access and Success for Immigrants”. Lumina Foundation for Education. 2007. Web. 23 Jul.2014.

Lei, Lei. Personal interview. 6 Jul. 2014.

Zhifu, Yang. “Examinations, Coping with Examinations, and the Relationship Between Exam-Oriented Education and Quality Education”. Web. 23 Jul.2014.

Transcripts

Date: 6 July, 2014.   Place: Lei’s House.

Interviewer’s name: Jiankun He (H).

Interviewee’s name: Lei (B).

H: Hello, thanks for accepting the interview of oral histories. Hi, how are you!

B: I’m good. Haha.

H: what’s your name?

B: My name is Lei.

H: Where are you from? What’s the memory do you have about this place?

B: en. I am from Taishan. A very small town in Guangdong province, China. It locates in south, yeah, south China. So, it’s been years since I came here. Let’s see. [Er] I was here 2010, now it’s 2014. Yeah, 4 years. So, I know there are big changes, must be, right? In my hometown, which I heard from my grandma and some of my relatives. And, but I really remember is that it was a nice place to live and I had a really happy childhood there. And it is not a like very big city like Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou, and it’s a very tiny town. And I’m sure you have been there, before. So! People there are very nice and friendly, and there some very good, yeah, I am sure! I am sure it’s famous. Yeah, tourist attractions and visitors coming from all other places to visit those places. Me! I! If you ask what’s my favorite site or place in my town. It’s! I know! I will tell you one place that I really like.

H: EnEn!

B: it’s the Black Sand beach. In~ I don’t know where it’s exactly the location. I remember something class activity that the whole class. The teachers organized the activity. And then they brought us to the beach. And, you know, it was amazing, and it was a very good memory to talk about that. Because, because there are all the sands they are black, you know, there are all black.

H: Oh, all black?

B: it’s not like the ocean beach, not like the long beach, or the beaches here. The sands are black. And it is so beautiful! You know. You can pick up the shells, and you can also see the seagulls, or the children they are running all the places. And you can image that there were nice weather, and you were with your classmates and your teachers. And just have a good time.

H: that sounds wonderful.

B: It was wonderful. Haha. I really like that place.

H: what family members do you have? What did they do before came here?

B: En, I have big family in China. You know. My mom, my dad, my younger sister, my younger brother and me, five people in my family. And before came here. [Er] we have our family business, that my grandpa passed on to other uncles and aunts and my father. So, we were running our own small business in town. And it’s hard to describe what it looks like, how it runs. My dad called it a construction Co., but I preferred to call it a decoration Co. Like we sold products about metals, steels, some of the, maybe furniture. But it did not really like a house store like home depot. It’s not like that.

H: I see.

B: it’s like if orders coming, my dad will go out to see and to ask the customers what they really want us to do. If they want the products, we just sell them. If they really need people to work on their home, and we will sent workers to work on their home. I was not part of the team, but I know how my dad and my mom ran the business. And sometime I help them do the numbers, like an accountant.

H: So that’s the reason you choose the major accounting?

B: [Er] I think that must be some reasons. It is part of like my dad and my mom they know how to run a business. So, I think we are the same blood, so I might have the gift to do business and good at numbers.

H: good.

B: that, it’s not bad. Haha.

H: how did you think the US before you came here? Why did you immigrate here? And when did you come here?

B: [Oh~] to be honest, I don’t, I didn’t think any about this country before I came here. I was still at school, yeah, exactly I was at my college in the second year. [Er] at that time, I was dealing with my exams. When my parents told me about this good news. Right?

H: yeah.

B: So, I~, I think I put all my attentions into the exams. During that summer, when I really told about this with my parents and my family, I was just feeling like em, em. It was just normal, [em] it was Ok to accept this news, this fact, I will go aboard, I will immigrate to other country beside my country. So~ so~ actually it was not bad, but I was not kind of excited, expected to go, right? And I know that, yeah, a month before I knew this news, my friend, one of my best friends, just moved out, you can say he migrated to, I think it is England. It’s not America, it’s England. And he told me that oh, this country it’s very nice!!! Beautiful!!! And you know that people are very friendly, but they all speak English!!!!!!! And, hehe, I was total into my exams. So I didn’t think anything before I go there, I moved, yeah, I moved to the US. So, I just talked to my friends and my parents, [Er] do I, [Er] I asked my friends, are we really going there? And they said: “yes, why not, let’s try something else, right? You have the opportunity to go out and see the world. Why not? Just try.” I just “ok, not bad, let’s try.” That’s why I am here. Hahahaha. And, so if you ask why I am here? I will say “I followed my family.” That’s why I am here. So where they are is where I am. It’s home, it’s very simple, right?

H: yes.

B: I know, [Em] like my parents, they have kind of like~ like American dream, and they wished all of us babies, part of our relatives, they could, we all could have the better life, [Er] better education. So, I am not saying that the education in China is not good, but, maybe the education system in the western countries is better, right?

H: yeah, agree.

B: maybe that’s why we migrated. I landed on this country in June, 2010. I remember. The month, but I really don’t remember exact day. if you asked me what day? I am sorry. I couldn’t remember the date. I am just getting use to this country, the culture. Accept the fact. So, [Em] kind of like accept. Yeah~ and I am, yeah~ kind of that.

H: So, How do you think of the US now according to what you have seen, heard and learned here?

B: I know the US is a country of freedom and diversity. There a lot of immigrants from all over the world. People here have easier ways to fight for what they want or what they like. They will fight for their right, right?

H: Oh, yes.

B: you usually hear from the news, said, some people are going to maybe vote, they are going out to the street to give protect, [Er] what they want to do, what you have to give me, something. I am not, not saying that. Right? But, they can have, like people here they can have more choices on their life styles. [Em] I would say it’s more colorful life, here. Yeah, you can like live on the street, if that’s what you like. You can live in a house, in a department, in the dorm, in, in some, I forget the word. It’s some like a department. But if you were in China, you can only live in your own house, with your family, your big extend family. Like with your aunts, your uncles, all live together. Here you can live like in a single house, maybe far from your aunt or your uncle. But that’s. You can choose, right?

B: yeah.

H: what I learned is people, everyone can go to school no matter how old you are what situation you at. When I first came here, I would say, I was very surprised to see people like some old people, [wow~] I am sure that some of them are seventy or eighty years old. And I would say I was totally shock. Wow, why were those old people still at school, at school, right? And I asked my teachers. And they said, “Everyone can go to school here, no matter how old you are.” I, I just, I was just, just. I don’t know how to describe. Like, you open your mouth, [O~~] like that.

B: HaHa.

H: It’s shock. Yeah, it’s pretty surprised. I told my mom, “Mom, you should go to school.” And she just said, “I am old, I am old.” And I said, “No, you are not old enough, we have people, they are seventy years old, they are still go to school, in my class. Yeah, and they are studying hard. You should try, mom.” And my mom still said she’s not part of the school. I think that’s the culture stuff. But, you know, you just keep talking to people, everyone at school, yeah, like older people, mid-age people. Right? And here the technologies are much advanced. You know, like iPhone. May just one year ago, you still had your iPhone 4. But, then, just few months later, iPhone 5 comes up, iPhone 5c comes up. It’s more advanced. And, if I could describe in one sentence, it is a country having the higher living standard, I think, like, better than the third world countries, right? So, I can tell, I can tell, I can see why my parents wanted to come here. I understand.

