Chinatown Interview: Interviewee
Chinatown Interview: Interviewer
Chinatown Interview: Date
Chinatown Interview: Language
Chinatown Interview: Occupation
Chinatown Interview: Interview (en)
Q: It’s January 27, 2004. We’re sitting in the archives of the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas again. Can you tell me your full name and your date of birth?
K.: My full name is K., and I was born on September 21st, 1982.
Q: Wow, so you’re very young, so….
K.: Yeah, I’m pretty young, yeah.
Q: Okay. K., tell us about your parents. Were they born in America?
K.: No, they were—I’m not sure where they were born, actually. I think they were born in China, but they lived in Hong Kong, and they immigrated to America, before I was born, like two years before I was born.
Q: And what year was that?
K.: I think it was 1980. I was born in 1982. [laughs]
Q: ’82, okay. And why did they decide to come to New York?
K.: I’m not sure the reason why they decided to come to New York, but I think my dad had relatives here already, that’s why.
Q: Do you ask them about these things? Are you curious about what brought your parents to America?
K.: I know my mom came to New York because my dad was here, that’s, that’s all I know. But, I don’t know, something about like Asian parents or Chinese parents, you don’t ask them about these things because they’re not really, they feel really reluctant, or they always hesitate when you ask them those questions---different from American families when they, like, lay out the whole history for you, you know?
Q: So your dad came to America first?
K.: Um, yes.
Q: And why did he come
K.: I think it’s just for a better future, that kind of thing. Like, back in the days when, you know, China---Oh, I actually know, he immigrated, he used to live in China in this Canton city, and because of the Communists, um, like something with the Red---I don’t know what---
Q: The Red Guards?
K.: Yeah, the Red Guard, he used to be in like a really rich family, but his father owned like a lot of cigar companies in this city, and because he was so rich, they like, did something to his dad and so he had to like run to Hong Kong. And so he can never go back to that city in China because then they would have got him and put him in the Red Guards, too, and that’s why he went to Hong Kong and that’s how he met my mom. And I don’t know why he came to America, though. I think it’s just to start a new, or get a new life.
Q: And how do you know that much? Do you ask them? Or did he----
K.: I don’t---I recently found out from my mom, actually, like, I never knew about this until maybe like two weeks ago.
Q: Okay. So, what kind of relationship do you have with your parents, then?
K.: Um, a “don’t ask” relationship. I’m not really close with my dad, ‘cause my mom and dad are divorced, so I don’t really get to ask him that much. I only see him once in a while. And my mom, we talk about my mom’s side, but we rarely talk about my dad’s side. Like, I can’t ask her about my dad’s stuff. So it was just out of luck that day that she was willing to tell me something.
I think my mom married my dad because she knew that after marrying him, she could come to America, and she just wanted to, like, live away from her mom, I guess. It was a really hard life in Hong Kong, and, like, Asian daughters just always have to listen to their parents, and she was just sick of that, I guess, and she wanted to have her own life. So she decided to marry my dad, because she could get like the opportunity to come to America. [cross talk] ---there was no love or anything in there, so---
Q: There’s no love between your parents?
K.: That’s what she says, she’s like, “There’s no love,” like, “It’s only, I married him because I wanted to come to America.”
Q: How old were you when they got divorced?
K.: Two years old.
Q: Okay, so you don’t really know your father very well at all.
Q: Okay. Well, so your mom came to America to be with your dad. And you were born in New York City.
Q: Where in New York City?
K.: St. Vincent’s, I think, Hospital. I don’t remember.
Q: In Chinatown?
A: Is that in Chinatown? [laughs]
Q: There is one in Chinatown.
K.: That’s probably where I was born.
Q: And you grew up alone with your mother? You have siblings?
K.: I have one sister, but she lives with my dad, so I grew up pretty much alone with my mom.
Q: What was that like, being just the two of you? Did you mother speak English when she came to America?
K.: Um, she doesn’t speak---
[cross talk about microphone] EDIT OUT
Q: So you were born in 1982 at St. Vincent’s. You’re not sure which St. Vincent’s, maybe the one in Chinatown.
K.: I think probably the one in Chinatown, knowing my mom. She lives in, like, the radius of Chinatown. Never goes out of it.
Q: Why? Did your parents choose to live in Chinatown, or your mother didn’t speak English? Why?
K.: She didn’t, she still doesn’t really speak English. Actually, after September 11th, she enrolled in those classes, those English speaking classes, so now she speaks a little bit. She actually learned. I mean, back in the days, like I remember when I was really young, I knew, I know she speaks a little bit of English, but I guess lack of practice and she didn’t really have any kind of motivation or, like, she lives in Chinatown, everyone speaks Chinese, so there’s no way where she can practice her English, and so she just speaks Chinese all the time, and now she doesn’t really speak English at all, and so she relies on me or my sister to, like, bring her around, or, you know, ask for food, order food in Western restaurants.
Q: Do you like that role?
K.: Um, I mean, I, it’s just I guess a responsibility, but I wish that she would be a little bit more, like, assimilating with a place where she lives in. I mean, she’s lived here for more than twenty years, so why doesn’t she try to just, you know, fit in, with this place that she lives in. She doesn’t live in Hong Kong anymore, and Chinatown is so small, so, she can’t live here all her life, and currently we’re moving to Brooklyn, and I don’t know what she’s going to do. I mean, sometimes she’s not even sure of how to take the subway, so, now we have to take the subway every single day, and we’re living in Bay Parkway, and there’s not, like Chinatown is just one store right there, and what is she going to do? I can’t like, you know, be around her all my life to, you know buy things for her and daily necessities and that kind of thing, and I’m going to be going back to school very soon, for months she’s going to be in this new area, and I don’t know what she’s going to do.
Q: Why do you think your mother is like that?
K.: I’m not sure. I guess she’s very passive. She likes to just sink in there and hide away. She’s not the aggressive type. Not someone who likes to climb up a ladder.
Q: And she never thought of remarrying?
K.: I think she never thought of remarrying because of me. And that’s why I, I feel the responsibility to take care of her.
Q: What do you mean, because of you?
K.: Um, well, when her, when she got a divorce with my dad, I know that she could have just given me up. Like, she could have just let my dad have me. My dad wanted to have both my sister and I, but she just felt, I don’t know, I felt the responsibility---I don’t know what she felt, actually, I mean, she just wanted to take care of me, because I was very young, like I was still pretty much a toddler, I guess. I mean, the divorce process took a long time, so they officially divorced when I was two years old, but it started before then, and she wanted to take care of me, because she never had the chance to, and I know that there’s like a whole controversy between taking my sister and me. My sister at that point was, I think, four or five years old, and everyone urged her to take my sister, because she was older and that means less years of taking care of, and maybe less years of finding a babysitter, but she just insisted on taking me, because I was younger and I never had, like, motherly love, or ever experienced that kind of----
Q: And what did your mother do to support the two of you?
K.: I’m not sure. She’s a seamstress, and she gets like, about, less than ten thousand a year. Like every year we get about nine thousand a year, so we live on a really cheap basis, like, ever since I was fourteen, I’ve been working. Like, I have had a part-time job ever since I was fourteen. And for college, I mean, I’m so poor that I have like full tuition, like they gave me a full tuition scholarship.
Q: Where are you going to school right now?
K.: Oberlin College. It’s in Ohio.
