Portrait of Adrian Plascencia

“To them we were a part of the large set of dozens of cousins and nephews that made up this family but to us they were strangers.”9. IMG_1044               Photo by Jennifer Baker

Adrian Plascencia is a dancer in Supper, People on the Move.

In preparation for this interview, I called my mom who is now living in California. The phone conversation lasted much longer than our average conversations of five minutes, which usually include mundane updates about weather and work. We rarely speak of our personal lives so my interest in the details of her story into this country was jarring for her to recount at first, but slowly she began to soften and I could hear her voice warm and she recounted the memories of her youthful journey to this new country.

Our being in the United States is more my dad’s effort than anyone else’s. He had always thought of coming to the U.S. as a young man, so when a group of his friends were ready to make the dangerous trip to the border my dad was ready to join them. He was nervous to tell his family that he would be leaving but after an explosive argument with his oldest brother his decision was clear and he was on his way to the border the next day. He was seventeen.

Once in the U.S. he got a job working at a tortilla factory and there he stayed for six years. One day, the factory was raided by immigration officials and my dad was deported back across the boards to Tijuana. He immediately returned to the U.S. A week later the officials came back and deported him again. (I should say, that the details of my dad’s crossing into the country are unclear since he was very private about them and never revealed these stories to either my mom or us children before his death late last year.) Upon my dad’s second deportation in a week he decided to go back to his hometown of Léon Guanajuato and it was during his time back there that he met my mother. They got married and quickly had two children, my older brother and me. My dad had still wanted to have a life in the United States and dreamed of going back while my they were still dating but my mom was not into the idea of living in the U.S.

Now married, my father insisted on going back to help support his family and my mom let him go on the condition that it would only be for a year and then he would return. My dad left in January of 1988, just one month after I was born. He and my mom would call each other every week on Sunday evenings to stay connected during this long time apart. After a year, my mom had had enough of the distance and declared that either he return to Mexico or she would go to the U.S. Not wanting to give up what he had spent so much time building up, my dad got off the phone and immediately began making arrangements for his family to come and meet him on the American side of the border. By the next day it was all arranged; my mom would take a bus to the airport and fly from Aguascalientes to Tijuana. Once in Tijuana she would meet with a man who would give her false credentials to pose as an American who was simply visiting Mexico and now returning to the U.S. My brother and I would then be passed on to different families and pose as children of these American parents returning to the country. We would all rendezvous at in San Diego with my dad and from there drive up to the San Francisco Bay Area where my dad had lived for the past year.

9. AdrianInMexico

My brother, who was three at the time, was coached to give a false name if he was asked by an immigration official. I was a little over a year old and was given allergy medication to sleep through the entire experience and not raise suspicion by crying in the arms of a woman that wasn’t my mother. We both crossed the border as planned as a part of separate families. My mom, however, got held up when they discovered that her credentials were false. She was rejected entry into the country and was asked to turn around and go back to Mexico. They now had to decide on a different and possible more dangerous method of crossing her over.

That night she was packed tightly into a small car with four other women who had found themselves in the same situation of not being about to cross the border on their first attempts. The car drove through a less patrolled area of the border and they were dropped off on a dark beach and told to walk to a 7-eleven four hours away. This long, late night trek was challenging for my mom. She had had asthma since she was very young and this made it hard to breathe in the cold night air. Dry coughs exploded out of her and she tried to muffle them with the thin sweater she was wearing but the other women with her urged her to remain silent on the quiet beach.

There was no way for them to communicate to anyone that they had arrived at their 7-eleven rendezvous point; they were just left to wait. The wait for my mom wasn’t long, as she recalls, and was picked up and driven to where my dad, brother, and myself had arrived the day before. When my mother got to us she says that my brother would not respond to his own name for a week and would instead “correct” people by telling them that his name was the one he was coached to say. For me, the effects of the allergy pill worked well and I didn’t not wake up for more than 24 hours. From our meeting place in San Diego we drove up to San Mateo in Northern California where we were welcomed into my father’s one bedroom, fully finished apartment.

My mother remembers these first few days in the United States as very odd. She had been in a relationship with my dad for some time by this point but they had been separated for a year. Not only by distance but by culture and experience. In that year my mom had to raise a newborn while having a toddler that was not yet two and was surrounded by family for support. The environment, landscape, people, language, were all different now and the only link to this world was a man that had only been a voice over the phone for the last year. My dad had always been more independent and had grown accustomed to the way things worked here. He was enjoying his life and the new adventures that this country offered him.