H: So you have been here about three years, four years.

B: Yes, four years.

H: Yes, so what do you think some challenges you have in the US?

B: Some challenges. [Em~~] let me think about that. Obviously, right? The biggest challenge for me or for other new immigrants is the language barrier. I didn’t concern anything before I came here. I told you, right? I was thinking it was OK for me, right? But, there’s when I was in China. When I came here, I realized I couldn’t understand what people were talking about. It just gave me a hard time to learn English. You know, So, I tell you [Er~ Er ~ Er~] my experience. So, I was like, I think, honor. Ok, let’s say, On a scale of one to ten, when I first landed at San Francisco International Airport four years ago, my level of expertise in English was about one or two.

H: wow, that’s so low.

B: yeah, I know, I~ I was just overwhelmed when, when like the sound of English being seemingly like bombarded in my direction. Like, you, you were in the airport and people were just speaking English, blah~blah~blah~. Oh, my ears hurt. I couldn’t understand. I might know like “hello, how are you, good bye.” But if you talk more, then my both ears like, I couldn’t tell. So, since then, my command, like, yeah, command of English has changed a lot. Because I study, right? I go to school, I work. If you ask me on the scale of one to ten, I will say, haha, I see myself as a six or seven. Yeah, haha. I am not saying that I am perfect, but I am still trying to improve English skill.

H: that’s good, really good.

B: So, I am still working on my English. Em, this is the biggest challenge for me even for most of immigrant people, right?

H: yeah.

B: And then the second biggest challenge for me was to find a job. It’s really hard, tough to find a job here. You know, living in this country, it’s a costly land. You have to have a job. And I remember I couldn’t be hired because my English was not so good, not good enough to compare to other people, right? And, a crazy day I think I had never done. I went to more than 10 interviews in a day.

H: in a day? Wow.

B: yep. I went out like very early in the morning, and I told my mom, “Mom, I got job interviews today, so don’t wait for me for lunch or dinner. I may be home late.” Yes, I was, I came home late, really late. So, I, I don’t know they might hire me or not, I was just hoping I could get more experiences in interview. And then I could get a job. But, you know, it turned out, that none of those companies would like hire me. I can tell why. May probably because my poor English or I didn’t have experience or I didn’t have high education level. Whatever, it’s hard to find a job in the city for many new comers. Like me.

H: How did you overcome the challenges?

B: En, haha. I wouldn’t say I have overcome my challenges. I am still working on it. I~ I think it takes time to develop [~em~ language]. Like English. For a lot of immigrants. What I have been doing is go to school every day. Study in class from the morning till to the late afternoon. I remember my first was start at 8:00 or 8: 30 at the morning. And then I have (counting, one, two…) more 6 classes in a day. And 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. when my dad picked me and my sister up. And I am just trying to speak as much as I can. I seek any opportunity to talk. To talk to people, to talk to neighbors, to talk to teachers, to talk to my classmates. Even like when I sit down on a bus, I just say hi to begin to talk to a stranger. [~laugh~] yes, it nice if you think she or he is a nice person. Usually people are very nice to give small talk, right? [Em] So, other than that, I will do volunteering if there any chance for me. I am doing like. [Er] I am still a volunteer in some museums, like Randall Museum, or what’s that museum? Next to the city hall.

H: Asian…

B: Oh, yep, Asian Art Museum, right? Yep. Being the… I am not sure the name. How they call. Just answer visitors’ questions and give them directions. So, if you do those, it might give you more opportunity to practice your speaking, your English. And the last thing I would find jobs. The requires employees to speak in English. I have tried many jobs that require people like employees to speak both Chinese and English. But I realized if the company needs you to speak English. That will push you, like to push you to think, to talk. It likes, I don’t know. Just make you focus on English. You will think, you will do, what, it’s hard to explain it. it just likes total different from when you talk and speak in Chinese. It is very different. ~ I don’t know how to say it, forget it~ OK? It is just to grab everything like jobs talks in English. It’s good. So, this way, I can practice English every day. And I told you finally got a part-time job as a private tutor and a job as an officer assistant at school. Even I earn not too much, but it’s enough for my daily use, and I can learn much through these jobs. [Haha]. I am still very happy about. Before that, I worked at Chinese restaurants as a casher or a waitress like many students, right? Doing part-time. Got the minimum paid and I couldn’t practice my English through these jobs. You know, you will think all of these opportunities, all of these provide me more chances to use what I have learned at school, which I am really thankful.

H: You said that you were a student before you came here. Do you think it is easier for you get education here?

B: [~ sigh ~] to get education. Yeah, before came here, I was a college student in China. Here~ if you ask some differences between education here and in China. I would say the education system here is better. Better than in China. I didn’t say it’s not good in China. I prefect the way how it works here. Because [~ Em ~] like. Chinese Education is the Exam-oriented Education, but the education mode here is like kind of Quality-oriented Education. I can give you a very simple example. When I was in China, my professors they might just talk, they will give lecture every day, but they don’t really ask you questions. Or they might ask you questions, but they don’t do the way that like the same in the US. So they will ask you “do you have any questions about this lecture or about any point?” And most the students they just say “no, we understand.” But really understand? I don’t think that’s true. So, even you don’t understand you might say “yes, I understand.” But here, because. I can say you might fear to ask questions. But here, in the US, you are free to ask any questions. You just being creative, being     if you don’t know. And like teachers, they will cooperate with students; they might sign you as groups, in small groups, sometimes in big groups. Discuss about the question. And we might come up with different ideas, different solutions. This very inspired for me. Cause it’s experience. That’s different kind of education like the teaching ways. I will say, Oh, I like it. I really like it. I can learn so much during these two years, I have understood more knowledge than ever before. I like the US, [yeah] So, and right now, I am still a college student, you know. [ ~hahaha~] I am just transfer to, I am ready, I am gonna transfer to the university to finish my education.

H: which school?

B: [~Wow~ (delighted) ]I will transfer to UC Berkeley this fall.

H: congratulation.

B: Thank you.

H: So, have you ever image the live if you hadn’t come here?

B: [~ En~] Honestly, I haven’t thought about this question before. I think I might have ended up living in town with my grandma and grandpa and my aunt. Helping my aunt run our family business after graduated. And, I might not have had a chance to broaden my visions and experienced so much if I was still in China, yep, in my hometown. And. Yeah, no more thought about that. Just, just not a question I would think most of my time.

H: [En~ En], Do you ever regret coming here?

B: Nope, absolutely no. I don’t regret coming here. I am very happy living here to meet you guys, my friends, met a lot of good people, good friends. And my family is here. And China is my home, but, America is also my home. I love both countries, they are all my, yeah, my hometowns right now. And I would like to experience different life styles if I have the opportunities. I am sure I will take these chances. I can learn English, meet and make friends from all over the world, travel wherever I like, and all kinds of different stuff I can do, and I enjoy my life here. Really, enjoy. I should thank my parents bringing me here and making an optimistic me. Without them, I could barely think of living abroad or studying abroad. It is difficult for me to live along. So, no regret!

H: enjoy your life here. Thank you.