Q: So ten thousand a year. What year are we talking about? How can a family survive on ten thousand a year in, in ----
K.: Nine thousand! It’s not ten thousand. We never earned over ten thousand.
Q: Even, like, in 2003? Your mom only earned that much?
K.: Yeah, I mean, if she earned more, it’s only because of this thing, like, I mean, I don’t know about it, but like it’s something with the factory, and like how you buy checks or something. It’s a whole like, conspiracy in there---
Q: Is she part of the union?
Q: ----the garment union?
Q: Okay, well, let’s rewind to your childhood in Chinatown. So, how often did you see your dad when you were growing up?
K.: Um, when I was very young, I think before, before, before like seven years old, I saw him every single weekend, but after, after a certain age, there was like this big fight my mom had with my dad. Like my dad suddenly, like, took my sister and sent her to Florida, and so my mom couldn’t see her anymore. So she got mad, and she was like, you know, “If you’re going to do that with my daughter, then you’re not going to get to see, like, K. anymore.” Like, so, after that I only saw him about maybe once a year. And now I see him like once, once, for like half a year. Half a year I see him once.
Q: Where does he live?
K.: He lives in Brooklyn.
Q: Oh. Near where you and your mother have just moved to?
K.: I don’t think so. It’s not near---I’m not sure where he lives actually. I mean, I have to check up the address. I’m not sure.
Q: So he didn’t support you and your mom at all?
K.: He gave the bare minimum. But there was this, like a court, like child support money----
K.: Yeah. And it was just a very small amount. It came out to be maybe like three dollars a day. So that was how much he gave me. But now I’m very thankful of him actually, because he’s been giving me money for every semester, so I don’t really have to ask my mom for money, like I just take the money he gives me to support myself. And I work in college.
Q: So that must have been really tough on your mom, to single-handedly raise you and to work.
K.: Yeah, it was pretty hard.
Q: Did you spend a lot of time
with her, or was she always busy working?
K.: I didn’t get to spend as much time with her as I wanted to. Like, during the weekends, she works Monday through Saturday from about eight in the morning ‘til eight at night. She comes home at like eight forty-five at night and leaves around eight -thirty in the morning, nowadays. I mean, it was different back then. But my grandmother came to America to help her out a little, and my grandmother worked as well. I’m not sure how much money she earned, but I guess my grandmother had herself covered, and my mom had us two covered, but my grandmother used to take me from home after school and look after me during the weekends, and my mom just spent time with me on Sundays, and sometimes at night.
Q: Did you feel different from other kids, then? I mean, you didn’t have a father, and you were, it sounds like, almost pretty poor. Tight. Money was tight.
A: I felt different. I mean, I think I was a very greedy and selfish kid. And I never really understood what was going on in the family. I just saw what other kids had. And we also had this, these relatives that were very well off. And every time we went over there for New Year’s, it’s just, you know, I see their---I see them, and I see myself, and I just ask why are we so different? Why is this---like why do we have this kind of like class difference?
And, I mean, as I grew older and I just understood more and things changed then, I just realized that this is the life I have and I have to deal with it, and if I want to get myself out of it, just work harder in school and get a better education, and come out and support myself and my mom.
Q: So what are you studying now?
K.: English and Studio Art.
Q: And how is that going to get
you a better future, do you think?
K.: Well, for one thing, I have a college education. I have my diploma, and, you know, obviously, no matter what I do I’ll get a better job than my mom. I won’t earn just nine thousand a year. I mean, anywhere above that will be a better start, you know? I’m planning to do something in communications. In the field of communications. So, I’m not sure about my future. We’ll see how that goes.
Q: Now, did you mom work when she was in Hong Kong?
K.: She worked.
Q: As what?
K.: As a seamstress again. I know, she didn’t really like school, I mean, she had the opportunity to go to school and get a better education, I guess, but she never really liked it too much I guess because she came from China and the people in Hong Kong are really discriminating, even against their own people, and at first she had an accent, so the school---the kids in school didn’t really like her as much, and she was never really good in English, so, like I guess she found it hard to fit in to the people in school, and so she got out of school fairly, fairly early and started----like her first job, she told me, was doing something with flowers, like plastic flowers, like sewing them together or something, like putting them in strands. I guess a lot of people did that.
Q: How did your mom come to be a seamstress in Chinatown?
K.: Well, it was what she did in Hong Kong. I mean, it was what she does best at. So she came here, and that was just the only job she looked for, I guess. I always tell her to try to get out of the field. I mean, I keep telling her, like, now’s a good chance, like, “you’re changing factories, you’re going to another factory, why don’t you do something else, like maybe cleaning, or housecleaning, or something else that’s not as strenuous, and that doesn’t have that kind of hours.” But there’s just, there’s something with like her union, she gets this insurance, like a health insurance, and she’s just afraid of losing that. And so she just keeps going back to the same field. Also cause she’s lazy. I guess she’s----I also think she’s scared of the outside world, like outside of seamstress. Like, “That’s the only career I can get, you know, anything else I’m going to probably be like---” you know, I don’t know, like some people might like, do something to her.
What is she afraid of? You know, like, try something new---I mean---
Q: Did you---
A:---I can’t talk her out of it.
Q: As a kid, did you spend time
with her in the factories at all?
K.: When I was really young, before my grandmother came, like, you know, I told you, I was a really bad kid. Back in the days, like, when I was in kindergarten or day care or whatever, I was very, like I pulled a lot of tantrums, and the kindergarten teachers or daycare teachers used to like, they actually gave my mom advice to send me to some shrink or like a child therapy or something. And my mom was just like---I gave her a lot of problems, so like it was really hard to find babysitters for me, and also the baby sitters were all like, some of the babysitters she found for me were really mean to me as well. Like, they used to abuse me. And my mom didn’t want---Oh, like, there was one babysitter who was really good with me, but then, unfortunately she had to baby-sit her own granddaughter, and her granddaughter used to abuse me all the time. Like, every time we were together, her granddaughter used to hit me.
I don’t remember any of this, but my mom just said that one time, like, you know, every time the babysitter turned her down, like, you know, she’d be like, “what do I do tomorrow, like, which babysitter can I get tomorrow?”
And so finally, like, she just had to go back to her boss and say, “You know, this is not working out, like, I have to leave early to take care of my daughter, and you know, no babysitters are willing to take care of her, so like, you know, I have to take care of her, so either you fire me, or I have to, you have to give me those hours to take care of my kid.”
And ever since then, I think, like sometimes like when she really had too much work to do, she would bring me to her factory and, I don’t know, put me in the little box and I could play with something in there. Like, I’d bring my toys and I played in there. I remember very faintly, ‘cause it was not a very long period of time. Like I think maybe it was one or two years that I had to do that. And after I went to first grade, my grandmother came.
Q: So, did you travel outside of Chinatown at all? Did your mother take you to Central Park? Did you go to other parts of New York much?
K.: When I lived---when I had those weekends with my dad, I remember going outside of Chinatown. My dad knows English, and he speaks it, he speaks it pretty fluently. I mean, with an accent of course. I mean, I used to go to Coney Island a lot. I remember that. And we went to see halls sometimes, I mean. But with my mom, the furthest we went I think would be 34th Street, and maybe Rockefeller Center, like once in a blue moon, but not really. Like, shopping in 34th Street, or SoHo or Seaport. Or City Hall. But that’s about it.