My dad was granted amnesty in 1989, which meant he received a Permanent Resident Visa or green card. He then took advantage of the Family Reunification laws at the time to grant my mom and both me and my brother permanent resident statuses as well. By 1994 we were all legal residents.

In 2001 my mother applied for American Citizenship and after passing her exam was granted citizenship as well as citizenship for me and my older brother. My younger brother was born in the U.S. in 1995 and is the only one in our family who is a naturalized citizen. As for my father, he chose never to become an American Citizen. He maintained a head strong loyalty to his Mexican Nationality and would not let himself assimilate too much into American culture. My dad never fully grasped the language and would get upset when my brothers and I would speak English around him. He encouraged us to maintain a close link to our Mexican heritage. We attended Spanish church services so all I know about the Catholic church that I was raised in is in Spanish. All prayers and rituals I only know through a Hispanic filter.

After working in a tortilla factory for so many years, my father decided to start his own business. It is a successful small business in San Mateo, California, that my older brother now runs after my dad’s passing in 2014. He had always wanted to return to Mexico, so when he died he was cremated and his remains were flown back to his home town and set in the same church where he was baptized, confirmed, and married.

When I asked my mom if this was all worth it she despondently said, “. . . I don’t know.”

For my parents, their families were always a major part of their lives but for my brothers and myself we never really connected with our larger extended family. My mom is one of fifteen and my dad one of eight so there was a lot of family that we kids never really got to know given that we lived so far away and only visited once every couple of years. We grew up in a completely different world and were privileged with many different opportunities and could not in our naive young heads think of why everyone didn’t just move to the U.S. because things are clearly so much better here. To them we were a part of the large set of dozens of cousins and nephews that made up this family but to us they were strangers. Family we never saw and were pushed into hugging and kissing after quickly connecting the dots from mom or dad to generic relative. They all knew their roles well in the larger family dynamic but I felt out of place with my only real connections being between my brothers. There was no reference point to this world that they lived in or any link to their familiar characters. Our Spanish, though fluent, was not good enough to catch references to popular culture or trends in slang. We got lost when it came to jokes and grammatical word play. Though I was born in Mexico, it was not my home. The Mexico of my parents was not my Mexico.

I am beyond grateful for the journey and struggles that my parents went through to get into this country and to create a life for our family here. This project has opened my eyes to the true peril that came in the decision to cross the border and I am honored to be a part of it.


Adrian Plascencia

Bailarín, de México

Que estemos en los Estados Unidos se debe más al esfuerzo de mi padre que al de cualquier otra persona. De joven siempre había pensado en venir a los Estados Unidos, así que cuando un grupo de sus amigos estuvo listo para hacer el peligroso viaje a la frontera, mi padre estaba preparado para unirse a ellos. Tenía 17 años.

Ya en los Estados Unidos, consiguió empleo en una fábrica de tortillas, y trabajó allí durante 6 años. Un día, los funcionarios de inmigración allanaron la fábrica y mi padre fue deportado a Tijuana, cruzando la frontera. Volvió de inmediato.  Una semana después, los oficiales regresaron y lo deportaron nuevamente. Luego de la segunda deportación, mi padre decidió regresar a su ciudad natal, León Guanajuato, y fue allí donde conoció a mi madre. Se casaron y al poco tiempo tuvieron dos hijos, mi hermano mayor y yo. Mientras estaban saliendo, mi papá todavía quería hacer su vida en los Estados Unidos y soñaba con regresar, pero a mi madre no le gustaba la idea de vivir allí.

Ahora estaban casados y mi padre insistía en volver para ayudar a mantener a su familia; mi madre se lo permitió con la condición de que solo fuera por un año. Mi papá se fue en enero de 1988, apenas un mes después de que yo naciera. Él y mi mamá se llamaban todos los domingos por la tarde para seguir en contacto. Después de un año, mi mamá se cansó de la distancia y le dijo que él volviera a México o ella iría a los EE. UU.  Como no quería renunciar a todo aquello que le había llevado tanto tiempo construir, mi padre colgó el teléfono e inmediatamente comenzó a hacer arreglos para que su familia fuera a encontrarse con él del lado estadounidense de la frontera. Al día siguiente, todo estaba arreglado: mi madre tomaría un autobús al aeropuerto y volaría de Aguascalientes a Tijuana. Una vez llegada a Tijuana, se encontraría con un hombre que le daría credenciales falsas para hacerse pasar por estadounidense. Luego, pondrían a mi hermano y a mí con diferentes familias y nos harían pasar por hijos de estos padres estadounidenses que regresan a su país. Nos reuniríamos todos en San Diego con mi padre y desde allí conduciríamos hasta el área de la Bahía de San Francisco, donde mi papá había vivido.