 

The Fallen Leaves: Yang’s Journey

leaves

The Fallen Leaves: Yang’s Journey

by Anh Nguyen, December 201

There is a saying in Chinese that is roughly translated as “the fallen leaves find their ways to the root,” and which educates people to eventually stay true to their culture and origins. Charlene Yang, a Chinese immigrant in America, lives her life according to this saying. About twenty years ago, Yang moved to America with her parents, sister, and brother. Yang came from a poor province in Guangdong, where she vividly remembers the heat of summer. Like many people living in China at that time, Yang found it hard to acquire enough food and clothing. Yang was working while going to school with a salary of 80 cents a day. Her school not only allowed underage students to work, but also even provided work for students and permitted three days off a week to work in the fields. Seeing that her life could not get better if she had stayed in China, Yang decided to leave for America with her family when she was 23 years old. Her life was not easy when she first came here as she did not speak English, and everything was much more expensive than she had thought. Yang started to lean English by going to a night school while working in a clothing factory every day. When her family became more stable and more accustomed to the American life, she went to Macau to marry her husband, after which he also moved to America with her. Then, she became pregnant with her first daughter, and so their lives in the US began to be stable. Now Yang is blessed with a stable job in a hotel and a happy family with two daughters and a son.

Looking back at her decision to move to America, Yang thinks it was the best thing she could ever have done, to secure an easy and happy life for her children. Our interview takes place in Yang’s living room, which is full of Chinese ornaments and some small decorations with American flags. The background sound of her husband watching an American football game via Chinese telecast, and her children discussing things in both Chinese and English can still be heard through the recording. Yang speaks with a soft voice, and, sometimes, when the cheers of her family watching the game cuts her story off, she quietly stops talking to give a gentle and satisfied smile towards her family. When asked about her identity, Yang becomes confused because she thinks it has an obvious answer: she is Chinese. Although she cannot give any reason why, Yang insists that her family, which consists of three children who have never been to China, is a Chinese family through and through. After close examination, I realized that Yang is neither totally Chinese nor totally American, and is clinging to her Chinese origin as a coping mechanism in her American life. By blindly sticking to her Chinese culture, Yang is actually confused about her cultural identity as she tries to assimilate her origin, dream, and future to forcefully realize the American dream and make America her home, and it is only then that she realizes that she neither belongs to America nor China, which is actually a manifestation of the “underground” racism towards Asians in the United States.

Yang’s story is one of the few cases in which the American dream actually comes true, but she has not relied on sheer luck, but rather her enormous, effort to realize her dream. With a soft smile, Yang expresses how content she is with her life now. Yang is happy with her job with stable earnings and many employees’ benefits that she never had in China. Comparing her new life with her life in China, Yang is also happy when she thinks her children’s potential futures are much better than they would ever be if she had stayed in China. Yang came to American to seek a better life, and she found it. But Yang’s case is actually the odd happy case of realizing the American dreams among the poorer and unprepared immigrants in the US. Liso, an undocumented immigrant in the US, shared her view of the American dream through the book Underground America, which consists of many immigrants’ stories exposing the unthinkable hardship and abuses they have to face in America: “you find dollars lying in the grass, every leaf on the tree is a dollar” (80). However, when Liso moved to America, she realized that her life was worse off than it would had been, had she stayed in Africa, and that many Americans suffer great poverty, contrary to common belief in her country. Liso and Yang’s stories are so different that one might think they live in totally different countries or different times because Yang’s America is the land full of hopes and promises, while Liso’s is the complete opposite. Putting aside the fact that Liso was in a more complicated situation, both legally and mentally, one might think that Yang is genuinely lucky to have her life as it is now. Yang did not rely on luck, but rather her effort and attitude to make her dreams come true. When she first came to America, Yang had to adjust to the American culture, which was completely new and different to her. Because everything here was so expensive, Yang remembers she was so afraid of paying for anything that she spent two days walking nonstop to find a cheap place to stay. In addition, Yang left behind her friends to live in a country whose language she did not even speak. Therefore, Yang was also facing hardship when she moved to America. However, Yang did not let her dream slip away just because of those troubles. She tried her utmost to learn English and to save up money while keeping a positive attitude about her situation. Because she believed in herself and her accomplishments, she kept altering the hardship into challenges for her to change herself. Therefore, Yang realized her American dream by keeping a realistic view of the US and continuously challenges herself.

Yang identifies not only herself but also her children, who have never been to China, as Chinese, a behavior that is an example of one of four mainstream coping mechanisms of immigrants. Cultural identity of first and second-generation immigrants like Yang and her children is an interesting subject to study because they tend to be caught between two reasons to debate over their identity: adapting and deserting. In their study “Cultural identity and psychological adjustment of adolescent Chinese immigrants in New Zealand,” Mei Lin Eyou, Vivienne Adair, and Robyn Dixon classify second generation Chinese immigrants in New Zealand into four groups according to their attitudes towards China and New Zealand’s cultures. The study of over 400 adolescent Chinese immigrants shows that “162 (44.4%) of the participants were classified as integrated, 133 (36.4%) as separated, 20 (5.5%) as assimilated, and 50 (13.7%) as marginalized” (536). If, according to Yang’s first answer that she thinks of herself as Chinese, she falls in the 36.4% group of separated immigrants, who find themselves strongly connected to their original culture, although, after being questioned about her answer, she changes her answer to half American, half Chinese, which means she wants to appear more as an integrated immigrant, who mainly identifies herself with the mainstream cultural identity. Her lack of resolve suggests that Yang is probably confused about her cultural identity. Her confusion is the result of her struggle to live her American dream while holding onto her Chinese origin. As a result of her inner debate, she chooses to cling to her Chinese origin as a simple way to cope with her dream of living in America, the future of American life for her children, and her cultural origin.

 Although Yang tries the easy way out regarding her cultural identity, she is actually still in a much more complicated and lost situation as she tries to identify herself. Yang is actually neither integrated nor separated because her lifestyle is not similar to either the stereotypical American or Chinese. Consciously or not, Yang surrounds herself with Chinese people and avoids contact with Americans. In additions, she celebrates both American and Chinese holidays, which may make her seem like integrated immigrants who are equally affected by their original and new cultures. However, Yang acts according to the stereotypes of Americans more for the appearance of it than celebrating the actual reasons for the holidays. Thus, Yang is, indeed, trying to identify herself with both the Chinese and the American. In consequence, Yang is neither American nor Chinese, and the more she tries to act like either of these two, the more she does not belong to either of the two groups. Incidentally, Yang’s behavior clearly exemplifies the coping mechanism of a marginalized immigrant, who is alienated from both cultures. On the one hand, Yang acts like a Chinese person because she was educated to do so from childhood, so this lifestyle stays as a habit. On the other hand, Yang tries to be American because she is affected by the expectation of her family and friends about someone living in the US. Therefore, while trying to act according to different and contradicting expectations of her, Yang actually loses sight of who she is and who she wants to become. Thus, Yang’s final answer to the question about her cultural identity, which is simply “I don’t know,” greatly exemplifies her complex exile from both the cultures that she is trying to assimilate with.

