By Fang Lin:
He left family and came to America eighteen years ago. He came here for a better life for his family by earning more money. At the beginning, he just wanted to work for five to eight years and then go back to China. He found a job through an employment agency right away when he came here. He worked in a Chinese restaurant; twelve hours per day but with a low wage. He felt lonely because he did not have anyone familiar in America. The working conditions were hard. He had to stand all the time. The hard work took up all his time. He had to work hard because he needed to pay the debt due for his immigration to the US.
Yi Liang Wu has been in this country for about 7 years. She is working as a waitress in
a restaurant. She has to work for a long period of time per day, but she earns about only 2000 per month. She told me that life isn’t easy in this country. She lives with her son and her husband in Chinatown. She thinks the people who live in this place are being treated fairly by the laws.
She works about 10 hours as a waitress per day. She has little time for sleeping and
eating. She has one day off per week. The reason why she works so hard is that she wants her child to have a better future. There are many differences between China and the United States. It takes about 17 hours to arrive to the United States from China. It’s hard to imagine a person can sit on a airplane for 17 hours and do nothing. But she thinks it was worth it for her to do that because there are many beautiful buildings in New York, and she can make connections with the people who were from other countries around the world.
She said she has more freedom in this country than when she was in China. There aren’t so many free laws in China and many laws are very strict. There isn’t any freedom of speech or the freedom of religions in China. You have to listen to the things that the government says, and you will get arrested by the police if you did a very tiny little thing wrong. She said the education in the United States are much different than those in China. The teachers in the United States have a different way of teaching students. They let their students to think and to imagine. They let them deeply understand the concept of certain things, and they explain to the student why things are the way they are.
She thinks this place gives her freedom. She is happy to live here with her family. She thinks that the country has given enough rights and powers for the immigrants to live in this place. She likes to travel around and meet new people.
America means the top, love and opportunity. In the beginning, I felt lucky enough to travel to this new land because many people don’t even have a chance to see the world besides their native country. I expected a better living condition, a caring neighborhood that was surrounded by many white people. In reality, America is different compared to what’s in my thought. I experienced culture shock. There are so many Asian Americans and they worked very hard to make a living. I lived with my sister for two years in the Lower East Side. She suggested that I work as a home caretaker because I didn’t speak English. I felt lost when I was taking the subway trains, especially the downtown and uptown signs, and I wasn’t able to make a call. It took me almost an hour to get to Chinatown. I went to church on Saturday because they offered free meals and gifts. I feel welcomed from my neighborhood. It was quiet and warm.
When my mom and I got to America, she had to go back to school again because she didn’t know the language. First, she took a six-month home care course at the Chinese American Planning Council. They taught my mom how to respond to an emergency and how to take care patients. She was required to pass the exam for the certificate. After passing the exam, she dedicated her entire days and nights working as a homecare aide; carrying twenty five pounds of milk on her shoulder under the sun, washing dishes with cold water on winter days, and cleaning her patient’s body become her daily work.
Sometimes, I see my mom putting liquid medicine on her legs in her room. I know that my mom is getting sick and her body is weaker than before we came here as each day passes by. But she has never complained to me. She was supposed to retire in China, and she decided to come to the United State all because of me. You can’t imagine how tough it is for a Chinese woman who doesn’t speak English to make minimum wage, buy food for her family, and pay expensive rent every month. She barely has money to buy new clothes for herself. When I asked her what some of her wishes are, she responded that “I want my daughter to go to a good college and eventually find a high paying job. I hope that she is not walking on the same path as I did because I never went to college.” It is an opportunity cost because she gave up her health for a better education for me.
Billy Lam is currently a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School. He moved from Hong Kong to New York at the age of 11. He was taught basic English since elementary school, but nevertheless, it was hard to communicate with his peers. Thankfully, he has a brother a year older than him that he could practice English with at home. Billy excelled academically, especially in math, his favorite subject. He scored first place in the AMC both his senior year and junior year, quickly gaining him popularity among his teachers and peers. Most people usually describe him as the “smart, but very quiet kid.” Billy wants to double-major in math and engineering in college. During his free time, he likes challenge himself by solving difficult math problems that his teachers give him.
