When I was 6 years old, my mother and I made the long journey from our home in Chengdu, China to what would be our new home in the U.S. We were making a permanent move to the US to join my father. He had immigrated one year earlier to begin to build the foundations of a new life for us. It was my very first time on a plane and the first time I had ever been outside of China. I was both scared and excited.
There are very few memories that I remember as clearly as this trip. I can still taste the anticipation and the fear. I remember the exhilarating joy of reuniting with my father after a year apart and the innumerable questions racing through my head on the car ride from the airport. Before this, only a sprinkle here and a sprinkle there of various memories, usually involving food, stick out in my mind. Looking back, I don’t think my young mind fully grasped that we were moving halfway around the world—permanently. I certainly didn’t understand the enormity of this step and the huge sacrifices that my parents had to make in order to get us to this country.
Growing up during the cultural revolution, my parents lived through the full brunt of Maoist hypocrisy. This orgy of political and social upheaval saw my grandfather persecuted for being from a well-off, landed family. And as a scholar and teacher he was doubly doomed, the ultimate “enemy of the people”. For nearly a decade, almost all university education was put on hold and as a result my mother was the first of her siblings to be allowed to go to college by the government. She was lucky enough to have come of university age just in time for the reestablishment of higher education. But even here, individuality was quelled and silenced. Dreams and passions were not to be pursued. No, instead the government assigned you an area of study and then you were assigned a job after graduation. Choices were not