This article appeared in the February edition of 603 Diversity.
I was born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China right before the start of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. I lived with my illiterate working-class parents and two younger brothers in community housing consisting of just two unheated small rooms. To cook, my dad built an outdoor kitchen since there was no indoor plumbing. The free community housing had a mud floor, and eight families in the community shared one water pump and a single outdoor bathroom.
Life was tough for my family. My parents worked full-time, six days per week at state factories. We survived on little pay and monthly food rationing coupons from the local government to buy small amounts of pork and eggs (only 2.8 lbs. of protein from all sources for a family of five for a month), a little rice, sugar, and wheat. Because my parents were ordinary workers, we were not eligible for luxury items like powdered milk. Sometimes, to supplement our diet, we even ate rats. I learned from my uncle how to trap rats until they were hunted out and the threat of starvation abated. Quite a few times, we ran out of money to buy vegetables, so my parents would send me out in the open fields to find wild greens at the edge of the city.
When I turned 6 years old I was very excited to attend school. I was so excited that my parents had to bribe me with a movie ticket to keep me at home for an extra year to watch my one-year-old brother. I cried for three days but felt obligated to help the family. You see, my parents could not afford the state factory’s childcare for my baby brother. Yes, even in this communist paradise we had to pay for government schools and child care centers.
Due to the delay in my education, I became an extremely motivated student when I started school; I often passed my classes with perfect scores. Later, however, I became very unhappy with school when the teacher told me that I could not join the “Young Pioneers” (Mao’s organization for elementary school students) because I was not “humble enough” (I had bragged about my perfect grades to my friends in school and they told on me).
At this young age, I learned a hard lesson: conform and keep your thoughts private. Do not trust anyone, even your friends. I did everything “right” after that: writing conformist entrees to my public diary, memorizing Mao’s Red Book, chanting “Long Live Chairman Mao, 10,000 years,” and singing Red Songs. I was very young and I truly believed in what I was taught in school: Mao was our supreme leader, Communism was great, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had saved China, all Black Classes and religions should be eliminated, etc. What is a “Black Class?” Mao arbitrarily divided the Chinese into five Black Classes (the oppressors) and five Red Classes (the oppressed) and he used those divisions to exert political control. Control permeated everything. We had approved hairstyles, dress codes, and even dating was banned. When Mao died in 1976, ending the Cultural Revolution, I started having questions: “How did he die? Who lied to us?”
Years later, I chose Fudan University in Shanghai to study law, wanting to transform China from a society ruled by men to a society ruled by law. However, I quickly became disheartened when I was taught the law, based on the Soviet Union’s legal model, is “… a tool the governing class uses to rule the masses.” I thought laws were supposed to provide justice! I was lost and did not know what to believe or why I existed. I became very cynical and socially rebellious. I started to make friends with some international students on campus and was eager to learn what the world was like outside of China.
One of these students, an American exchange student, showed me a pocket-sized version of “Declaration of Independence.” Even with my limited English skills, I could understand most of these words: “We hold these truths to be self–evident….” The light bulbs came on. I had never heard such beautiful words before, but I loved them so much that I spent many hours with my American friend to learn more about these new concepts and America. I had a new dream: I wanted to go to America.
I eventually made it to America in 1988 with only $100, which was borrowed. I spoke very little English. In the 33 years since, I have enjoyed living in this great country. I received a graduate degree, got married, raised three children, started my own business, and was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1995.
While living in Colorado, someone told me about the state of New Hampshire and how things were different there, so I decided to visit to see for myself. In November 2016, in the middle of fall, I traveled to
New Hampshire for the very first time and spent four days there. I visited many more times after that, even during winter!
I fell in love with New Hampshire for its natural beauty, the White Mountains, its rivers, lakes, coast, it’s wonderful decent people, vast rural areas with open space, and of course its motto, “Live Free or Die.” I was determined to move and make New Hampshire our new home.
In 2019 we were finally able to move to Weare. We enjoy living here, meeting people, and making new friends. Today, I am living my American Dream with a loving husband of 31 years. We have three wonderful adult children, our own business working from home, and traveling across the country to share my stories. I feel very blessed in America and I am grateful that the people of the granite state have welcomed me with open arms. I am proud to call New Hampshire my home.