Billy identifies himself as a Chinese and often talks to other Chinese students in Cantonese to maintain his speaking skills. He hopes to help improve the speaking skills of other students as well. “I don’t understand why people are so ashamed to speak in Chinese—because they think it’s too ‘Chinese’?” He explained that he will continue to embrace his culture and tradition, while at the same time adapt to the American culture, “I can only gain.”
Mee Mee Chin immigrated to America in 1964 at the age of 12 with her two brothers and mother from Hong Kong. They took a twenty-seven hour plane ride. Although she does not remember much about the decision to come to America, she remembers that she was sad because it was like a secret: “We weren’t allowed to tell anybody and we didn’t know when we were leaving. I knew probably a day or two before we left so I was not able to leave my address, or get addresses from my friends.” Obedient, she recalls not disobeying her parents, and only remembers that her mother constantly said, “Don’t say anything otherwise we might not be able to come [to America].” As a young child, she remembers that she was afraid to say anything to anyone, including her friends. As a result, her journey to America was not happy because she felt like she was leaving her life and friends behind. She was sad and confused.
She did not even take anything with her because she didn’t realize that immigrating to America meant never returning home. She recalls being too young to pack and assumed that her mother would take everything for her: “I thought she would pack it for me. I didn’t know what to bring.” I was too young to worry about those things.
On the plane, Mee Mee recalls being confused, afraid, and excited—all at the same time. She thought, Oh wow, it’s my first time on a plane. It’s exciting. We never go anywhere. In Hong Kong, Mee Mee never went on any long trips, except on the bus. She recalls, “As a kid, you’re like everybody else, you want a window seat and stuff like that.” But she remembers also being afraid.
On the plane, she got very sick. Mee Mee adds that many other people on the plane were sick as well. They were all sick most likely because it was their first time going to America. However, twelve year old Mee Mee was sitting alone: “Somehow I remember, I don’t know why, I was not sitting with my family. So, I was really sick and my mother did not know.” She adds that she couldn’t eat, even though she thought American food would be good. She couldn’t hold any food down. Not even the milk or juice, as she recalls that as the first time she had juice. Having never tried juice before, she remembered thinking that it was not as sweet as she thought it would be and that it was sour. By the end of the plane ride, she thought going to America was just a horrible experience.
When the plane landed in the airport, her uncle went to pick us up. But by then, she was really sick and extremely tired. So, when they arrived at their apartment, they just went to sleep. However, the next morning, they had to get up because it was Thanksgiving. She recalls that their spirits were lifted and that “we were really happy. Wow, such a big chicken. We didn’t know it was a turkey, because in Hong Kong there were only little chickens.” However, she also adds that while she and her siblings took very large pieces of turkey, it wasn’t until they took a bite that they thought it was horrible because of how gamy the meat was. They weren’t used to turkey, and she remembers not being able to “stand the smell of turkey.” Thus, they didn’t end up eating much and gave it to their mother.
It took her at least ten to fifteen years before she could say that she liked turkey. But now, “I love turkey.” Mee Mee adds that turkey wasn’t the only food that she has grown accustomed to. For example, now, she also loves pizza. She explains that for many Asians, they cannot tolerate cheese because there is none in Asia. Now, however, “I still have a low tolerance, but now I can eat it, and I like it. Before, I couldn’t stand the smell of cheese. It was terrible.”
For Mee Mee, one of the greatest obstacles for her assimilation into American culture in 1964 was the food: “There wasn’t Chinese food. As a kid you get used to the cookies, candies, [you had at home] and there was none.” She identifies the childish mentality that she used to have. Mee Mee explains that as a child, she had her favorite cookies and candies, and remembers how difficult it was for her to live without them: “It’s hard to say that’s it, I don’t want this stuff.” At different times, she would get different cravings for little nick-nacks that were unique to Hong Kong. She believes that it took twenty to twenty-five years before more of her favorite foods were available in Chinatown. Back then, Chinatown was only two blocks long and was very “backwards,” as she describes.