En ese momento, mi hermano tenía tres años y lo entrenaron para dar un nombre falso en caso de que un funcionario de migraciones le preguntara. Yo tenía poco más de un año y me dieron medicamentos para la alergia para que durmiera durante toda la experiencia y no levantara sospechas al llorar en brazos de una mujer que no era mi madre. Ambos cruzamos la frontera tal como estaba planeado, como parte de familias separadas. Mi mamá, sin embargo, fue detenida cuando descubrieron que sus credenciales eran falsas. Le denegaron la entrada al país y le dijeron que tenía que regresar a México. Ahora tenían escoger un método diferente y, posiblemente más peligroso, para cruzarla.

Esa noche viajó apretada en un automóvil pequeño con otras cuatro mujeres que tampoco habían podido cruzar la frontera en sus primeros intentos. El automóvil pasó por una zona menos patrullada de la frontera; las dejaron en una playa oscura y les dijeron que caminen hasta un supermercado que quedaba a cuatro horas. Cuando mi madre llegó, dice que mi hermano no respondió a su propio nombre durante una semana y que, en cambio, “corregía” a las personas aclarándoles que su nombre era el que le habían entrenado para decir. En mi caso, los efectos de la píldora para la alergia funcionaron bien y no me desperté durante más de 24 horas.

Mi madre recuerda que aquellos primeros días en los Estados Unidos le parecieron muy extraños. Para aquel entonces, ella había estado en una relación con mi padre durante un tiempo pero llevaban un año separados. No solo entre ellos, sino también de su familia, que era su apoyo. Ahora el entorno, el paisaje, las personas, el idioma, todo era diferente y el único vínculo con este mundo era un hombre que solo había sido una voz en el teléfono durante el último año. Mi padre siempre había sido más independiente y disfrutaba de su vida y de las nuevas aventuras que el país tenía para ofrecerle.

A mi padre se le concedió la amnistía en 1989, lo que significaba recibir una visa de Residencia Permanente o una tarjeta verde. Más tarde, aprovechó las leyes de Reunificación Familiar de ese momento para otorgarnos también a mi madre, a mi hermano y a mí el estatus de residentes permanentes. En 1994, ya todos éramos residentes legales.

En 2001, mi madre solicitó la ciudadanía estadounidense y, después de aprobar su examen, le concedieron la ciudadanía tanto a ella como a mí y a mi hermano mayor. Mi hermano menor nació en los EE. UU. en 1995, y es el único en nuestra familia que es ciudadano de nacimiento. En cuanto a mi padre, él decidió nunca convertirse en ciudadano estadounidense. Mantuvo una firme lealtad a su nacionalidad mexicana y no se permitió adaptarse demasiado a la cultura estadounidense. Después de trabajar en una fábrica de tortillas, decidió comenzar su propio negocio. Es una pequeña empresa exitosa en San Mateo, California, que mi hermano mayor lleva adelante desde la muerte de mi papá, en 2014. Él siempre había querido regresar a México, por eso, cuando murió, fue cremado y sus cenizas llevadas a su ciudad natal, a la misma iglesia donde se bautizó, se confirmó y se casó.

Cuando le pregunté a mi madre si todo esto había valido la pena, me contestó desanimada que aún no lo sabía.

Para mis padres, sus familias siempre fueron una parte importante de sus vidas, pero mis hermanos y yo nunca nos relacionamos de verdad con nuestra gran familia extendida. Aunque nací en México, no fue mi hogar. El México de mis padres no era mi México.

Estoy más que agradecido por el viaje y las dificultades que pasaron mis padres para llegar a este país y crear aquí una vida para nuestra familia.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition in 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Advertisements

Portrait of maria urrutia

“Once we landed everyone was given flip flops because when our first boat sank we lost everything, and so no one had shoes.”