Yang’s choice to stick with the Chinese culture is actually inevitable because it is a decision predetermined by American society. As explained earlier, as Yang is caught between the dilemma of blending in with the American lifestyle and retaining her Chinese upbringing, she has two choices of cultural identity, American and Chinese. However, in reality, Yang has no other choice but to stick to her Chinese roots, and to understand her forced choice, we have to understand the history of Chinese and Asian immigrants in the US. In The Wealth Inequality Reader, edited by Dollar & Sense United for a Fair Economy, Meizhu Lui assesses the racial wealth gap of American-born Asians and white Americans to find out that “American-born Asians have moved into professional positions, and the median income of Asians is now higher than that of whites. However, glass ceilings still persist…Asians are still defined by race and branded as perpetual foreigners” (50). This situation is true if we go back in history of Asian immigrants. Asians came to the United States at the same time as the Irish. However, when the early Naturalization Act of 1790 recognized the Irish as citizens, Asians were left behind in the race to be legally admitted. Then comes the Civil Rights Movement, and once again Asians are simply forgotten. Now, while there is less discrimination between the black and the white, at least by law, Asians are neither black nor white. In addition, laws were passed to alienate Asian immigrants like the Foreign Miners Tax, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, and Alien Land Act, so Asians have mostly existed quietly in secluded areas that Americans do not penetrate. In accordance, Yang represents just a small fraction of the Chinese society existing inside America, but as a dispensable external part. As a result, Yang has no other choice but to identify herself as Chinese and not American because it is the decision that society expects her to make due to her Asian race.

In other words, Yang’s choice to associate herself with Chinese people is the manifestation of the “implied racism” towards Asian Americans in the United States. Racism towards Asians is “implied” because it has never been historically and officially admitted. Asians were lucky to not be considered among the slave race, but were never among the rulers either. Even nowadays, many Asians in San Francisco solemnly live in Chinatown, Japan-town, or Korean-town. Society simply accepts the idea of naming some place Asian-town and Asian-market. Imagine saying black town! And even more confusing, if people are named because of their skin colors, shouldn’t they say yellow instead of Asians? Everything points out to the conclusion that racism towards Asians is “implied,” and it is so deeply rooted that it becomes natural and unquestioned. Living in a society that accepts and facilitates this kind of “implied racism,” Yang’ choice, once again, is the final outcome of most Asians living in the United States, and this will be the choice many more Asians immigrants will have to make if they want to live “harmoniously” here. The solution to this implied racism is even more complicated than racism towards black people because, while black-racism is openly recognized, Asian-racism is inexplicit. As a consequence, public movements are unlikely to solve Asian-racism. Educated Americans are proposing two ways to eliminate racism towards black people, which persist despite all the movements, that we either erase history or change the future. However, these methods will not provide any solution for racism towards Asians, as long as Asians themselves do not admit they are being discriminated against. So, the first step towards eliminating racism is recognizing it, but, again, this is the choice of Asians. Hopefully, Asian immigrants like Yang will no longer suffer from any kind of racism and have more control over their choices of identity.

Living in the culturally diverse United States, Yang chooses to identify herself as Chinese, despite living here for a longer portion of her life because she is confused by her dreams, expectation and origin, so she chooses to act Chinese out of sheer habit. However, Yang is neither Chinese nor American, so she is eventually exiled from both cultures and even loses sight of who she want to be. Yang’s situation shows the problem that many Asians immigrants, and immigrants in general, have to face. Immigrants are often caught in the dilemma of either changing their ideologies to adapt to the new culture or staying true to their former cultures. In any case, the decision will vary with the person’s personality, ability to adapt, and ability to understand him or herself. However, as an Asian immigrant in the United States, Yang has to suffer the implied racism that white immigrants do not have to face. And because Asian-racism is inexplicit, Yang is unconsciously, yet undoubtedly, influenced by it. Thus, the decision to cling to Chinese culture is not Yang’s choice but the result of the drives from society. In other words, Yang chooses to identify herself as Chinese is the usual behavior of a stereotyped Asian immigrant who society construct. Yang’s actual cultural identity is a wonderful mixture of the American free and exciting lifestyle and the reserved and refined Chinese doctrine. If only she could realize this, she would not be so lost and would be able to make peace with her dreams and her burden to carry on with the Chinese lifestyle.

Works Cited

Lui, Meizhu. The Wealth Inequality Reader. Dollar & Sense United for a Fair                       Economy. Oakland: Dollar & Sense, 2004. Print.

Eyou, Mei Lin, Adair Vivienne, and Dixon Robyn. Cultural identity and psychological adjustment of adolescent Chinese immigrants in New Zealand. Auckland: Elsevier, 2000. Print.

Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives. Ed Peter Orner. Voice of Witness. San Francisco: McSweeney’s Books, 2008. Print.

Interview Transcript

Under the dimly light of Yang’s living room, we started our conversation. Far off to our right, Yan’s husband and children were watching an American soccer game in a Chinese news channel. The sound of the broadcast came out to be a chaos mixture of Cantonese and English; I was surprised to know how they could even make out what was going on. Yang offered me a glass of warm water with some lemon slice. We were sitting in the same sofa, so I moved to one far edge and urn to her, to give us some space, and mainly to look at her.

       Where were you born?

       I was born in China. I was 23 when I came here.

       Did you always want to come to the US?

       Yeah. I came here with my parents. They came here when I was 21. I was separated from them for 2 years.

Yang’s eyes seemed distanced as she thought of her parents. She turned from me to briefly look at her husband. As she fixed her eyes on the wooden coffer at the end of the room, which seemed to contain every little ornaments and mementos one could keep, I went on with my questions.

       Can you tell me about your first day in the US? Why did you decided to come here?

       I had always thought that everything was better here. Now China is better, but it is still better here. I heard that business is good now.

Yang turned to look at me directly when she said that, with sparkled eyes, and her hands trying to draw the cross line with China on the one side and American on the other.

       Can you tell me a little about your life in China?

       I lived in Guangdong. All I remember is that it was very hot there. We worked all day, and there was not enough food to eat.

Her eyes scrunched as she talked about her old life in China. It was as if she was trying to fresh some long forgotten memories.

       What did you do in China? What was your job?

       I mixed rice for one or two years. I was sixteen when I started working. It was when I was still studying. I worked 7 days a week. There was no holiday. It was so hot. I worked from 5am to 2pm every day. After working on the field, I went back to my house to take a shower, take a rest, and then went back to work again. I was paid 80 cents for one day. The work was not the same every day, and it was not hard work, only too long. Sometimes it took 10 hours a day, sometimes 12. Although we never stopped working, we were very poor.

Yang repeated the last sentences more than twice. She told her story in broken sentences. Sometimes she would stop and try to think of an English word for what she wanted to say. While struggling to express her at times. Yang was eager to tell her story. Yang could not remember the world “field,” so she drew it out in a piece of napkin for me. As we looked it up in the Internet, she commented on how Internet is “so good, so easy,” and how quick witted I was to think of using the online dictionary.

       How often do you contact with the people back in China?

       Not very often. My husband’s brother is in China. We talk on the phone sometimes, but not often. They say it is very good now. They make more money, and there is more food now. Everything has changed since I left, which was about 30 years ago.

       Can you tell me more about your school in China?

       I did not like school in China. If we did not do homework, they would punish us by hitting our hands. I was so scared of the teacher. The school’s system was not good in China then. The president’s policy was not good. We did not study at all. We did not go to school 4 days a week; students were supposed to work during those days. The school gave us work like cooking to feed the pigs.

