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My Immigrant Experience

Updated on January 24, 2017

Ellis Island

Introduction

I am a legal immigrant to the USA and this is my story. My father immigrated to the US in 1957 with a student visa. He had a BS degree in engineering from Taiwan (Republic of China). He worked for the Taiwan utility company a few years before applying to the University of Oklahoma graduate program. Once accepted, he borrowed some funds from a relative of ours and made the long trip to the US. He had two other fellow students also from Taiwan as companion and with a basic knowledge of English, took the chance to come here in hope of improving our families lives. It must have been a difficult decision to leave a wife and two young children behind. I will always be grateful to him for making this journey.

-September 2015

My Father Leaving Taiwan

My father at Oklahoma

My father and his two friends

My mother and brother and I leaving for NY

Background

Our family's immigration story is similar to many others who have made the journey. I want to capture it to remind us how immigration was suppose to work.

My father earned a Master's degree in engineering after two years at the University of Oklahoma. I'm sure it was not easy for him. Not knowing the culture and with minimum knowledge of English, he was able to graduate and move to NYC in search of a career. With a student's visa, he needed to get a job in order to stay. In addition, he needed to get the company to apply for residence status due to his technical skills. Luckily, he found a company that was willing to help. Once getting his green card, he was qualified to apply to the Immigration and Naturalization Service to bring his family over. This is a slow process and required patience. There is an annual quota for families of residents and it took two and a half years for us to get the final approval. It would have taken longer but luck would have it, the election of John F. Kennedy as President in 1961, provided a special quota addition that year. My mother and my brother and I (age 10), arrived in NYC in the winter of 1961. I remember the first time I arrived at JFK airport after a long flight. It was the first time we saw snow. In Taiwan, a tropical climate island, it never snows. Driving from the airport to our apartment in Queens, NY, I remember seeing the NYC skyline and were amazed by what I saw. For all the things we had heard about America, it did not prepare us for the reality of being here.

By the way, before we made the trip, we had to be tested for any disease. We also prepared by taking some basic English lessons. Coming to America was a big deal not only for us but for our extended family. I remember all of them at the airport giving us the sendoff. It would be many years before we will see them again.

We were the the first in our family that made this journey. Many others from our extended family followed. There were aunts and uncles and cousins that followed.They all had similar stories.


The family send off

My School Years Experience

In the 1960's, in Queens NY, we were one of only a few immigrant families from Taiwan. I remember attending public school 5th grade at PS 152. I was welcomed by the teachers and fellow students and treated as special. To help us assimilate, the school offered a special English afternoon program to help us catch up. After about six months, I was comfortable and well integrated to the classroom. Coming from Taiwan, our math skill level was far advanced that of the American public school system. That offered us an advantage and made up for our below standard English. Also, in art class, I was encouraged to use our heritage and background to express ourselves. It took a while but we assimilate quite well to the American life style.

My Naturalization to be a Citizen

It took about five years before we were qualified to become citizens. There was a simple civic's test and I passed it with 100% correct answers. I felt very proud to become a naturalized citizen. Besides the test, you also needed a witness that is not a family member to testify that you are of good character. I was about 16 at the time and a family friend was in attendance. She was a close friend of our parents and she was a kind person and was happy to help. At this time, I had studied American history as one of our subjects and learned about the founding of the nation and the Constitution. I just felt very lucky to be living in the US and given all this freedom and opportunity.

Discrimination

As I mentioned, during the early 1960's, there were very few Asians in our neighborhood. Besides the three families that came together, we soon found another Chinese family in the area. They have a daughter and a son about our age. We started hanging out together and became close friends. In fact, years later, when my friend got married, I was his best man at their wedding.

There were a few minor incidents where another student would make fun of us because of our race. It was rare and often other students would come to our defense. I must say honestly, growing up in Queens NY, I did not felt discrimination of any sort. It was also a time where segregation was still practiced. We had very few blacks in our school. The black neighborhood was about 20 blocks away and I guess they attended another school. At the time, I never understood why Asians were not grouped with Blacks. For some unexplained reason, it was taken for granted that Asians were equal to Whites. As I learned about the history of slavery and the civil war, it became more clear the racial divide among black and white in our country. Our nation have come a long way from those days and in 2008, we elected the first black President.

Our Family Finances

Just a word on our families finances. As I mentioned, my father borrowed some funds to help with his education years. After gaining employment, he was able to save and payback his loan. In addition, we were able to buy a car and later a house realizing the American dream. My brother and I attended college and had successful careers in Corp. America. My mother was a homemaker the first few years and later got a job at a local watch factory doing quality assurance. It didn't pay much but it was a job and it kept her busy. My brother and I both had jobs since our teenage years. First, we worked as paperboy but later worked at the YMCA in midtown Manhattan. At no time did we rely on government assistance. This was the 1960's and a much different period. A typical family could live quite well on one income. We had health insurance through work and we were able to save and buy a house and a car and pay for college without a student loan. We were not rich but we were middle class and we were happy to be Americans. The American dream was alive and well.

Summary

This hub documents my family's immigration history from 1957 to 1967. I decided to write this down so that the next generation will understand their roots. My children are adults now and have not been told the details of our past. In passing comments, I might have mentioned some parts of the story but never the whole story. It is important that they know this. It's a success story and we owe it all to my father.

Our country is currently undergoing a debate about immigration. It is important to understand the past and how we got here. My story is a small part of the whole. It needs to be put in context. The current crisis with illegal immigrants is a different story. I have nothing against the people wanting to come here for a better life. However, I wish they would just follow the law.

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    • jackclee lm profile image
      Author

      Jack Lee 2 years ago from Yorktown NY

      My Squidoo name was jackclee. Somehow when they migrated to Hubpages, I was assigned jackcleelm. My profile is here -

      https://hubpages.com/politics/Jack_C_Lee

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 2 years ago

      Hi jakelee, I'm glad you got to go to Germany...hmmm interesting experiences?

      What was your Squidoo name? I recognize you...

    • jackclee lm profile image
      Author

      Jack Lee 2 years ago from Yorktown NY

      Delia, That's great. I'm also a transplant from Squidoo. It took a while to convert some of my lens to hubs. Stay tuned, I am working on the rest of my memoir and I visited Germany as part of my travels for business in the 1990's. I have some interesting experiences in Wittenberg. Thanks for checking in.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 2 years ago

      Great story! Your experience is similar to mine...I have memories of that day and wrote a Squid lens for it. Sadly I deleted it when coming here to HP.

      I also experienced prejudice but only because I was German and the War had just ended. I called it ignorance, and did not allow it to internalize.

    • jackclee lm profile image
      Author

      Jack Lee 2 years ago from Yorktown NY

      breakfastpop, thanks for the kind words. I am worried about the rise of illegal immigration as well, not only from our southern borders but from China and the Middle East and now the refuges...We are a generous nation and want to help but immigration needs to be orderly controlled. The open borders proposed by some will weaken us as a nation.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 2 years ago

      I appreciate hearing your story. You story is the tale of success. It is also the story of how immigration made our nation great. Your family came here legally and wanted to be part of the culture. My grandmother came here from Russia wanting the same things. She appreciated the opportunities available in America and raised her children to be solid citizens. What's happening now is dangerous, especially in light of those who want entry into our nation to destroy it.

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