Annie’s Immigration Story: Sacrifice from China to Taiwan to the U.S.

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.

ANNIE

My immigration story begins and ends with sacrifice. At the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, my grandparents along with two million others fled to Taiwan. My grandpa had lost one leg during wartime. My grandma had to leave a baby behind. And together, they fled hundreds of miles on foot. 

I grew up hearing the stories of my grandparents, who endured the extreme conditions of post-war life and poverty. My Nai Nai (grandma), who is now my only living grandparent, did whatever she could to make ends meet — from selling dumplings on the street to sewing clothes into the wee hours of the night.

With my mom and siblings in Taiwan

Both my parents were born in Taipei in 1956. Growing up as neighbor friends, they began dating at age 17 and were married at 28. In 1988, my parents made the difficult decision to move to the U.S. with three young children: my sister (3), me (1 and a half) and my brother (6 months). With the help of my uncle, who was studying at the University of Colorado Denver, my grandparents had already moved to Denver. They were urging my parents to come with hopes of providing better lives for us, their grandchildren.

So as all immigrant parents do, my parents gave up everything they knew to immigrate to America. In Taiwan, my dad had worked as a screenplay writer. He was a creative creature and enjoyed theater, films and the arts. Similarly, my mom was a journalist working as a news reporter. She loved being in the community and capturing people’s stories. For both of them, learning the English language would be their biggest challenge. My dad ended up going back to college to study civil engineering, switching gears to working with numbers all day. My mom went into retail and basically sold sunglasses for the next twenty years.

Left: My grandparents in Taiwan. Right: With my siblings and grandparents visiting New York in 1998

My grandparents (on both sides) helped raise my siblings and me as my parents worked. As such, we grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese at home. When I started college in 2004, I left Denver for the University of Missouri to study journalism. Although not a common career choice for Asian Americans, my parents were supportive as both had writing backgrounds themselves. When I was about to graduate, my mom approached me about starting an Asian American community magazine together. She felt that with my degree and interest in journalism, she was finally confident to pursue what she really loved. 

In 2006, she left the sunglass retail business and we co-founded Asian Avenue magazine. The Denver monthly publication has now served the community for 13 years, providing Asian cultural news and information. At times, it has been hard keeping the doors open as the print media industry is evolving and many publications have shut down. But I am always reminded of the sacrifices my mom, my family, and many other Asian immigrant families have made that I truly value the importance of having such a publication in Denver. We persevere, in order to share the important stories of Asian American Pacific Islanders in Colorado.

My grandma and my daughter Cadence

Now as a mother myself, life feels like it is coming full circle. I work to instill the same values my parents and grandparents have passed on. When I see my daughter playing with her toys or reading her books, I can see all of the sacrifices made by my Nai Nai — every cut and burn on her hands from sewing and cooking, and all those nights she went to sleep hungry and tired, but made sure her children were fed. My grandma’s weathered hands have given birth to my daughter’s life as a Chinese-American. Her legacy lives on.

[Picture above: A recent photo with my grandma and her five great grandchildren.]