Alice’s Immigration Story: Fresh off the boat

No matter what side of the immigration and citizen debate one gravitates to, the inability of our nation’s leaders to find consensus has been distressing to watch. During one of our team meetings, we found ourselves sharing our own stories of what the word immigration means to us. We thought we’d share a little more about our team members over the course of time.

Alice

This is your typical Hong Kong/Chinese immigration story, and I am the poster child of first-generation born immigrants. If you have ever watched the TV series “Fresh off the Boat”, my life is very similar to that. My aunt was the first to come to the US from Hong Kong running towards the idea of the “American Dream”, she achieved it by becoming the first in our family to finish college and became a successful immigration lawyer. She brought her entire family over in hopes for them to achieve the “American Dream” like her. With the help of his sister, my father came to the US at age 22. However, achieving the “American Dream” is much easier said than done. My aunt brought over my grandparents, my father, two more brothers, two more sisters, and their respective spouses to Wyoming. With limited amount of money, not all of them could go to school and learn English. Like any Hong Kong/Chinese immigration story, my family opened a restaurant, where the entire family worked.

Eventually, my father and mother saved enough money to open a “Chinese” restaurant of their own, while moving to Wisconsin. My siblings and I were born to the restaurant life soon after. Needing help to run the restaurant, most of the family from my mother’s side was brought over, my grandparents, and my mother’s two younger siblings. My grandparents had personally raised me compared to my other siblings, so being different then your typical American Born-Chinese (ABC), I could speak both Mandarin, and Cantonese fluently. In the small town I lived in, we were the only Chinese restaurant hence being the only Chinese family, we were very much loved by our community as I had never felt that I was different.

My grandparents, and baby me looking at KFC

It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado in 2000 where I felt I was different from others and people would judge you. We moved to Colorado because of financial reasons and being at the tender age of 9, I understood nothing. Being in a private school before attending a public school in Colorado, it was a culture shock to me. I remember elementary years in Colorado was horrible. My parents had to start from scratch again so they both had to work day and night, kids made fun of me for the clothes I wore, and I always dreaded bringing lunch because of the stares and whispers I got. We moved to a better neighborhood in my middle school years, and things turned for the better. I found other American-born Asians, who grew up with similar cultures and morals. I was finally being accepted again. My high school and college years I strived to do well in school fulfilling the typical “smart” Asian American stereotype.

Present day me, I look back to my past and see all of the ups and downs of my upbringing. I am thankful for all of them. Those experiences shaped me into who I am today. They allowed me to be more open-minded and accepting of other people, cultures, and values. At the end of this typical immigration story, just remember society is like a piano with black and white keys, there are always more white keys on a piano as there will always be more good in society than there are bad.

[Picture above: Me as a toddler.]