20. IMG_9869Photo by Jennifer Baker

maria urrutia is a dance artist and educator. She performs in Supper, People on the Move.

My family left Cuba during two different migration periods, my aunts in the 60s when The Peter Pan Flights took children from Cuba to the United States and my grandparents, father, mother, aunt, and I during The Mariel Boat lift that took place between April and October in the year 1980.

These choices of migration were made for political reasons.

Our migration story took place in June of 1980. In order to leave the country, family from the U.S.A had to travel by boat to “claim” their relatives from the beach area in Cuba known as Mariel. In our family my uncles took on this dangerous task. They and a friend, who also had family he wanted to claim, borrowed a boat and undertook the journey of 90 miles—a stretch that my uncles had not traveled since leaving the island a decade before.

There were over 124,776 people that migrated during that time, and not all were people who had family that claimed them. In order to empty his jails, and the island, of any individual opposing his rule or causing trouble, Castro used this exodus to his advantage. For every one person that was picked up, two political prisoners were also added to the boats cargo. This additional and unexpected cargo was the cause of not only our boat to sink, but many other families to experience death in the deep blue waters that sit between freedom and restraint.

Our migration left behind my mother’s family, which was a choice they made. This choice was always difficult for my mother to fully accept. She was only twenty years old when we left Cuba with my father’s family. The night the government officials came to escort us to El Mariel my father had to beg to bring my mother’s parents from a few houses away so that they could say their farewells—no one knew if they would ever see each other again. My mother’s farewell was quick and full of sorrow. She chose to leave in order to give me opportunities in life, and I could not be more humbled by this tremendous sacrifice.

20. maria urrutia2

maria with her grandmother.

As it turns out the government did not take you to El Mariel first. They actually had a waiting area known as El Mosquito (the mosquito) where we were held for several days. In this location no food was available unless you had money to purchase it and luckily my grandfather had the foresight to bring money. After several days we were taken to El Mariel for our departure. My grandmother vividly remembers that in order to relieve herself the government set out planks on the water that you had to walk onto; this was to experience humiliation.

After a few days in El Mariel we all boarded the boat, in the middle of the night, I was two years old. My father sent my mother, grandmother, aunt, and I into the belly of the boat. Yet shortly after departing El Mariel my father suddenly came down and handed my mother, grandmother, and aunt life vests. He realized that the boat was taking in water and would begin its decent into the depths of the ocean soon, and because there were not enough life vests for everyone he wanted to insure they had them. My grandmother was in her sixties and did not know how to swim.

I am told that in order to relive the pressure my father punched out the glass. He escorted all us all to the top of the boat and even had to push my grandmother off the boat because she did not want to jump. The boat was sinking fast. He still to this day talks about how shocking it was to see such a vessel go down so quickly.

My mother handed me to my father and jumped, which left him with me, a bloody hand, and no life vest. Once my father was in the water my mother was able to beg from a political prisoner that was on our boat to give my Father the floating piece of wood so that I could be placed upon it. We sat in the ocean with screams for Ausilio (help) for what probably felt like eternity, but in reality was only 30 minutes.

My father says that the pacifier in my mouth saved me when we jumped into the ocean. I think it was his drive, skill, and determination that did.

We had not made it into American waters, but both the Cuban and USA Coast Guards came to our rescue. However, since we were still in Cuban waters we were forced to board the Cuban vessel and return to the island. In the chaos I ended up in the American boat, the rest of my family in the Cuban boat. The American Coast Guard said to my father you’ll find her in the U.S., which was not acceptable, and he forced the boats to come together so that I remained with my family returning to Cuba.

This experience terrified my mother and she said she would not be boarding another boat and that she wanted to remain in Cuba. My father’s response was “You can’t go back, we have nothing left.”

Coincidentally the night our boat sank, another boat with the same name also sank, and everyone from that boat died. Our family in the U.S. didn’t know if we were the ones that lived or died. This made it difficult for my aunt, who had not seen her family in over fifteen years. As they lived out of a van for days in Key West awaiting news we went back to Cuba to begin again.

In Cuba we waited to see if another opportunity would arise to board another boat. And after three days it did with the captain of a boat from California whose family they would not release to him; the name of the boat was Second Chance.

