All Immigrants Deserve to Not Just Arrive, but Also to Thrive

Students at Frederick Douglass Elementary School in Leesburg line up for breakfast. (Photo credit: Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now)

By Guest Contributor: Quyen Dinh, MPP (Executive Director of Southeast Asia Resource Action Center)

I grew up poor but never knew just how I poor was until I hit middle school.

In elementary school, my day started with getting breakfast from the cafeteria window, where I got to choose a cereal box along with a small carton of milk from our cafeteria lady, Angie.  She had short curly silver hair and always happily provided us our breakfast, along with a great smile.

For lunch, I lined up with the rest of my classmates to get lunch from Angie, too. Each of us carried a small envelope with our names on it.

I didn’t realize, though, that my envelope was different from the other students.  While other students had money in their envelopes with cash to pay for the weekly price of school lunch, mine was empty. Instead, my envelope had my name on it along with five checked boxes for every day of the week – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday –that I was able to receive free lunch.

Continue reading “All Immigrants Deserve to Not Just Arrive, but Also to Thrive”

My journey as an undocumented immigrant

I’m on the right making the grumpy face. I was five, on a family road trip with my cousins around the island of Taiwan. (Photo credit: Yin Yin Chan)

By Guest Contributor: Yin Yin Chan (@yinychan)

My daughter, Mia, has another year in preschool, and her father and I are assessing our best options for her educational future. The original plan was to raise her in Taiwan before she reached kindergarten age when we would move back to America for grade school. Although I was born in British Hong Kong, Taiwan is my mother’s native country and where I had lived from ages two to seven.

We had hoped for Mia to develop an understanding of her family’s background by directly immersing her in our ancestral language and culture. But after two years in Taipei, we shortened our plans and created new roots in Los Angeles when Mia turned three. As it turned out, adapting to the Taiwanese culture, climate and language was just too challenging for us as Asian-Americans.

We chose Los Angeles for its vastly diverse spread of people and neighborhoods with access to top schools, museums, and cultural centers. The resources the city offer falls inline with our aspirations of providing Mia with the best education we can afford.

Being an American-born citizen with Asian-American parents, Mia moved back to the US with relative ease. This was in great contrast with my own experience moving from Taiwan to America; I was seven years old when my parents and I came to the US as undocumented immigrants, a status that would shape the rest of my life.

Continue reading “My journey as an undocumented immigrant”

Behind LA Chinatown’s Hip Food Scene: Baos, Coffee, and Gentrification

The interior of the restaurant J&K Hong Kong Cuisine. (Photo credit: F. Huynh)

By Guest Contributor: Frances Huynh

Read the first of this series: “The Gentrification of Los Angeles Chinatown: How Do We Talk About It?”

* * *

A quietness lingers as we set up shop. Empty streets fill with the jostle of clothing racks. The multiple clicks of stoves turning on. The soft smack of noodle to plate. Doors open.

On the top floor of Far East Plaza stands 香港美食坊 (J&K Hong Kong Cuisine), a 茶餐廳 (cha chaan teng — a specific type of Hong-Kong style diner). Cantonese shows play on the television in the background, while seniors chat with friends and family at the tables all around. For many of Chinatown’s residents, it is one of a handful of go-to restaurants in the neighborhood for plates of Cantonese comfort food. Peter, a long-time resident, enjoys eating their 海鮮粥 (seafood congee) and 水餃 (dumplings). “很平 (It’s very inexpensive),” Lee Tai Tai, another resident, says. The restaurant is an important community space, providing Chinatown’s seniors an accessible place to hang out and to socialize with friends over dishes reminiscent of those found in the homelands they immigrated from. They also frequent other small shops, including New Dragon, Zen Mei Bistro, and Fortune Gourmet Kitchen, in addition to larger banquet-style restaurants such as CBS Seafood Restaurant, Regent Inn, Full House Seafood Restaurant, and Golden Dragon.

Every morning Monday to Friday, Julie, who has lived in Chinatown for over thirty years, joins about sixty other seniors to eat at Golden Dragon, a longstanding Cantonese restaurant commonly frequented by residents and visiting families. She enjoys eating the healthy meals provided by the “senior nutrition lunch” program held there.1St. Barnabas Senior Services is a non-profit organization that provides free nutritious meals to low-income adults 60 years and older at fourteen congregate meals sites including Golden Dragon. There is a suggested donation. Afterwards, she walks home to her apartment several blocks away and spends the rest of the day listening to the radio and watching Hong Kong dramas. When dinner time comes, she walks to one of several restaurants in the neighborhood to buy what she considers “fast food”: convenient Chinese takeout. By then, she notes, time just passes by.

Continue reading “Behind LA Chinatown’s Hip Food Scene: Baos, Coffee, and Gentrification”

Fighting for equal pay for Southeast Asian American women

Cropped Infographic for AAPI Equal Pay Day (Photo Credit: NAPAWF)

By Guest Contributors: Sung Yeon Choimorrow and Vimala Phongsavanh, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

Disaggregated data indicates that Southeast Asian women in the U.S. are making on average 61 cents to the white male dollar — and this pay disparity is hurting their ability to make choices about their bodies, their lives, and their families.

Imagine having to work an extra nine months to for your pay to catch up to that of a white American man. For millions of Southeast Asian American women, this is no fictional scenario.

In 1981, Vimala’s parents and sister fled the country of Laos to escape political persecution and arrived in Rhode Island as refugees. Just a few months after settling in, her mother, Kongdeaune, began working at a factory where she ended up being paid the same minimum wage for the next 35 years of her life. She worked many 16 hour days just to be able to afford to give her kids a comfortable life and send some money back home to her family in Laos — and she did all of this without paid sick leave or vacation. Vimala saw the weight of the financial burden take a toll on her mother’s emotional and physical health. Women like Kongdeaune would have greatly benefited from equal pay and — and it’s about time they get it.

Continue reading “Fighting for equal pay for Southeast Asian American women”

Still Processing: Imagining Myself as Asian/American

Two Asian Americans chat over some Starbucks. (Photo credit: Roger Kisby / New York Times)

By Guest Contributor: Yaoyao Liu

Editor’s Note: This post is the second in a series by Yaoyao Liu, reflecting on an episode of the “Still Processing” podcast on Asian American identity.

For their second installment on the experiences of Asian Americans on the Still Processing podcast, Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris focus on the interlocking issues of dating, politics, and professional life. Their curation of voicemails, guest speakers, and personal insight presents a vivid array of perspectives that all touch upon the idea of how Asian American people are seen, and how we see ourselves.

Continue reading “Still Processing: Imagining Myself as Asian/American”