I started exploring the rest of New York like at a really, old age I would say. Like, I mean, not old, I mean, ‘cause I’m only twenty-one, but like compared to other kids, I think I started exploring the rest of New York like just much later than, like, other people my age.
Q: And what language do you
speak at home?
Q: So you have no problem communicating with most people in Chinatown.
K.: No. I think most people would say I speak it too well. As an ABC. [American-Born Chinese]
Q: Do you think so?
K.: I think so. I went to Hong Kong like maybe a year ago, I think a year ago, like a summer ago. And people there just could not believe that I was born and raised in New York. They were like, “Wow, you have amazing Cantonese,” like, you know, they couldn’t tell the difference.
Q: Are you happy about that?
K.: Right now I’m pretty happy about that. Like, after going to college, and, I mean, in the past I was not happy about it I guess, because I was different from other Asian American born Chinese. I used to be, they used to laugh at me a lot, like they used to call me like names, like I was a FOB [Fresh Off the Boat] or whatever, like “fresh off the boat,” and, you know, to be called that, as a teenager, is just one of the worst things to be. Like, you never want to be called a FOB, and like some of my closest friends used to dis (slang for disrespect) me about that. And---
Q: Because you spoke such good Chinese?
K.: Yeah, because, because I was so, I was so fluent in it. And it’s, I mean, it’s funny because, like they are Chinese too, and to be, to be called that by your own people is just something that is totally, like, I don’t think that Westerners would understand that kind of like discrimination against your own kind of people, because like I guess it’s just, we’re all in America right now. And, it’s, we’re all trying to do this melting pot thing, like assimilate and become more Westernized, and understand more of Western culture, that most of us, like most of us growing up, like, teenagers growing up in New York City, we’re just so, like, absorbed into that kind of lifestyle that we forget our own culture, we forget our own heritage.
And until I was in high school, until I was fortunate enough to have this like Asian and Chinese- Caucasian---she’s a mix---teacher, like, as an English teacher, who taught me to appreciate my own heritage, I think I would have always been discriminating against my own, like, people. I used to hate being Chinese, like I used to hate being like Chinese-born, and living in Chinatown. I was never proud of it. And at one point I tried, I really tried to, like reject it from my own, like, like, I just rejected it, like my mom used to send me to Chinese school, and I hated it. I never wanted to learn Chinese or learn how to like write it or speak it or whatever, and when I----I guess there was at one point, I tried to like pretend that I didn’t know Chinese at all, like when I went back to Hong Kong the first time, which was when I was in third grade, I pretended that I didn’t know it at all. Like when people spoke to me, I just pretended like, “Oh, I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” like, I don’t understand. But ever since going to college, I started to take a Chinese class, I mean, I wish I had just understood it more and realized this back in the days because by now I would have been really good in it. I wouldn’t have to like waste my college credits, like five credits for one class to do this like at such a late, later age.
I mean, if I have kids, I would want them to speak Chinese too. I would want them to be bilingual. I mean, understand what I’ve gone through, and, I mean explain it to them differently, you know. I mean, you can, you can assimilate into the Western culture, but you also have to know where you’re from.
Q: Now, what kind of junior high and high school did you go to in Chinatown? Was it mostly Asian kids, or a good mix?
A: Um, well, in elementary school I went to PS 2 and like, they used have these, like “smart classes,” and it’s so funny because the smart classes would always be, like, almost ninety percent Chinese, and maybe like five percent white, and the rest was like one African-American and one Hispanic in there, and it was, it was mostly Chinese. Like, I was always like separated from other like races, I guess, because, I don’t know why, I’m not trying to stereotype, but I guess those Asian kids worked a lot harder than the other, um, like, other races. And so, I guess it’s also because of the parents, and how the parents push their kids. And so, like I went to PS 2 and I went to IS 131, which is, they’re both in Chinatown, and these two schools, I was mostly surrounded by Chinese students. And then I went to Environmental Studies, which is a really diverse school. But even so, I guess because I was shaped by my junior high school, and by my elementary school, that even going to such a diverse school I ended up hanging out with mostly Asian or Chinese students.
Q: And they were, like you, ABCs, that didn’t speak as good Chinese as you did?
K.: A lot of them were. Some of them were born in China, but they immigrated here. And, but they immigrated at such a young age, so they all spoke English really well.
Q: Do you think you resented your mother for kind of keeping you in Chinatown?
K.: She thinks that. I mean, sometimes I think about it. Maybe. I mean, what I resent is not that she kept me in Ch---I mean, I have a lot to appreciate of her. Like, you know, there are so many things she did for me that I have to appreciate, and I can’t blame her for some of her choices. I mean, if I were in her shoes of course I would have done things differently, to have made it easier for my, my children, but she just had so much to, you know, so much to put into her consideration that I can’t resent her for that stuff. I can’t resent her for living in Chinatown. I mean, that’s all she could afford, you know, living here.
I wish things were done differently, but I can’t resent her for what she chose to do.
Q: So it sounds like when you were younger, you weren’t so thrilled about living here, and you got picked on a lot by your friends, because of your Chinese-ness, but now, as you’re older, those things don’t bother you as much, or----
K.: No, I’m actually glad I grew up in Chinatown. I mean, I’m glad I have this background, I can say I was born and raised in Chinatown, you know, I, I used to be very, I remember one time I went to London and I told someone I lived on Pike Street, and I knew they wouldn’t know where I lived, and, but then they just said, “Chinatown, right?” and I felt really angry at that person. It’s kind of like they were condescending to a point, like, you live in the dumps, the ghetto or whatever. And, I mean, yeah, I do, so like, I mean, at that point I was really angry, but now I think about it, like what is there to be, to be not proud of? You know, I lived in Chinatown, but you know what? I’m having a college education, I’m getting myself out of this place.
I mean, you know, it’s shaped me to be the person I am, so I don’t have anything to not be proud of, you know? It’s, it’s who I am.
Q: But you want to leave. If you had the financial means, you would leave Chinatown. You wouldn’t live here by choice.
K.: I would want to live in a place where, where I can have like a bigger apartment and just, it’s just Chinatown is like, Yeah, I would want to leave. Simply put, I want to leave. But, I still want to come back. It’s not a, it’s not a place---it’s not that I want to forget about this place totally and erase it from, like my history, it’s just that I want to leave because, you know, I want to live in a better place. Like, and Chinatown doesn’t permit that, like there’s no like, you know, three bedroom apartment and you know, like a big apartment or a house that I can have in Chinatown. They’re all like tenement buildings or little studio apartments, and it just doesn’t accommodate for what I want to have in my future.
Q: So your mother is still working now, as a seamstress?
Q: And her earnings are still
about the same?
K.: About the same.
Q: Do you think she’ll---what will she do, if she retires?
K.: When she retires? I don’t know. I mean, she had some problems with her knee, and so she’s been asking me, like if I start working is it okay if she stops working for year or two and then she works again, like just to, like pass time. I mean, I know she wouldn’t want to just sit at home and not do anything. So, I mean, I don’t think she would retire anytime soon. Like, she would want to just work, but not work as hard----like, work knowing that this isn’t the only money that we’re going to have.
Q: And has her work been effected by September 11th ? Because so many factories, garment factories have closed in Chinatown.
K.: Yes. Um, after September 11, her factory closed for about two or three weeks. There was, maybe like a month as she
Q: Hold on [cross talk about tape] Has your mom’s work been effected at all by September 11th?