Mee Mee recalls that many “ordinary foods” were not present in her new neighborhood in America. She explains that there was no Dim Sum place to eat. In addition, she says that the Chinese food that was available was not very good or authentic: “The skinny noodles, forget it. The noodles were so fat—it was horrible…The wonton skin is a quarter in thick; I mean, it supposed to be thin-thin.” She adds that there were also no fish-balls, or other things that she would get in Hong Kong every day before she went to school.
When the first good café opened, Mee Mee recalls that the line would be so long that in order to get a little simple order, it took over twenty minutes. She says that it wasn’t even that good. Yet, “everyone’s flocking to it…it was so funny. We didn’t have it for so long, so we kind of forgot what it was supposed to taste like.”
But now, Mee Mee, after having been a secretary, owner of a bridal shop, and translator, wants to take on a fourth career by becoming the owner of a small Asian-fusion café. At first, she thought to start a restaurant, but now, she believes that she wants to open a café because it would be fun: “Young people can have wine, beer, snacks…They can sit around on couches, chairs, and on the floor. It’s casual, like me. I want teenagers, college kids, to come and just talk, like we are doing now. That’s what I’d like.” Although Mee Mee doesn’t know where she’d like to open the café, she believes that she wants it to be in a college town.
Ever since she was a child, Mee Mee was inspired by an Asian-American teacher named Mrs. Virginia Keys to do things besides study in school. Mrs. Keys helped open her eyes, as well as many other Asian-students’ eyes, to see all the other things that could be explored outside of the classroom. The woman invited students to go on field trips, plays, museums, and even into her very own home. She is the founder of Chinese-American Planning Council, which was first founded to help provide various services to the rising influx of immigrants to New York City’s Chinatown. To this day, Mee Mee is still in touch with her mentor Mrs. Keys and over the years. Even now, Mee Mee believes that there is still just as much opportunity in America as there was fifty years ago: “As long as you study hard, work hard, you can do anything.”
My dad was born in Hong Kong. He liked to play soccer and hang out in the park with his sister and brother when he was little. Because they didn't have electronics during that time, people liked to go to play in the park a lot. He also liked to watch cartoons on TV. His favorite food are curry and tuna sandwiches.
He had received twelve years of education in China. After he graduated from high school, his dad wanted him to follow his path to be a construction worker. Therefore, he stopped going to school and started working with his dad. He got married at 27 and became a father at 28. The child's name is Ming Ho Sinn. Unfortunately, they got divorced so my father had found another love in the U.S. My dad has been to the U.S. for 6 years. He came here to marry with another woman and he is still working as a construction worker in the U.S. He doesn't really enjoy his job because he believes that he deserves to get paid more compared to other English speaking workers. He likes both U.S. and Hong Kong because he thinks they both have their good sides and bad sides.
It was a cold, windy day when the person arrived in America. He took a 3 hour drive to the destination that is suppose to be his new home. On his way, he thought about what his new life would be like, how he would handle situations that he had no experience of. He asked the landlord many questions regarding how he should live his life and his daily tasks. It was a good thing he spoke Chinese. Without him, he would have had no idea what to do. He went out the next few days to buy grocery and foods, but constantly got lost and didn't know the prices. He had to ask his friend to accompany him until he get the hang of it after a couple of months. It might be confusing when you just arrived to America, but its not that bad after living there for a significant amount of time.
They thought U.S. was a land of wealth, prosperity, andopportunities. They came to this country because they wanted to make a ton of money for themselves and their family. He has been fighting for a good future for himself and also his family. Some challenges they faced were renting a house, looking for a job, and most importantly, the language barrier. My father still can not overcome that barrier. At the beginning, it's really difficult to communicate with others, but at least, his relatives helped him a lot.
For the second time of interview, I felt it is easier for my father and me. Both of
us are getting comfortable in the interview. The proof is he talks more with the
description. When he just arrived here, houses surprised him the most because they all looked the same to him, with the same color and structure. Also, we talked about jobs. He thought of being a driver here since he worked as a driver for many years back in China. However, nobody wanted to hire him because he could not speak English at all. He hates this reason, but it is a fact. Soon, he realized that he has no choice but to pick a job that he didn't want.