We had to stopped and looked up the “pigs” word again. Yang apologized for her limited use of English, and made up for it by using body language and hand gestures. She held out one hand and hit it with the other when she told me about her being hit in school. Yang did not use the word “president,” she use a Chinese word for it. I didn’t know how the word looked like and how to put it in English character. But one thing for sure, I knew it meant “President” in Chinese because I had always heard my Chinese friends using that word. What a wonder that even my Chinese friends, who were influenced in English, still used the Chinese word when they talked about their Leader.

       Do you want to go back to China some day?

       No, I like it here. I only go back to China for vacation.

       Can you tell me a bit about your journey to the US?

       I spent 3 days coming here. I came here with my brother and younger sister. We walked for 2 days. We did not take the bus to save money. Everything was so expensive here. My parents, my brother, and I worked for a textile company. I worked there for about a while, and then I worked for an electronic company for 9 years. Now I am working for a hotel. The pay is good, and they offer employees’ benefits there, so I like my job now. My mom worked in a restaurant. The money was good, but it was hard job. We wanted to save money to buy a house. We Chinese like to have a house. We do not like moving or renting houses. If you borrow money to buy a house, after 20 years, you have that house. But if you rent your place, even after 20 years, 30 years, you still do not have any place.

It took Yang more than 20 minutes to talk about her life when she first came to the US. Yang puzzled when I asked where she first worked as she did not understand the word “company.” After a while, she muttered some Chinese word and began to catch the meaning of my questions and continued on.

       How did you meet your husband?

I pointed to her husband, who was sitting with her children 3 feet from us watching TV. They broke out some cry; maybe the game had reached its climax. The only light in the room was glittering above their head, where the TV stand was. Yang turned to her husband, and her face brightened.

       I had known him in China before I came here. He is a good man. One year after I came here, I went back to Macau to marry him, and then we came here. Now you cannot do that any longer.

       Why did you decide to come here?

       I was thinking for the future. Everything was better here. Now I have my family and my children here with me. We are very lucky to be living here.

       Do you miss China?

       A little bit. I only miss my friends. I do not like anything else in China. Now in China, the food is not good because there are lots of chemical in the food. It is not like that here. I do not have to worry about food here. The government here has policies to protect people. US’s government is better. The salary is better in China now. Government job’s pays about 5000 to 6000 thousands Chinese dollars. Although you can make more money in China, you cannot spend your money however you want to.

       How did you find life in the US?

       I did not speak English when I came here. I had to learn from A B C. I worked in the morning and went to school at night. Every day, I went to school from 6 to 8:30pm. It was very hard. After my husband came here, I had my daughter, so I stopped going to school. I learnt English by listening to the radio.

Then Yang told me again about her life in China: how she had worked all day long with below minimum pay, and how unfriendly the weather had been.

       Do you think of yourself as Chinese or American?

       I am Chinese, of course. I am still Chinese. I say “we Chinese” all the time.

Yang laughed out when I asked if she was Chinese or American, as if it had been some silly question with obvious answer. But when I turned the question around and asked what type of passport she used, to which the answer was American passport, she cached on my intention. Yang adverted her eyes and shaked her head, muttering to her self: “But I am Chinese.” As I pestered her what made she think so, Yang smiled gently.

       What about you then? Are you Vietnamese or American?

I was surprised that she asked me that, but nevertheless, I affirmed her.

       I am Vietnamese of course. I was born in Vietnam, raised in Vietnam, and I have a Vietnamese passport. I came to the US for less than a year. How can I be American?

       But what if you were me? What would you say?

       Then maybe half and half.

Her eyes glittered.

       Ok, half and half then. I am half American, half Chinese. But I am Chinese.

Realizing I could not get more than this answer, I changed the subject.

       What about your children? Do you raise them according to the Chinese tradition?

       They are Chinese.

       But they are born here, and they never lived in Chinese, they are still Chinese?

       They are Chinese. Their father, mother, grandparents are Chinese, and so they are Chinese. I tell them they are Chinese. Sometimes I think about China. I was born there, so I am Chinese. Although I like it here better, and I do not plan to go back to China ever, I am still Chinese.

       Do they speak Cantonese?

       I tried to teach my daughter. I even sent her to Chinese school, but she did not like it. She said “Mommy, I don’t want to learn Chinese. It is too hard.”

Yang laughed heartily looking at her daughter at the other end of the room. Her children were talking to each other in fluent English.

– What do you think of the one child policy in China?

– It must have been long time ago. Now, the government allows you to have a choice. If the first child is a girl, you can have another try to have a boy. But now everything is expensive, so people only want to have one child. So many people have abortion to have one boy only.

Then Yang went on to talk about how lucky she was to live in San Francisco. Our conversation died off as the clock stroked 10pm. Yang got up to prepare for her job the next day at the hotel before she went to bed.



 

 

 

 

 

Another Point of View

Another Point of View

by Xu Chen, May 28th, 2013

chinatown 

Ben Li, a Chinese immigrant who came to the United States with his parents at the age of eight, and I became friends because, not only are we classmates in a Biology 9 course at the City College of San Francisco, but we also use a common language, Taishanese, a dialect of Cantonese. Later, we found out that we both came from Taishan, a city in Guangdong, China, and have the same major, psychology. Also, I found out that Ben seems to have a complex but homeostatic identity, because he manages well his America-Chinese identity even though he tends to consider himself an America more than a Chinese, except for his Chinese exterior and knowledge of the Chinese language. Ben’s situation is interesting to me, because it does not match a case that I have studied, which is that of Edward Said, a famous Palestinian literary theoretician, who had a complex and disharmonious identity because of being exiled from the Arab world to the America. Therefore, I interviewed Ben to try to find out what makes the difference between Ben and Said’s identities, which are affected by their exiles.

     According to Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese-born French author, who won the 1993 Prix Goncourt, in his book In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong, in which he discusses how the clash of Islamic and Western worlds affects people’s identities in general, “Identity can’t be compartmentalized. You can’t divide it up into halves or thirds or any other separate segments. I haven’t got several identities: I’ve got just one, made up of many components in a mixture that is unique to me, just as other people’s identity is unique to them as individuals” (2). In this statement, Maalouf clearly defines that a person’s identity is a complexity that can be combined by several segments but cannot be divided. Also, readers may realize that a person’s identity is a unique union united by his or her family context, surroundings, educational background, personal experience… Further, exile absolutely affects someone’s identity, because exile is a personal experience. Therefore, I believe that, even though Ben and Said both are exiles, which causes them depression due to managing their multicultural backgrounds, Ben has a different identity and perspective on the concept of home than Said’s, which is because they are different types of exiles and grew up in different social contexts.

     First, Said had a troublesome identity, which made him feel uncomfortable, because he grew up in a relatively conservative world. Said was an Arab growing in the Arab world, but, because of his American identity and Americanized name, Edward, he felt embarrassed and uncomfortable almost all his childhood. In Chapter V, in which he illustrates his unhappy experiences at the Cairo School for American Children, in his book Out of Place, in which he uses his personal experiences to record events in the Arab world, he states, “The overall sensation I had was of my troublesome identity as an American inside whom lurked another Arab identity from which I derived no strength, only embarrassment and discomfort” (90). In this statement, Said intelligibly explains that his complex identity, which is mixed up between American and Arab, making him feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. Also, readers may realize that Said’s “embarrassment and discomfort” come from the environment in which he grew up, Cairo, which was a multicultural but conservative society because of historical issues and colonization. Therefore, Said had a disharmonious identity caused by the conflict of his surroundings and nationality.

