By LiAnne Yu
I am the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Both of my parents grew up very poor. My mom grew up in a one-bedroom home in Taiwan with nine brothers and sisters. Her dad fed the family by catching fish. When there were no fish, they caught rodents, including rats, because there was simply nothing else to eat. When my mom first emigrated to the U.S., she could not believe how many things there were in the big American supermarkets. She was so giddy those early years, she experimented with food in funny ways, like making hot dog won tons, or noodle soup with SPAM. Even though my mom has been living in the U.S. for over fifty years, an all-you-can eat buffet can still make her tear up a little, as she remembers how much her family suffered when she was a child.
My dad worked from the age of 13, when he joined his older sister in the U.S. Because his mother had passed away when he was young and his father was an opium addict, he was left to raise himself. He joined the U.S. army as a cook. He still brags to this day that his hamburger smothered with gravy over rice was the soldiers’ favorite dish. He opened his first restaurant when he was in his 20’s, and raised a family while working long hours – often up to fifteen a day. I see the traumatic effects of having had to grow up a little too fast in him to this day. He is never really relaxed, and never stops being anxious about money.
Both of my parents love their church and have always tithed 10% of their income. They volunteer on Thursdays to feed their Bible study group. They pray morning and night, kneeling in their pajamas. As a non-believer, I have to admit that I get impatient with them when they pray a little too long before meals. But I just bite my tongue and remind myself of how thankful they are for all the things they didn’t have growing up.
Maybe you’ve met people similar to my parents. They used to own a Chinese restaurant, and served their share of sweet and sour pork and chop suey. They have also owned laundry service, getting stains out of suits and folding hundreds of pounds of laundry per day. They keep their heads down and work hard. They are both elderly now and on Medicare, but other than that, they have never taken anything from the government. Even though neither of them has more than a high school degree, they raised me to believe that getting a good education was the most important thing I could do. Even though it meant no family vacations or new cars, they paid my way through college.
To this day, my dad tries to style his hair to look like Ronald Reagan’s, and my mom volunteers with the Salvation Army every Christmas, ringing the bell outside supermarkets to collect money for the needy. America, they say, has given them everything.
Dear Trump voters, I’m writing to you because I know some of you can relate to how my parents grew up, even if you weren’t Chinese immigrants yourself. I know you can relate to how hard they worked, and how much hope they placed in their children (even when their children were ungrateful). I know you can relate to their values, as all they ever wanted was a fair chance to work hard and live a peaceful life. Not an extravagant or fancy one. Just a stable one.
Dear Trump voters, I ask you to imagine my parents, Joe and Sandra, ages 77 and 80, when you talk about what makes America great. I think my parents are part of the fabric that makes America great. Yet these days, they are saddened and confused when they hear the anti-immigrant rhetoric. They also feel scared. Because there is no place for them to go back to. America is all they have, and all they love.
About the writer
LiAnne became an anthropologist because, as her third grade teacher once told her, anthropologists get to travel, poke their noses into closets, listen to grannies gossip on the front porch, and call that a good day’s work. She splits her time between San Francisco, which raised and shaped her, and the Big Island of Hawaii, where she can listen to locals talk story to her heart’s content.
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