K.: Um, yes. After September 11th, her factory closed for about like a month, and so she didn’t have any work to do for that period of time. And we lived really close to the site. We live on Pike Street and Madison, and, um, we see the bridge and we used to be able to see, like the Twin Towers, and we had a very nice skyline actually, but, and so when September 11th happened, my mom actually got to see one of the towers falling down, and so like it was really bad air. For a period of time, it really, like, it just smelled really badly. And, she didn’t get to work, and didn’t, like, there was a period of time when she had like no income I guess, and so that was pretty hard on her. But then there was like these recovery funds, I mean, there was some Red Cross funds or whatever, and if you lived in this area or worked in this area or qualified for some financial aid, and so she got a lot of that, which we were very thankful for. We got this purifier, like air purifier to put in our apartment, and that helped a little, but, I mean, and a vacuum cleaner, all these little perks that we got because we lived in the area. But, I mean, these things were also like necessary as well. I mean, we weren’t going to go out and buy them for ourselves, but, I mean, since they gave it to us, we used it.
Q: So how did your mom find out about all these relief efforts, and how, if she didn’t speak English, how did she go and apply for them?
K.: Her, um, her coworkers told her about it. A lot of them, a lot of the stuff was from coworkers, like the coworkers applied first and told her about it and urged her to apply for them. And I think there was one fund that I, like, I heard about it, like her coworkers told her about it, and then she told me about it, and, but then she said, “I’m not going to apply for it, I don’t want to apply.” I’m like, “Why? It’s thousands of dollars, like, why would you not going to apply?” And so I just got really angry at her, like she was just, you know, she’s so passive, she doesn’t want to do these things. And so I got really angry at her, I yelled at her---I was in college---and like we got into a big fight, and then later, I came back from college and then I found out she applied for it. So, I mean, I think it was ‘cause her coworkers just kept pushing her to apply, and when she went there, like I think there was some Chinese-speaking people who were, um, who offered their help, like they were volunteers there who spoke Chinese and who helped her fill out the applications and stuff.
Q: So when she wasn’t able to work, was those relief funds enough for you two to survive on?
K.: I think so. I think she, she was really happy when she got the relief funds. Um, she said, I think she said that they were more than enough. I mean, I’m not really sure, because I was in college, and she, it’s not, she wasn’t really supporting me at that point. I think all she had to pay for was like a very minimal amount of college tuition, and I was living off of the money my dad gave me, so I’m not really sure how her money, like, was used.
Q: So you saw September 11 on the news, on television.
Q: What did you do, immediately?
K.: I called home. I called my mom, but---well, all the phone lines were busy, and, you know, we, school was cancelled after, like I went to one class, and then the rest of the day was cancelled, and I just watched television all day, and tried to call my mom, but the phone lines weren’t working, so I just kind of like sat there and stuff in front of the television, and like, looked. Watched it.
Q: Were you really worried about her?
K.: I was really worried. I was worried that she went to work and couldn’t go back home, because, like, I, I mean on the news they say, like all these places were blocked and stuff, and at one point I finally reached her or my sister reached her, and like somehow, like I went online and my sister told me that my mom was fine, and that was when I felt, like, relief, but like----I found out pretty early, I think like maybe four hours after it happened I found out like she was fine, so I wasn’t worried after.
Q: And aside from losing some
work, has your mom’s life been changed in other ways?
K.: I think, like, just the economy hasn’t been like, it just hasn’t been well after September 11, and so she’s, the prices of each garment she makes has decreased, and she hasn’t had, like, like there’s not, she doesn’t earn as much but then there’s also these relief funds. Like there’s this 9/11 recovery, like thing, like with going to school, and this program that like teaches, like, helps garment workers get a better education or learn English for thirteen weeks, and learn computer, like how to use a computer. And that has helped her. I mean, they got paid to go to school, and I know she learned from it, so----
Q: But she will continue to be a seamstress.
K.: Yes. Which is something I don’t understand. I mean, every---all this, I actually taught one of these classes for two days, and I kind of understood from all of these seamstresses who applied to this program that they, they just don’t plan to leave the, leave this career field. I mean, they just, they want to get the money, and they don’t mind going to school to get to earn this money. Like, come on now, going to school and getting paid for it is better than, you know, working hard at, like, in front of a sewing machine. But at the same time, after these thirteen weeks, they’re not planning to change their life at all. Life goes back to normal, it’s just that I got a little bit more money, a little bit more cash from going to school. And so I, I mean, I don’t---I think it’s pointless that there’re these, these like classes. And like, when I worked for this, this, um, like, this company, like who teaches the seamstresses, um, when they hired me, they hired me on a very like, very unprofessionally. Like they just kind of glanced at my resume and say, “You know how to speak Chinese, right?” And I had this, maybe like five-minute um, like, five-minute training session, or not training session but like testing me out or whatever. And this, this woman she spoke American, like she spoke in English, and I, I was, um---She told me to speak in Chinese and, and teach her, so I’m just like, “You don’t understand what I’m trying to say, so even if I’m trying to teach you in Chinese, you don’t know anything, like you’re not understanding anything I’m trying to say.” After maybe like two to five minutes, she was like, “Okay, you’re hired, like come, go to, come to work tomorrow, and, and, like, you’re going to have to teach this class for how many, how many days,” and then after two day, after two days of working for her, she fired me, because, um, like, I guess some, some of the like, students complained that I was too like strict and they needed some teacher that was easier. So they were very unprofessional about it. Like, they’re, they’re not, I mean, they’re just, like they just want to play around. Like even, even the company, the company who hired me, themselves, they were not like serious about it. All they wanted to do was get this money from the relief fund, like get the sponsoring money or whatever, and, and like, you know, just like teach these people and go through thirteen weeks of like easy-going time, they’re like no problems rise, then that’s okay, but if any problems come, come about, they just want to like cover it up and like you know, not let anyone know about it, you know.
And after like thirteen weeks, you get your money, I get my money, then we’re happy. Like, that, that’s the way I see it, you know. It’s just very unprofessional, and I think it’s just, the whole thing is a conspiracy, like a scam.
Q: The whole relief effort?
K.: I mean, the whole, like, educating the seamstress thing. Like I just think the whole thing is pretty much a scam. And for my mom, like her, like her education program or whatever, um, she, like, they, like her boss, started getting like scared because all these, all these seamstresses were, were like leaning toward quitting and doing this education program, and so, like the boss went to um, went to the union I think and told them about it, and they were like, “This is not going to work out, if this continues, then my factory is going to be closed, and so if this is going to happen, like, you know, can we like, you know, try to figure something out and like, you know, compromise, like maybe have like a class in Chinatown, so they can just go to work in Chinatown and then in the afternoon come back to work?”