     Conversely, Ben has a more homeostatic identity than Said’s, maybe because he grew up in San Francisco, a multicultural and open society that allows Ben to expresses his complex identity, in which his Chinese and American parts are united. Ben is lucky, because he moved from China with his parents when he was eight years old to San Francisco, an American city that is considered one of the most tolerant cities in the world. When I asked him what pressure he had experienced because of his identity while he was growing up, Ben answered, “No, it’s pretty straightforward. My teachers are pretty straightforward about race and genders and everything like that.” In his answer, Ben clearly states that his growing up environment was very fair, without any discrimination, because his teachers were very straightforward and did not care about his race or gender. Reading Ben’s statement, readers may realize that, because of his fair surroundings growing up, his identity can be fully developed with two different sides, American and Chinese. Actually, when Ben introduces himself, he will call himself Chinese; therefore, I asked him why he considered himself as a Chinese but not an America, and he answered me:”In exterior, I physically I am a Chinese, I am very proud of my heritage have been Chinese. It is pretty special, and I am still a Chinese, my parents are Chinese. My still keep Chinese traditions, like Chinese New Year. I still consider myself a Chinese.” In this statement, Ben clearly narrates the reason he considers himself as Chinese is because of his race, family and culture context. Reading his statement, readers can understand that Ben’s definition of self-identity is dependent on his race, which makes him Chinese first over others. Also, readers can understand that Ben’s identity in Chinese part has fully developed because he is proud of his Chinese identity, which is imperceptibly rooted in his mind by his family context and cultural surroundings.

     However, Ben’s two parts of self-identity, the Chinese and the American, are not equal because his self-identity tend to the American side even though he considers he is a Chinese first. When Ben describes his schooling, he says, “It was very special… Well, I’m also learning in English and stay in America; I became more America than Chinese… I was turned to more America than Chinese. I get the feeling. You know that. I am turning more America.” In this statement, Ben plainly narrates that he is more American than Chinese right now because of his educational background, which is a full of English language environment. Reading Ben’s statement, readers can understand that Ben’s identity has been affected by his language education, because his English language is a force that makes him an America more than a Chinese. Also, Ben’s social surroundings, which are an English environment, is another factor that makes him an America, because he has to use English in his everyday life, which is caused by his exile. However, Ben’s Chinese and American parts of self-identity are homeostatic, because he seems to let his Chinese part melt into his American part. Therefore, even though, similarly to Said, Ben also is an exile who has a complex identity because of living in a multicultural society, he does not have a disharmonious identity, which is because Ben’s social surroundings are in an open society that allows him to fully develop his complex identity while Said’s, from Cairo to Lebanon, was in conservative societies that aggravated the conflict of his complex identity.

     Second, even though Said considered his true home was Palestine, where he was born, Ben considered his true home is the America, where he lives, but not China, where he was born, which is because Ben and Said are two different types of exile. Said grew up in a turbulous times when was the time of the WWII and wars in Arab world, so he was exiled from Palestine to Egypt and then to the America; as the result of this, he considered himself as an exile. Actually, in his article “Reflections on Exile,” in which he uses lots of examples to illustrate how people reflect on their exiles in literature, Said argues that exile has various forms, such as refugees, expatriates and émigrés:

“Although it is true that anyone prevented from returning home is an exile, some distinctions can be made exiles, refugees, expatriates and émigrés… Expatriates voluntarily live in an alien country, usually for personal or social reasons…Expatriates may share in the solitude and estrangement of exile, but they do not suffer under its rigid proscriptions” (144).

Reading this statement, readers can understand that a person who has any prevention that blocks him or her from returning to his or her homeland is an exile, and Said pretty much fit this definition because, for some reason, he could not go back to the Arab world, which was his homeland, for a number of years. The long term exile and proscription made Said feel be isolated almost all the time so he felt out of place almost everywhere. Therefore, in Chapter IX of Out of Place, in which he points out his first experience of returning to Palestine after his long term exile to the United States, Said describes his early memory of Egypt as “considerably chopped up, full of atmospherics that conveyed a sense of warmth and comfort by contrast with the harsh alienation I felt in my New York life” (217). In this statement, Said clearly describes that he feels very comfortable and warm in Egypt, where he grew up, but feels isolated in New York, where he spent most of his adulthood and had a wife and children, because he uses alienation to describe his statues in New York. Unlikely to Ben, Said had a strong scene of isolation in New York, where he had career and family, so he considered himself as an alien.

     Conversely, Ben feels isolated in China, where he was born, but feels he belongs in America, where he lives now. According to Said’s definition of an expatriate in “Reflections on Exile,” Ben is a perfectly-matched case of expatriate, because he came to the America with his parents, and enjoys his life here. However, when he goes back to China, he feels the solitude and estrangement because of the language barrier. Therefore, when I asked Ben to describe his experience of going back to China to visit, he answers:

“And, it was funny because when I talked, I always used my hands, and they thought it was very silly. And, they would like, tease me about that…. When I first time went go to China, I ate the food and my body did not handle it very well. I had diarrhea… I’m still not able to go back along without my cousins or my parents to help me to read the signs.”

In this statement, Ben distinctly illustrates that language and environment are two preventions of him going back to China, which causes his isolated feeling. Reading his statement, readers can understand that, because Ben’s Chinese was not good enough to communicate with his relatives, he had to a use sign language to communicate with them, which his relatives teased him about. This language was a barrier that isolated Ben, because he might feel isolated by his relatives for his “silly” language, which readers can imagine. Also, readers can understand that the Chinese environment is another prevention that isolates Ben in China. Because he could not read Chinese characters, Ben had to depend on his relatives to figure out the meanings of street signs, which isolated him from independence. Another Chinese environmental factor that physically isolated Ben was the Chinese food, which caused his diarrhea. Food is an important factor in the concept of home, but Ben, as a Chinese, could not physically get used to the Chinese food, which might be caused by his long term exile to the America; this is a physical prevention for Ben’s body. Therefore, readers may realize that Ben felt isolated in China because of his poor Chinese and the Chinese environment, which he could not get used to because of his long term exile. In addition, when I asked him where he considers  home, he answered that it is only one place, America, where he spends most of his time; then, when I asked him why did he not consider China his home, his homeland, he answered: “I am not familiar with China.” Reading this conversation, readers can understand that, maybe because of the experience of being isolated in China, Ben does not consider China his home even he was born there  and comes from there, whereas he considers that America is his true home, in which he implies no isolation. Also, in America, Ben cannot feel any isolation because of the free environment here. Therefore, when I asked him: “If you had a chance that can choose to come here or stay in China, what you would choose?”, he answered: “I would choose America because it is so diverse and interesting here. If I had stayed in China, I would never have gotten exposed to the world outside of China. Also, I think it is safer in America.” Therefore, readers can understand that Ben very enjoys his exile and feels no isolation in the America, which is totally opposite of Said.