Again we boarded a boat in the middle of the night. This boat was also filled over capacity and began to have troubles, but we were luckily in U.S.A waters. The captain of the boat called the U.S. Coast guard stating our troubles. We were airlifted into a helicopter, and then transported onto a U.S. Coast Guard battleship. Once we landed everyone was given flip flops because when our first boat sank we lost everything, and so no one had shoes. I only had a cloth diaper, which had been on my body for over three days.

The other items handed to my family were a bite to eat—a can of Coca Cola and an apple. My mother speaks of this as her first taste of freedom.

Once we were placed on U.S.A soil our family had to spend several days in make shift housing in order to be cleared as legal to enter the country. A thourgh investigation had to be completed in order to clear my father because all men under the Castro regime had to serve in the military. As the historical timeframe lays out, my father was in the military during the Bay of Pigs. When he was cleared after a few days we were all united with my aunt and uncles. And since that moment I have worked to take advantage of every opportunity this country has presented me with.

As for my identity, I feel rooted in Cuban culture and experiences, but after so many years find myself looking at the world through an American lens.


Maria Urrutia, Artista de baile y educadora de Cuba

Epígrafe: María con su abuela en Cuba en 1979

Mi familia partió de Cuba en dos tandas migratorias diferentes: mis tías, en los años 60, cuando los vuelos Peter Pan llevaron niños de Cuba a los Estados Unidos, y mis abuelos, padre, madre, tía y yo durante el Éxodo de El Mariel, entre abril y octubre de 1980. Migramos de esa manera por razones políticas.

Nuestra historia migratoria comienza en junio de 1980. Para poder salir del país, familiares de los EE. UU. tuvieron que viajar en bote para “reclamar” a sus parientes en el área costera de Cuba conocida como El Mariel. En nuestra familia, mis tíos asumieron esta peligrosa tarea. Ellos y un amigo, quien también tenía familia que quería reclamar, pidieron prestado un barco y emprendieron un viaje de 145 kilómetros, una distancia que mis tíos no habían vuelto a recorrer desde que abandonaron la isla, hacía una década.

Durante ese tiempo migraron 124.776 personas, y no todos, tenían familias que los reclamaran. Con el objetivo de vaciar sus cárceles, y la isla, de cualquiera que se opusiera a su gobierno o causara problemas, Castro aprovechó este éxodo para su propio beneficio. Por cada persona recogida, se agregaban dos presos políticos a la carga de los barcos. Esta carga adicional e inesperada fue la causa no solo de que nuestro barco se hundiera, sino de que muchas otras familias experimentaran la muerte en las aguas profundas que se encuentran entre la libertad y la reclusión.

Al migrar, dejamos atrás a la familia de mi madre, una decisión que ellos tomaron. Para mi madre siempre fue difícil aceptar completamente esa decisión. Ella solo tenía veinte años cuando abandonó Cuba con la familia de mi padre. La noche en que los funcionarios del gobierno vinieron a acompañarnos a El Mariel, mi padre tuvo que suplicarles que trajeran a los padres de mi madre, que estaban a unas pocas casas de distancia, para que pudieran despedirse: nadie sabía si volverían a verse. La despedida de mi madre fue rápida y llena de tristeza. Ella decidió irse para darme oportunidades en la vida, y yo no podría sentirme más conmovida por semejante sacrificio.

Resultó que el gobierno no nos llevó directamente a El Mariel. Tenían una zona de espera conocida como El Mosquito donde nos retuvieron durante varios días. En este lugar no había comida disponible a menos que tuvieras dinero para comprarla, pero por suerte mi abuelo fue previsor y llevó dinero. Mi abuela recuerda claramente que, para ir al baño, tenía que caminar sobre tablones que el gobierno había colocado sobre el agua: una práctica que hacían solo para humillarlos.

Después de unos días en El Mariel, todos nos subimos al barco en la mitad de la noche; yo tenía dos años de edad. Mi padre nos envió a mi madre, a mi abuela, a mi tía y a mí a la bodega del barco. Sin embargo, poco después de partir de El Mariel, mi padre bajó de repente y le entregó chalecos salvavidas a mi madre, a mi abuela y a mi tía. Se dio cuenta de que estaba entrando agua en el barco. Mi abuela tenía sesenta y algo y no sabía nadar. Me contaron que, para descargarse, mi padre le pegó a un vidrio. Nos acompañó a todas hasta la parte superior e incluso tuvo que empujar a mi abuela del barco porque no quería saltar. El barco se hundía rápido. Hasta el día de hoy, ella habla de lo impactante que fue ver que tamaña nave se hundiera tan rápidamente. Mi madre me pasó a los brazos de mi padre y saltó, dejándolo solo conmigo, una mano ensangrentada y sin chaleco salvavidas. Cuando mi padre estuvo en el agua, mi madre pudo suplicarle a un prisionero político que estaba en nuestro barco que le diera a mi padre un pedazo de madera flotante para que pudieran ponerme sobre ella. Estuvimos en el océano pidiendo auxilio a los gritos durante lo que probablemente pareció una eternidad, pero en realidad fueron solo 30 minutos. Mi padre dice que el chupete que tenía en la boca me salvó cuando saltamos al mar. Yo creo que nos salvó su impulso, habilidad y determinación.