So this is what happened and so, like, they got to go back to China---like they had a class in Chinatown to work and then they go, and then after class they go, they go to work. And then for six weeks, they did the learning in class thing. And then there was this, there was supposed to be six weeks in the computer room, too, but then they just made six weeks in the computer, like in the morning is computer and then in the afternoon or something is like writing or like a writing session. Or they’d bulk up the days, where like Tuesdays is computer, and Thursdays is computer, and then the rest of the days were writing. And then, and then, the six weeks that were left, they ended up teaching like how to, better ways in like sewing, or better ways of using like the sewing machines, which is---my mom has worked in the sewing industry for like twenty years. Does she need to be teached, like to be taught how to use the sewing machine, again? Like they were, like, I looked at some of her homework assignments, and it was just, you know, saying “button” in English, you know, and like learning how to write these parts in English. Does she really need to learn what a, like, how do you say “a button” in English, you know, like I’m saying this in English, but I’m, you know, of course she’s saying “button” in Chinese, and I’m like, you know, teaching her like these words, like how to say a, like how to write “pocket,” or like spell out “pocket” or “pants” or learn what kind of department she’s working in. Come on. When she goes to another factory, she does not need to hand in a resume saying like, “I worked in the pocket’s department.” Like, you know, they’re not going to look at the resume and be like, “Oh, you worked in the pocket’s department. Okay, you know, I’m going to like raise you and let you work in the management department. Like, that’s not going to happen. She’s going to work in the pocket department again when she goes to another factory, and no resume is going to be involved. They teach you how to write a resume and everything she writes in the resume is, everything dealing with the factory, you know, like---
Q: Well, then why did your mom
go through the program?
K.: To get the money---
Q: And that was it?
K.: Yeah, to get the money, to learn, to learn English. I mean, she wanted to learn English and she, I asked her like what her goal was. And she told me that she wanted to learn about the computers so that she could, like, go online to talk to me when I’m in school, and like, maybe write me an email like once in a while, and then she also wanted to learn enough English so she can get by. Like, so she can order her own food, or, like, you know, just commute around New York City, like, without having like a problem. Like, if she gets lost she can ask her way around.
Q: Do you think your mother is afraid in some ways, she’s scared because she’s a little bit handicapped?
K.: Yeah, very much. That’s why she doesn’t want to move out of Chinatown. That’s why she wants to live here all her life.
Q: Do you want to share us the
agencies that you work with? You don’t have to, but---Do you
think they’re typical of a lot of the programs out
K.: I can’t say. I mean, I only worked for them, but I can’t say that they’re, they were---I can’t say that that’s what everyone is like, you know. I mean, I know for, my mom had a, had an American teacher. She had several American teachers and a couple of translators, and she though the American teachers were---she liked her American teachers, but she didn’t like the translators. I mean, I ---I mean, there are different situations, I mean some companies might have been serious about it, it’s just the one I worked for, I didn’t think they were serious.
Q: What would have been useful for someone like your mom? What kind of training would have been useful for her?
K.: Thirteen weeks is nothing. I went to school for, like, so many years. I mean, like, it’s been like around twenty years that I’ve went to school. You think someone who doesn’t speak English at all, who is around fifty years old, can go to school for thirteen weeks and learn English and move on to a new career field? That’s just wishful thinking, come on, now, please, you know? Like, long-term education.
Q: Do you think that’s
what those programs are really for? Is it really to get people to
change career, or to better themselves for the field that they’re
K.: The goal, that, their mission statement is to have them eventually change their career field. I think this mission statement is just a little too much that they’re aiming for. Don’t, don’t write a mission statement like that, and then, if you’re not going to urge these seamstresses to change their career field. Don’t write a mission statement like that.
What this program does is just help, it helps them temporarily. It gives them money temporarily. And that money, of course is going to helpful. I mean, for my mom it was helpful, like, you know, we had a, like at that point you know, she had more money, and working only in factory she wouldn’t have had. But in terms of learning English, or, or, working, being in these education programs to start a new life? That’s just, you know, BS. It won’t happen, you know.
Q: But realistically, what can
your mother do without---other than sewing?
K.: Realistically? I don’t know, I mean, if she learned a little bit more English, like, so that she can at least communicate, like say, like, “How are you doing?” or, or, understand what people say when they’re like, “Bathroom,” like, you know, there are things she understands, but, like, if she can get over her fear and like speak English, maybe she can work in like, you know, housecleaning---I mean, I mean, of course they’re all going to be like blue collar jobs. I don’t expect her to be working in a post office, you know, where you have to speak to all different kinds of, you know, races, and know English fluently. Like, whatever job it is, she won’t be able to work in like a, like a English-speaking environment.
Q: Would you prefer your mom to be cleaning houses rather than sewing?
K.: There are like places where you can like, you know, do housecleaning, or like, just, you know, baby-sit, like those kind of jobs. I mean, they’re much more easy going than working in a factory, where, like, it’s hot in the summer, like, and, you know, you’re breathing like really bad and dusty air, like, just the working environment is---and like, there are like little rats like running around that you can’t see, and that’s why they have so many cats in there, because these cats are the ones who are like you know, keeping the rats away. But like, my mom puts a bag of, of like bread on the floor and she brings it home and like I see a little hole in there, with like breadcrumbs around it, like, you know, like, someone took a bite of it, you know, like, not my mom so it’s definitely some rat or cat. That’s kind of----
Q: But does she ever complain about her working conditions?
K.: I don’t think she can complain about it. She’s never complained about it. I mean, she complains about how it’s really hot in the summer, but, you know, I mean, if she’s housecleaning, or, or, like babysitting or whatever, like, this is still, I mean, it’s still a blue collar job, but at least the working environment, I mean, if you’re living in a house and it needs to be cleaned, that kind of environment won’t be as bad as a, like, a factory, you know.
Q: Has your mom’s health
been effected by these long years of working?
K.: She has knee problems, it’s from, from sewing. She has back problems, she has neck problems. And like, you know, every once in a while, her neck starts to hurt, and she like gives me this Chinese medicine to rub it on her.
Q: And does the union’s
health insurance cover her?
K.: That’s the only thing, like, her health insurance is really good, and she loves the health insurance, and if she changes her career she won’t get health insurance. Like if she baby-sits, she won’t get babysitting health insurance, you know? So that’s why she’s unwilling to give up her job.
Q: And all these years, your
mother has never thought of going back to Hong Kong or China?
K.: No, because, because I----she wants me to have---like, there are benefits in America, like with Social Security, like, you know there’s a retirement program, and, like all these things is what, you know America can offer, which, when you go back to Hong Kong, you can’t have these things, so---I think that’s why she likes America more.
Q: And you’ve never had any desire to live---Well, you don’t know what it’s like to live anywhere else but America.
K.: Not really. I mean, I studied abroad in London for like a semester, but that is not really like realistic, like realistic experience, you know, because the school took care of me and---
Q: So, do you feel super close to your mom because there’s been just the two of you for so long?
K.: We’re very, we’re very close in that sense. Like, I mean, when I talk to my other Chinese friends, like Chinese-American friends, like they kind of envy me, because I have this like close relationship with my mom, I mean we can talk about a lot of things, but it’s also like really frustrating as well, because, like, I mean I have a close relationship with her, but I think it’s because she’s so passive, and I’m so aggressive, the like our personalities really clash, and ever since I went to college, I guess my view like opened up, like, I see much more than just Chinatown, and like, it’s just very different for me now. And I just want something different. I can’t just, I can’t, after seeing how the world is out there, I can’t just come back to Chinatown and be, and be satisfied with it. You know, I can’t just live this life forever. Like, I need to, I want something better for both of us. I want her to stop working so that her knee can better. You know, I mean if she keeps working her knee won’t ever get better. And she keeps complaining about it, but what can I do for her? You know, we have to work, we have to support ourselves, and until I get my job, my ideal job, and until I get that like forty K a year, you know, there’s nothing I can do for her.