     Moreover, because of the feelings of being isolated, which are caused by their exiles, Ben and Said have two opposite perspectives on the concept of true home; Ben considers that America is his home, where he has spent most of his time and feels safe, while Said considered nowhere was home except the Arab world, where he was born and grew up. In Chapter XI, in which he illustrates his first experience of visiting the America, of Out of Place, Said states, “I could have left them over at school but neurotically and categorically refused to go anywhere without all my belongs” (237). Reading this statement, readers can understand that, because of the feeling of being isolated, Said did not have a secure place outside the Arab world that he would consider as home to leave “them”—his belongs. Because he was an exile, Said felt out of place and insecure almost everywhere; therefore, in “Reflection on Exile,” Said states, “Exile is never the state of being satisfied, placid, or secure” (148), which perfectly explains his controversial perspective on isolation, which is opposite to Ben’s perspective.

     In contrast, Ben’s concept of home is more widely acceptable than Said’s, because he believes his true home is where he spends most of his time. When I asked him how he defines the concept of home after he said that the America is his one and only home, he answered, “Home has to be a place where I feel I belong, a place where I can feel safe. It is a place where I know I won’t be judged by what I do or how I feel. It is a place where I want to stay forever.” In this statement, Ben clearly defines that the main factors of his concept of home are belonging and safety. As an expatriate, Ben very much enjoys his life in the United States, because he does not feel any isolation but feels very safe; that is why he considers the United States is his true home and wants to stay there forever. Another factor that makes him feel safe and not isolated may be the language. Ben came to the United States when he was very young, so English became his primary language; therefore, in the United States, he can fluently communicate with various kinds of people without any language barrier. Unlike his isolated feeling in China, in the United States, he does not feel isolation caused by language barrier. To sum up, because Ben is an expatriate, a form of exile, and Said was an exile, they experienced isolation in different places; Ben experienced isolation in his homeland, China, while Said experienced isolation almost everywhere outside of his homeland, the Arab world. Therefore, they have two almost totally opposite perspectives on the concept of true home; Ben considers his true home is the United States, a foreign land of Ben, where he feels belonging and safety, while Said conversely claimed one’s true home should be the place where a person was born.

     Finally, even though Ben and Said are two different forms of exile, they both face the same depression from managing their multicultural backgrounds. Nowadays, because of the process of globalization, multicultural backgrounds seem to a benefit of a person, but, sometimes, it may cause someone’s depression, especially when the person needs to snub one culture to keep others. Said was an Arab-born American, who grew up in the Arab world but received education in English environments, so he had a strong background of Arab and American culture. However, during his exile to the United States, he felt depression over his fading Arab cultural background. Therefore, in Chapter XI of Out of Place, in which he illustrates his experience of studying in the United States Said writes, “My years in the United States were slowly weaning me away of form Cairo habits — of thought, behavior, speech and relationship” (273). In this statement, Said implies that he is depressed about his Arab culture fading away, because he uses the word wean, which is a synonym of prevent. Said’s exile allowed him to reach the American culture more, but, at the same time, his Arab culture was fading because he rarely reached it, which he loved; therefore, Said felt depression like Ben.

     Similarly, Ben feels depression about his losing his Chinese cultural context, which is caused by his poor Chinese, a result of his exile. Even though Ben can totally understand Cantonese, he cannot use Cantonese to precisely express his ideas, which causes hardship communicating with his parents. When I asked him what difficulty he has when he manages his bilingual background, he answered:

“When I talk to my parents, I have to speak in Chinese, it is getting more difficult, because as I living here as an America, I am here, emm….to let my Chinese, like slip away, because I haven’t used very much. And since I away speck in English, I have difficulty having words to talk to my parents. So it is been hard, I mean it is hard to me communicate to them. I want to talk them, but it is hard to me, because I can’t come with the words because I speak in English.”

In this statement, Ben distinctly illustrates that his bilingual background causes him trouble, because it is hard to communicate with his parents in Cantonese, who do not know English. Also, readers can understand that Ben’s ability of speaking Chinese is fading away because he does not frequently use Chinese in his daily life, which is a result of his exile. Another trouble that Ben faces over his bilingual background is the relationship with his parents, because his parents cannot speak English and Ben does not precisely express his ideas in Cantonese. Therefore, Ben’s bilingual background does not benefit him but causes him trouble. Similar to Said, who also felt depress about his multicultural backgrounds, Ben feels depressed about his bilingual background because he is losing his Chinese language, which causes his difficulty in communicating with his parents.

     In conclusion, even though, similarly to Said, Ben is an expatriate, a form of exile, and faces the depression of managing his multicultural backgrounds, Ben’s identity, which unites his Chinese and American parts, is homeostatic and he feels safe in his alien land, America, which he considers his one and only true home. However, even though Said had a disharmonious identity and only considered his true home the Arab world, where he was born, Ben has a homeostatic identity and believes that the true home of him is America, a foreign country for him, where he feels safe. In fact, exile is an influential experience, because it will change a person’s social context, which affects his identity, and will causes someone’s feeling of being isolated, which affects his concept of true home. Therefore, Ben and Said’s cases are two researchable cases that can be used to study how exile affects people.

Works Cited

Li, Ben. Presonal interview. 21 Mar. 2013.

Maalouf, Amin. In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. New York: Arcade, 2012. n.d. 2. PDF. Web. 20 May. 2013.

Said, Edward W. Out of Place: A Memoir. New York: Vintage, 2000. 90-273. Print.

—. Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2002. n.d. 144. PDF. Web. 20 May. 2013

Transcript

Ben Li is one of my classmates in Biology 9 course. He and I also came from Taishan, Guandong, China, so he can understand me when I speak in Taishanese, which he showed to me at the first day me meet. Moreover, we are also in psychology major. We seem to have lots in common. To figure out how his exile affects his identity is the main point of this interview.

A= Xu Chen B = Ben Li

A: Could you introduce yourself?

B: My name is Ben…. I am a Chinese, and I came to American when I was 8 around 2000.

My habits are video games and building plastic model robots.

A: Do you still consider that you are a Chinese?

B: Yes, I am Chinese.

A: But, why? Because when you came here, you were very young, you probably did not know you were a Chinese or an America. I mean you didn’t know the differences, right?

B: Yes, well. When I first came here, I didn’t know the differences. Also, it’s surprise that there were lots people they aren’t Chinese, they did not look like me.

A: so, have you gone back to China?

B: Yes, I gone back twice.

A: How do you think about that?

B: It was ok. I mean…. it was very…. it was very good… feeling for me. because I get to see where I came from when I as an adult.

A: Tell me a little bit of your experience of back to China.

B: When I went back to China, I get to meet a lot of friends and family that I only saw when I was only 8 years old. And, it was funny because when I talked, I always used my hands, and they thought it was very silly. And, they would like, tease me about that. And, actually, it was funny. When I first time went go to China, I ate the food and my body did not handle it very well. I had diarrhea. After that, my body readjust it, I did not have diarrhea anymore. But the food in China is tastier than the one in America, may because they add more spicy and flavors to it. But in America, the food has more nutrition, that is why I am taller than all of my family in China. I am the tallest person in my family in China. It was just a very good experience just seen my family that I hasn’t talked to 10 years. It was a very moment in my life.

A: What do you think the difference between Chinese life and American life?

