Everybody's stories are worth telling. Especially, immigrants whose stories are often ignored because they are scared, unable to speak native language, or other factors.
So, I sat down with Liu, one of my mother's friends and an employee of Nature's Soy Inc., a worldwide Chinese tofu company. With a long list of questions in hand, I asked him about his experiences in America and as well as his life in Shanghai, China. At first glance, people would assume that Liu took a physically strained job because he was uneducated. However, he graduated from one of the top universities in Shanghai, the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, with an engineering degree. He once worked as a technician and researcher for Dazhong Car Rental and Leasing Company. With many twist and turns, Liu ended up in America. He was a taxi driver in New York. He was a chef in a Chinese restaurant in L.A. Now, he was a tofu worker in Philadelphia. He was stuck in low wage jobs because of his English inadequacy. As the interviewer, I felt that his intelligence and talents are wasted. I couldn't believe that he didn't go back to China to continue his dream. The dream to open his own private company. I asked him if he ever regret his decision to come to the United States. He said, "I have no regrets, only obstacles."
So The Journey Began...
Before I even went to America, I was fascinated by America’s promise of freedom. For a talkative and blatantly honest person like myself, freedom of speech is what I strived for. When I graduated from the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, I was employed as the technological researcher and vice manager of Shanghai Da Zong Company. I was in that company for about ten years. When Da Zong Company sent me out to Los Angeles to bring in better equipment from another Chinese car company, I decided to stay in America after I finished my task.
Even though there is still a language barrier that prevents me from learning and adapting to American customs and cultures, the standard of living that America offers me outweighs that one problem. The air quality and the environment country makes healthier. The relaxing and open vibe makes me happier. My living costs are lower. For example, the cost of the food, housing, and necessities in America is only just a small portion in my total income. I could finally breath out without choking on the pollution and the restless job atmosphere in Shanghai.
Honesty is Key
The first job I had was in a Chinese Restaurant in L.A. I went in for an interview with the owner. He asked me of my experience. I told him straight out that I’ve not touched a single chopping knife in my whole entire life. I was useless in the kitchen back home in China and I was clueless in culinary arts. To my surprise, he did not diss me off. He praised me of my honesty and told me that he greatly respects my character. He made me his apprentice. I learned culinary arts directly from him. I started as a janitor and after two years of his teachings and my dedication, I became the top chef of the restaurant.
Undocumented, Then Free
My inadequacy in English hampers me from going to mainstream jobs in America. I could only communicate and interact with the Chinese. So I never experienced any discrimination from foreigners. However, I did get taken advantage of by my own people. I was once undocumented and there was one person who took advantage of my status. That person was a new employee in the restaurant and he asked me for money to be sent home to his wife. However, that new employee still did not give me back my money for years. When I asked him about the money, he either switched the topic or said that he was penniless. I was afraid that person will disclose his undocumented status, so he did not bug him about it much. Then, a new immigration law was passed and I finally obtained a green card. With my new status, I confronted that person and that person finally gave back my money. Later, I heard that that person’s wife divorced him after three months in America and then married to a foreigner. It might seem like I am stingy, a typical money crazed Asian who wants his money back, but it was all about my dignity. I could not tolerant anyone who plans to take advantage of me, especially if I don’t have any relatives or friends to support me in this foreign country.
In The Cab
Being a kitchen chef to being a taxi driver is a big transition. I was introduced to the job by one of my friends who worked in a cab company. He told me it was an easy job as long as you have a car and know your way around New York. It the most awkward and embarrassing job that I have had.
The Backseat Guide
I still remember my first customer. Since I am not good in English, I don’t understand the address he gave me. Then I hesitantly use my half-assed English and told him, “I am sorry. I am not English. Can you show me the way?.” So I let him instruct me on how to get to his home. When he walked away, this American person is very respectful and he said, “Thank you for sending me home.” Even though I don’t understand that line he said back then, I just understand the “thank you” part. This experience is my first direct conversation with a foreigner. The positive attitude of this customer makes me feel accepted as a Chinese immigrant.
I was blamed by my taxi company once because a female customer filed charges against me. It happened when I drove her to her house at night. She can't open the car door. I didn't realize that the door was locked for a while because I don't understand what she was saying. I just replied, "Okay, okay” for everything she said. It was not until she gestured to me that I know the car door was still locked. I frantically open it up for her and apologized. In the next morning, she filed charges against me. What does she think I will do to her? If I were planning to do something to her, then I would not have driven her home. The funny thing is that she said, "Thank you" after I open the door to her. Her complaint was a bit of a surprise for me. At least, I didn't get fired because of my trustworthy character.
The Tofu Man
After working in the L.A. restaurant for six years and New York I worked as a cab driver for three years. Then, when I was in Philadelphia I worked in Nature’s Soy for about two years. I didn’t know that I will ended up making tofu. It is because I don’t know how to speak English. I can’t go into the mainstream American job circles. I can only work with Chinese employers.
I have not yet experience any discrimination. However, if I say there is not a single discrimination against us in America, then I would be lying. In a diverse working circle, with different races, there is a difference in treatment. For example, when I was in Nature’s Soy since it was opened by a Chinese person, the treatment of Chinese people are better. Maybe workers who came from other countries, the Mexicans, need to work harder than us. That is probably a common scene in America, not just in Chinese owned industries.
Even though there are immigration programs, these programs don’t help you all the way. They connect you to resources, but it takes more than that. Immigrants need to know the language and how the laws work. For example, his coworker did not get her $300 back from her taxes and she has not yet get it back.
I don't regret going here in the United States. Even through, I think China’s culture is better than America because China’s history is about five thousand years while America is only recent. However, American philosophies and the morals of the people are better than China. Consider the respect and relationship between people. If you look out onto the streets...if you were to compliment a beautiful woman, she will probably think that I have bad intentions and think I am weird. However, if I were to compliment a beautiful woman in America, in my opinion, they would openly accept the compliment rather than thinking that I have bad motives. In some aspect, Chinese people are still conservative. America, on the other hand, consider a model for modern countries. The ideas of its people are very open. China has a very traditional domestic teachings while America is very flexible and experimental. In China, we look upon family connections while America look towards community bonds.
Many people would think that I will miss my family and friends back home, but its seems like time have rust my relationships. There are no huge welcoming parties when I went back to Shanghai. In a depressing sense, I think I have lost a lot of bonds during my years in America. It makes me feel like I am alone in America, all by myself. However, life still needs to go on and I need to strive forward. Regrets? No. I have no regrets, only obstacles.
Liu was born in Shanghai, China's biggest financial hub, and one of China's prosperous city.
The University of Shanghai for Science and Technology (USST) is a university that place their emphasis on its main major, engineering, and other majors, such as management, commerce, arts, science and medicine.
DaZhong Company is responsible for the leasing and rental services in Shanghai. It is also responsible for policy insurance.
Los Angelos, CA
Yellow Taxis in Times Square