Q: Do you feel that’s a
burden? Do your American friends think the way you do, that they want
to take care of their parents?
K.: I think that for me, it’s definitely a responsibility. I have to take care of my mom. I mean, she’s given up so much for me. Like, when I was a child, that now, like, I know like, I know when I graduate out of college, living alone is not an option. I have to live with my mom. Like, and a lot of my Western friends and Chinese friends, like, they, they don’t, you know, they don’t understand it, you know. They think, like, why can’t you just, you know, “Live your own life, you need the independence, like, in the, you know have to be independent and stuff.” But they don’t understand, like, you know, I mean, if my mom had not done the things that she’s done for me, then I would not be here. It’s as simple as that.
So I don’t---it’s not that I don’t want to, either. Like, I really want to live with her, I want to take care of her. Like, I want to give her, like, something, like, for what she’s done for me, and, I mean, of course, sometimes I wonder, like, how life would be, if I can live alone, like if I can, like, have an apartment and live with all my, like, friends, that, you know, it’s wishful thinking, but that’s just not realistic, like---
Q: Well, you’re kind of independent now, you’re in college, at---where is the university again?
K.: In Ohio.
Q: And why did you choose to be all the way in Ohio?
K.: Um, I wanted to leave New York City. I wanted to see how the world is out there. Like, I know New York City is a bubble itself, I mean, not just Chinatown, but the city is a bubble, and so I wanted to remove myself and see, like, how life is, not in---suburban life, like outside in the country, or, or---just not New York. And also, I knew that if---I knew that after college I would have to live with my mom forever, and I wanted to experience living by myself and get those four years of experience and then, you know---
Q: And are you liking it out there?
K.: I like it out there. I like living. I mean, I live with, three, like, three people, like three girls, right now. Like they were my friends in college, and we have a house, and it’s really like easy going, I mean, I like that kind of lifestyle, but, you know, like after college it’s going to have to end. Like all this, all this fun and games, like they’re, they’re going to have to be kaput. And then it’s going to be working and working.
Q: You don’t seem to be very much looking forward to living with your mother again, and it sounds like there’s a whole lot of responsibility.
K.: There is a lot of responsibility, but, I mean, I’m sure, I’m not too thrilled about it, I guess now because we’ve going through a lot of frustrations. I mean, we’re really, we’re both really stressed out right now, and I mean, I guess like living alone and like four years in college, has made me to be really like, independent, and, like some of the things, like, that I used to be able to endure, like how she like wants me to go to, like, at a certain time, like, you know, these things, you don’t need to take of me on that. Like, I know when I need to go to bed. Like, I mean, if I want to go to bed at three or four in the morning, like, that’s my problem, like, I’ll, I’ll get up later in the morning. Like, I know how to live my life now. I’m twenty-one years old. You don’t need to tell me when to eat or when to go to bed, or like what to eat, or like, what to do. You know, like that kind of stuff, like, I’m not a kid anymore, like, these things---I think she just needs to understand that I’m not, like, ten years old, that she doesn’t need to take care of me, in that sense anymore.
And I guess there’s just like, I mean, I’ve been coming back, like every so often, like during breaks and stuff, and that’s why I can’t like get used to her and her nagging and stuff, but I feel like once we get to live with each other on a long-term basis, then we can develop an understanding and compromise with each other more. I mean, in terms of living with her, like, on a long-term basis, I think it’s just, we both have to compromise in order for it to work out. I mean, I’m not scared about it, I mean, I’m not like, not thrilled about it, I mean, I’m not as thrilled about it as I would wish to be, but, but it’s something we have to do.
Q: What do you think is the stigma attached to living in Chinatown? Like, you said when you went to London you told people, Oh, you lived on Pike Street, and they said, “Oh, Chinatown.” What do you think the average person thinks when you say “I live in Chinatown”?
K.: I think it’s, they think that Chinatown is very dirty and is full of tenements and that, like if you live in Chinatown, then you must not have had a well-off life. Like, I think there’s just a whole bunch of stereotypes connected to Chinatown itself that it’s, it’s the slum, you know, you know, you walk on the streets, people, like on East Broadway, for instance, like people are just like squatting and talking on telephones, and they have like no, they’re discourteous, they have no manners whatsoever, they’re impolite, they push around, they don’t say, “Excuse me,” they don’t say, “Sorry,” they’re not---Like, I mean, it was my sister and I were walking in Chinatown, and she has a kid, we’re pushing the baby cart, everywhere else in New York City, people would move away and like not try to push you, and if you have to go through a door, like, they would hold the door for you. But only in Chinatown, men actually try to push you away even when you’re like with a baby carriage, you know? And, so like these, these Chinese people, like they just have no kind----they have no, like they just don’t love where they live in. Like, this is the place where you live in. Take care of it, for God’s sake! Don’t throw garbage on the streets, like it’s the dirtiest place that you can actually be in, in the city. I, I feel.
Like, you know, we have these fish markets, and it just smells, it stinks, I hate going on Mott Street, like, they have like, whenever I have to go on Mott Street to buy food, like, or groceries, with my mom, it’s like these people, they just like treat the streets like trash. Like they spit like all over the place, like they throw garbage, they did into their noses, god, you know, go back to your home, like, go to the bathroom, or like, you know, somewhere where you can wash your hands, like, you know, like, I don’t want to see it, I don’t want you to touch me after you’ve touched your like, like your nose or whatever. That’s disgusting!
Q: So are you saying Chinese people are dirtier maybe than other----
K.: Yeah! I mean, I don’t want to stereotype, like, you know, I mean, these are, like, my people, in the end, but ultimately, but, like, you know, they, we, people look down on us, because they are the people who they are. Like, I mean, if you ‘re not going to be more civilized about yourself, like, you know, if you’re not going to become civilized and if you’re not going to respect yourself and respect the place you’re living, other people won’t respect you. That’s the way I see it.
I mean, I’m angry, I’m angry when other people like look down on us and when they condescend on us, upon us, of course I’m very angry about it, and I wish that, like, there wasn’t such a thing. But I can’t, even I can’t help looking down on these people when they are doing the things they do. And in terms of like, like, having their voice out, like, you know, we have this Chinese poem. I actually wrote about this when I was a kid. Like, this poem that’s like they say, you know, withholding or resistance and like trying to take in everything, and if you take in everything like, you know, the ocean will look wider, and [recites a poem in Chinese] You know? Have you heard of that?
Q: You have to translate that into English, so that people who don’t speak Chinese---what does that poem mean?
K.: Well, it means, that like, well, what, what, what the poem, it’s not really a poem, it’s more like a saying, like a two-line saying, like with---
Q: A proverb.
K.: Yes. Um, and it’s about just, resisting, resistance, like, how much you can take, how much you can withhold, how much people can step on you, and you can just take it in and not fight back. Like, and if you can just hold it in and like, you know, and withhold it for awhile, then, like, after you step back you will see that the world is much bigger and that, like the waves are silent and then you won’t like, you won’ tactually move anything. Like everything is just the way it is. Like, you won’t like---I don’t know, how to translate it----
Q: ---Is that accurate for Chinese people? Is that what you’re saying?