B: One thing was my cousin, he goes to school in China, and he lives in school and they need to wear uniforms. They were very very very boring. They were in one color, maybe two colors, but mostly blue or something. And they need to live inside the dorm. The dorm looks very boring too. Just…

A: Just male or female…

B: Just male or female, it looks very un-America.

A: How about the normal life?

B: The normal life, I guess would be the same thing. I know that they go to Karaoke a lot.

A: But not here, uh?

B: Yes, not here. They party harder than me do.

A: Do you have any memory of you early childhood? I mean before you came here.

B: eee…. Yes, a little bit.

A: Tell me about that.

B: Yes, I was always with my family. I was always with my cousin and all the other kids around my age here.

A:How do you feel that?

B: emmm…. I would…. feel…. I was happy I guess.

(We were laughing)

B: I was happy because I was a kid, so I didn’t have to worry.

A: It was great! Were there any difference between here and China?

B: It was hotter in China. I came here, it was pretty cold.

A: How about the live?

B: The live wasn’t much change. I was a kid. It was easy to me to learn English.

A: Did your parents ask you to change any life style when you came here?

B: Not really, I just needed to learn English. That was the biggest concern. They also wanted me to learn Chinese, but it did not go very well.

A: What language will you use when you talk to your parents?

B: Chinese.

A: Cantonese?

B: No, Taiwanese.

A: Taishan?

B: Oh, Taishanese!

A: Do your parents speak English?

B: My parents speak a little bit English, but not too much.

A: Do you parents force you to learn English very hard or just keep you in Chinese?

B: They did not force me to learn English. I’m kind of packing up because I went to school here. They wanted me to learn Chinese, but I did not pack it up very well.

A: As I know some Chinese immigrants’ kids are forced to go to Chinese (language) school as an after-school event, so have you taken it?

B: I used to take Chinese school on Sundays, every Sunday, but I did not continue taking it, because I wasn’t packing up very well.

A: So you don’t like it, right?

B: Yes, I don’t like it.

A: Well, why you do not like? I mean you are Chinese, you suppose need to know Chinese, right?

B: well, since I came to America, I try taking English. I mean when you try to learn one language, it is kind of harder to a different one while you are trying learn one. It is hard to learn two language at the same time.

A: Do you have any pressure when you are growing up? I mean about you identity.

B: No, it’s pretty straightforward. My teachers are pretty straightforward about race and genders and everything like that.

A: Tell me a little bit about your schooling.

B: It was very special. There were a lot of people different from me, you know, like black people, white people, and Philippine people, Mexico people. There were a lot of people. Well, I’m also learning in English and stay in America; I became more America than Chinese. We still celebrate the Chinese New Year, and pray to our gods. I was turned to more America than Chinese. I get the feeling. You know that. I am turning more America.

A: In your introduction, you introduce you as a Chinese, so you think you are a Chinese but not an America?

B: In exterior, I physically I am a Chinese, I am very proud of my heritage have been Chinese. It is pretty special, and I am still a Chinese, my parents are Chinese. My still keep Chinese traditions, like Chinese New Year. I still consider myself a Chinese.

A: But you said you tend to an America more than to Chinese, dose two identities have any conflict?

B: Not real. I tend to separate American form Chinese. When I go home, I basically a Chinese person, but when I go to school anywhere, when I outside, I speak English. And I don’t have a lot of Chinese friends. NO, all of my Chinese friend here, mostly them speak English, only a little bit speak Chinese, So I get to speak more English than Chinese.

A: Do you have any difficulty when you switch the identities?

B:At home?

A: At home or outside.

B: When I talk to my parents, I have to speak in Chinese, it is getting more difficult, because as I living here as an America, I am here, emm….to let my Chinese, like slip away, because I haven’t used very much. And since I away speck in English, I have difficulty having words to talk to my parents. So it is been hard, I mean it is hard to me communicate to them. I want to talk them, but it is hard to me, because I can’t come with the words because I speak in English.

A: Do you feel any guilty about that?

B: Yes, I do. Because when they told me to learn Chinese, I actually, I tried but I could not, so, I cannot talk to them now.

A: Where would you consider as home?

B: emmmmmm…. I would be… America, because I spend the most time here.

A: So, just one home? Just one place?

B: Yes. I am not familiar with China. I just went back twice. I’m still not able to go back along without my cousins or my parents to help me to read the signs.

A: So basically you don’t know how to read Chinese.

B: Yes, I can read some simple letters, but my place’s name and directions, I do not know.

A: What kind of music you learn mostly?

B: When I first came here, I tried to learn English music. It was ok, but eventually, I thought it was very boring, so I switched to Chinese music. Because English music is always about love and love, it got me boring. And Chinese music is more interesting, more interesting for me, because it is a language, I almost forget so I learn to it, I might some of it. And actually, it is very nice to learn to.

A: You still learn Chinese music?

B: Yes, but it is hard to look for them, because I don’t know how to read about Chinese.

A: Who is your favorite singer in Chinese?

B: Jay Chow.

A: Oh, Jay Chow. He is good. Do you like Kung fu and Kung fu movies?

B: Yes, I still watch them. My favorite actor is Stephen Chow. He makes Hollywood movies.

A: You like Chinese movies more or America movies?

B: I am kind of in between. I think I watch Hollywood movies more. Now, I tend to Hollywood movies. My favorite movie would be the pirates of the Caribbean, the series. I like those adventure movies more.

A: Thank you Ben.

Below are some follow-up questions that we discussed through emails.

A: Before you came to here, what did you know about the America?

B:I knew nothing about America. I did not even know I was in a different country until I learned about it in school. I was around 7 years old then, so I was not too aware of my surroundings.

A: How about after you arrived here, was the perspective different from yours?

B:It was. In China, I lived in a village where I could run around the neighborhood and everybody knew each other. I could just walk out of my house and play with any child I wanted to. In America, I am confined to my own house and barely get to play with other kids. That wasn’t a bad thing though.

A: Do you like here, at first?

B: I think I liked it here. It looked much fancier than my village in China. I got a better TV to watch cartoons. I wouldn’t say I disliked it here.

A: Why do you say your cousin’s life in China is boring? Is it because it looks very different from yours in here?

B: It was mostly because of his school’s lifestyle. He had to stay in school dormitories and had only Sunday as a holiday from school. It does look a lot different from America, but it is mostly due to the fact that we live in a poorer place.

A: Tell me in here, what make you feel funnier than in China?

B: There are fewer restrictions in America. For example, the internet isn’t censored in America. America is also more diverse. There are not just Chinese people walking around. I get to learn more things other than the Chinese culture.

A: Tell me your experience of learning Chinese; because you can fluently speak Cantonese. I mean how and where you learn it.

B: I learned Chinese before coming to America but I gradually lost most of the memory. My mother made me go to Chinese school on Sundays but that didn’t work too well. I took Mandarin in high school and it was ok. Now, I think my Cantonese is also gradually fading away because I don’t use it often.

A: You say that you consider the America as a home, how do you define the concept of HOME?

B: Home as to be a place where I feel I belong, a place where I can feel safe. It is a place where I know I won’t be judged by what I do or how I feel. It is a place where I want to stay forever.

A: If you had a chance that can choose to come here or stay in China, what would you choose?

B: I would choose America because it is so diverse and interesting here. If I had stayed in China, I would never have gotten exposed to the world outside of China. Also, I think it is safer in America.