K.: That’s what I learned, since I was a kid. Like, and when I was really young, like in elementary school, I used to be bullied by this Hispanic person, like this Hispanic, like, student, who was my age. She lived in my building, and she used to bully me all the time, and my grandmother used to pick me up from school, like after, like at around like six o’clock, after daycare, I mean. And then this Hispanic, like, girl, would wait in front of our apartment door, just so that she can like get the happiness of the day, like, you know, like, she gets to slap me around, a little bit, and she feels much happier about it, like it’s her passing time. And one time it was just horrible. My grandmother picked me up, and this girl, like, maybe in second grade, like, eight years old or seven years old, she slapped my grandmother! Like a fifty-year-old or sixty-year-old like elderly grandmother, she was able to slap her around, and like, she took my headband off of me and broke it, and threw a tennis ball at her.
like, this kind of abuse, if you were strong about yourself, like if
you, if you, if there was no, this proverb, if this was not in our
minds, like, we could have like gotten help, like I could have went
to the principal. Like, I didn’t have to endure this kind of
Q: What did you do, when the girl did that?
K.: We didn’t do anything, for like almost half a year, I had to go through this kind of like constant bullying, and constant just like, constant abuse by this girl, and after half a year, finally I was full of it. I just went to my mom, like, “I can’t take this anymore. You have to do something about it. You’re my mom. If you can’t protect me, who is going to protect me?” And like, my grandmother can’t protect me, my grandmother is being abused by this little girl, and so like finally my mom was like, “Okay, we’re going to go to the principal, we’re going to like, you know, get some help, like, you know, we’re going to like, rat her out, finally.” And so after that, you know, it finally stopped, she stopped doing it. But this has taught---I think that, that happened in second grade, and that has really taught me to be who I am, to be like, as loud, and as aggressive, to voice my opinion.
I mean, like, all these, all these like Chinese people living in Chinatown, like they want all these things, like they think that the government isn’t like, you know, giving them enough attention. They think that the government isn’t like, you know, treating us right, like, especially during the blackout, you know, Chinatown and Lower East Side was the the last, the last, like area to get their electricity back. You know, we were the last place to be recognized. Queens was one of the
[END TAPE ONE, SIDE ONE; BEGIN TAPE ONE, SIDE TWO]
Q: The blackout in 2003, Chinatown was one of the last areas in New York City to get electricity back.
K.: Yeah, Lower East Side, and not just Chinatown.
Q: And why do you think that
K.: I think it’s because, you know, we’re just disrespected, like, everyone living in the Lower East Side is just not respected. Like, you know, the government doesn’t really give a, like a crap about, you know, about this area, because, you know, people who are living in this area, like, are just not as well off as the Upper West Side or the Upper East or whatever, and so, like, we get the last cut of the cake, you know, the last piece.
And so, like, it’s just not fair, you know, like---It’s also I think it’s because, like, in terms of coming from Chinatown, and coming from like a Chinese point of view, I feel like these Chinese people, they don’t like to, like, you know, they don’t like to cause any trouble and like they don’t like to, you know, say anything about what they need or what they want. Like, they need something or they want something, but they don’t do anything about it. They just like keep it inside themselves and they’re just like, okay, if I can’t have it, fine, I’ll live without it. But like, in terms of like, necessities or like, something dealing with politics, like, you know, if none of us vote, and if none of like write down that we’re Chinese and we’re voting, of course, like, we have such a small portion in like, the American voting process, that like of course like no kind of government will actually take us into consideration ‘cause we’re, we have such a small, like, voice. Like we’re just, we’re a minority that can, that can work hard, and like, like as a stereotype, you know, we can work hard, and like, you know, climb up the ladder and with, with our, like, bare hands or whatever. But in terms of like, giving into the government, or like you know, showing them that we care, or showing them that we actually like the place that we live in, or like, you know, dealing with politics, they just don’t do anything about it.
Like, voting---“Oh, that’s
just a waste of time.” You know, like my mom, had, didn’t
even vote until recently, until like, for Bloomberg, that was the
mayor that she, like, that she actually, that was the election that
she voted on, like, first. And that was only because she wanted to
see how, like, voting is like, and after that, after voting that one
time, she didn’t vote anymore again. And so like, you know,
it’s like that’s the way every other Chinese person
thinks. Like they don’t like to give to the community in order
to get something back. Like, they just think, like, you know, giving
something that’s this little is just a waste of time, but they
don’t understand the long term, like, benefits, like, an
advantage of them just doing, wasting like an hour of their time to
go vote, and like, maybe in the future like the American government
will finally recognize that Chinese
aren’t like as quiet as we’re stereotyped to be, and
we’re not as like, passive as, as they think that we are. And
by the way, maybe one day they will respect us, you know?
Q: Well, your generation. You’re going to---you are different from your parents, right? You have a voice, you have an education, you speak English, so do you, what, what do you think your generation can do to make a difference in that way?
K.: I think my generation, I think that there are many types of people in my generation, and I am just one type of them. Like there are other people my age who are wasting their lives and going to like Grant Street Park and playing handball, like, twenty-four seven. You know? Like there are many people, like, I mean, my generation, I mean, true, like, we have an education, we know how to speak English, but, I mean, until, I don’t think that all of us recognize that, you know, we’re being discriminated, that like, we have to do something to change it. Like, this is not like a, this change is not going to happen until we all recognize it, and I don’t think we have all recognized this. Like, and more me, like, it’s just such a small portion of people who are like, active like me, like who want something different, who want to change.
Q: So you think when you’re
done with school, you might come back and do something for the
K.: I would like to do something for the community. I mean, right now, in school, I’m like part of the Chinese Students Association. There wasn’t even a Chinese Students Association in my school that was chartered, and we just had to work really hard to charter this organization. Like, I think William, who is working in this museum, he was one of the founding fathers of this organization, but even when he graduated, our organization wasn’t even chartered yet. And the only reason was because the Chinese in my school was not united enough. We weren’t like, we didn’t have, like, a loud voice, we didn’t have enough student membership in order to get ourselves chartered. I mean if this, if the Chinese students don’t even want a place or a union for themselves, then of course the school wouldn’t recognize that they need it. Like, if they don’t need it, why do we have to give them one? That’s what the school thinks.
And so, like, we’re so disorganized, and we’re so not unified. I just think like Chinese is one of the Asian, like, one of the Asians that are the most not, like, united. That’s---I don’t understand why. Like, like, just Chinese people don’t like to help out each other, they don’t like to ask each other for help, they’re just like, everyone is just, you know, selfish, and, like, I mean I guess I am stereotyping again, like, not all of us are like that, but, you know, in general, it’s just, you know, no one likes to, like, they don’t, we’re not like the Koreans, we’re not like the, you know, like, you know, the Japanese, like in school they all have their little like groups that like to help each other out, like even if they don’t know each other well, they know about each other, they like to say “Hi” to each other, but the Chinese, they just like live in their little world, they live in their own room, they don’t like to like, you know, they don’t like to assimilate, they don’t like to, like, reach out to people. They’re just, you know, they’re like, squished.
Q: You seem to have a lot of, I don’t know, anger, or rage in you.
K.: I’m angry because I don’t understand why, like if they know that there’s something better, why wouldn’t they want to like, have that, you know? If there are students who are so enthusiastic about having a student union, and like uniting us, and like building a bridge so that, you know, all of us from different backgrounds can like, you know, unify and like communicate with each other, and like foster an understanding for each other, why wouldn’t they want something like that? It’s something good. Why wouldn’t they want to, like, have anything to do with us, you know? It took us forever to like, get, like, the student membership that we have now, and most of it are like the Chinese-Americans, like, American-born Chinese, who are like from a, like the college background.
Like even in my school, there’s like such a, like a gap, like there’s the conservatory, and there’s the college, and the conservatory, the students in the conservatory are mostly, like, you know, students coming from China or Hong Kong or Taiwan, or, like, you know, other Asian countries, or like, the international countries coming to the conservatory to study music, ‘cause we have a really good department in music, and like these students who are here for four years, they just don’t want to like, get out of the conservatory. They stay there their whole entire four years, and, like, go there from morning to like, night time, and practice all day. They don’t even want to understand, like, like, anything else about living in America, or anything else about, like other students around them. And so, like, you know, and this is, this is a small example about how the bigger picture is like, you know. This college conservatory problem is exactly like what Chinatown and New York City is like.
Q: So, it seems you consider yourself very Chinese. Am I correct? Especially given that you were pretty much raised in this country.
Q: Does your mother feel that
way? Obviously, she is Chinese. Does she feel American at all?
K.: I don’t know. I don’t think so. She always laughs at me, she---like, when I was young, I’d always say, “You people, you Chinese people, and us American people.” You know, I kind of like, like, differentiating us in that way. Like, I kind of like separated us. Like, in terms of identity, when I was young, but now, I don’t, I consider myself as a Chinese-American, I don’t just consider myself as a Chinese person or whatever. Like, and I think my mom considers herself as Chinese still. And I don’t think she. She thinks, when she goes back to Hong Kong, I’m pretty sure she would say something like, you know, like she would refer to America, like she would probably feel proud that she’s in America, like given that Hong Kong has such a bad economy right now, and it’s just going down the hill right now ever since it went back to Chinatown, I mean, to China. But---
Q: So has September 11th
in any way made you think about all these things, of, are you proud
to be an American, do you feel more patriotic?
K.: I was very patriotic when September 11th happened, but I have to say that there are some things that I don’t agree with that the American government has done.
Q: Such as?
K.: Like the war in Iraq. I just, I mean, you know, coming from like, the college point of view, like, there’s a lot of activism in my school about this, and, I think it’s a whole conspiracy, like an oil conspiracy, like, just to get the oil, ‘cause our country doesn’t have enough of it.
Q: Does your mom pressure you in
any way to do anything in particular, to, any kind of profession, any
specific type of profession?
K.: No, because when I was choosing between like going to high schools, like what high schools to go to, I wanted to go to LaGuardia High School, which is an arts school, and I primarily wanted to work in fine arts, and like, do like wood work and stuff, and she just really freaked out. She was like, “No, you are not going to LaGuardia High School,” like “I am not letting you go into that high school, like, you just, like, that’s just not going to happen at all.”
So I had the opportunity to go and like to enter that high school, but I had to forfeit it, because she was just so, she objected to it, so like, you know, by such like great, like at great lengths she was going to like forbid me to go, like, if you go, you’re not my daughter anymore, like that kind of talk that she gave me, and so like I just had to, you know, to give that up. And I always wanted to work in the arts, in the arts field and stuff, and so when---I always blamed her for that, and like, for that experience, and like not being able to go to LaGuardia, because after like, a couple of years after I went to high school, she like realized that like even going to LaGuardia I could study other things, like architecture or like design or whatever that could have benefited me, I didn’t have to just become a poor street artist, as she would think. And so she kind of like took away this opportunity for me. And for college she just didn’t want the same thing to happen again, so she was like, hands off. “I’m not giving you any opinions. Whatever college you choose to, it’s your, it’s your decision. You know, just make sure that you’re like, not going to fail, that you will get out of college in four years ‘cause that’s all I can afford, and you can succeed no matter whatever you choose.
And so like, I---you know, even without her pressuring me, I still knew that I just can’t major in art. Like, art was---I chose to double major in English and Art, because, I mean, one English, I feel like as a Chinese-American growing up in Chinatown, I didn’t have that kind of exposure to the English literature. Like, I didn’t get a chance to read the paper every single day. Like, I don’t know about New York Times best sellers. Like, that’s why I wanted to major in English, to master the language, and just be exposed to the English literature like the way that, like, an American born, like a Western or a Caucasian, like, you know, just a Western family who would bring up their child and expose them to this kind of literature, like, I would want to like, know about these things. And that’s why I chose English, to benefit me in that way.
And art was just an interest that I’ve always had, and that’s why. Like, I know I can’t just choose art, because if I just choose art, then my mom’s going to think, “Oh no, poor street artist.” So that’s why I chose English as well. Like English is the one that’s going to support me and art is like, you know, a sidekick.
Q: So you described yourself earlier as you’re more aggressive than your mom, and because of what happened to you as a kid, being bullied on and all, does speaking out loud all the time and being more aggressive, has that changed the way people treated you?
K.: I think so. Like a lot people describe me as like, loud, and blunt, very honest, and critical. Like, I’m obviously very different from a lot of my friends who are very passive, like, who resemble my mom in many ways, because they were brought up the way they were. Like, I think it’s because I lived with my mom, and I, I mean, even though I have a sister, like, I was pretty much an only child, and I got my way a lot, and my mom, it was just my mom who was teaching me, and, I mean, if she didn’t have that much time to teach me, then, I got to be the---like, I got to learn my own way and be the way I want to be, and that’s why I was able to be as loud and you know, as aggressive as I want to be. I didn’t have that kind of, mother, like father, like parenting, and like other siblings, you know, to be as my model. Like, you know, everything that I wanted to be, it was from like, it was from my own experience. Like it’s not---like I didn’t have any like examples or anything that was trying to like, keep me within the boundaries of what they expect.
Q: Okay, I have to ask you a
health-related question now. Chinatown supposedly has a much higher
rate of asthma sufferers than other parts of New York because the air
and the pollution
here is quite bad.
Have you had any problems with that?
K.: No, I haven’t.
Q: Your friends?
K.: I don’t know of any of that. I mean, I did develop some allergies, but I don’t think it’s because of---I’m not sure if it’s because of Chinatown, but, like, I have allergies in the springtime, and that’s about it.
Q: So after September 11th, your mother got like vacuum cleaners, air filters, that kind of thing, and they were helpful.
K.: Yes. She actually developed some allergies to like, to dust.
Q: After September 11th?
K.: I’m not sure when it developed, but like now, I know she has some like trouble with like dust and pollen and she has to wear like, a mask, like, when she works, like a little nose mask to keep away from the, to keep the dust away.
Q: Oh, maybe from all the years of working in the factories, you mean?
K.: I think so. I think there’s not just---I think it’s the factory, and also, maybe like, like, the pollen, I think. She’s definitely allergic to pollen.
Q: Okay. Well, we’ve
covered quite a lot of things, and you obviously have a lot to say,
K.. Is there anything else you want to share with us that we
haven’t talked about?
K.: I don’t---I can’t think of anything now.
Q: Okay. Well, I wish you luck in your studies, and I hope that you do come back and do something in the community, because I think a lot of people when the opportunity to leave, they just leave and don’t come back, so. Anyhow, thank you so much for sharing your stories with us.
K.: No problem. I was glad. Yeah. [laughter]
[END OF SESSION]
Chinatown Interview: Interview (zh)
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