No habíamos llegado a aguas estadounidenses, pero tanto la guardia costera cubana como la estadounidense vinieron a nuestro rescate. Sin embargo, como todavía estábamos en aguas cubanas nos obligaron a abordar un barco cubano y regresar a la isla. En medio del caos, yo terminé en el barco estadounidense y el resto de mi familia, en el cubano. La Guardia Costera estadounidense le dijo a mi padre que me encontraría en los Estados Unidos, pero no lo aceptó y obligó a los barcos a juntarse para que yo permaneciera con mi familia en el regreso a Cuba. Esta experiencia aterrorizó a mi madre, quien dijo que no abordaría otro barco y que quería quedarse en Cuba. La respuesta de mi padre fue: “No puedes volver, no nos queda nada”.

Casualmente, la noche en que nuestro barco se hundió, otro bote con el mismo nombre también se hundió, y todos en aquel bote murieron. Nuestra familia, en los EE. UU. no sabía si nosotros estábamos entre los vivos o entre los muertos. Esta situación fue difícil para mi tía, que no veía a su familia hacía más de 15 años. Mientras ellos vivían durante días en una camioneta en Key West esperando noticias, nosotros volvíamos a Cuba a empezar de nuevo.

En Cuba esperamos una nueva oportunidad de subir a otro barco. Después de tres días, la oportunidad llegó con el capitán de un barco de California que tenía recluida a su familia. El nombre del barco era Second Chance (“Segunda Oportunidad”). Una vez más, nos subíamos a un barco en mitad de la noche. Este barco también estaba sobrecargado y comenzó a tener problemas, pero ya estábamos en aguas estadounidenses. El capitán del barco llamó a la Guardia Costera. Fuimos trasladados en helicóptero a un buque de guerra de la  Guardia Costera de los EE. UU. Cuando aterrizamos nos dieron chanclas a todos porque al hundirse el primer barco habíamos perdido todo, y nadie tenía zapatos. Yo solo tenía un pañal de tela, que llevaba puesto desde hacía más de tres días.

Además, mi familia recibió algo de comer: una lata de Coca Cola y una manzana. Mi madre habla de aquella situación como la primera vez que sintió lo que era la libertad. Una vez que tocamos tierra estadounidense, nuestra familia tuvo que pasar varios días en una vivienda improvisada hasta recibir autorización para ingresar al país. Después de pocos días, nos reunimos todos con mi tía y mis tíos. Desde entonces, he trabajado para aprovechar todas las oportunidades que este país me ha brindado.

En cuanto a mi identidad, me siento enraizada en la cultura y las experiencias cubanas pero, después de tantos años, sé que miro el mundo a través de una lente estadounidense.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition in June 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of Lao-Sa

“We didn’t know what to expect when we came here, but we knew we wouldn’t go back.”

Lao-Sa worked for City of Philadelphia Human Relations Commission and is now retired. Lao-Sa means “old snake” in the Hakka language.

44. IMG_0462cPhoto by Jennifer Baker

One of my sisters, I have three sisters, came to the US and became a citizen, then my next sister also become a citizen. The first one came back to Malaysia for a visit in 1979 and brought up the subject. “I am a citizen now, do you know you can try to come to America?” It was easier to come to America then. It took three months to get the visa and go through the immigration process. Now it can take years.

It was sudden thing, we didn’t think of it before. The idea seemed distant and so improbable. We first talked about it as a family and then each person did his or her own thinking about it. There were six siblings, and the decision was made right there. The idea started to cook and there was a consensus of let’s do it. But each person had his or her own imagination about what it meant to go to America.

We were Chinese Malaysian and opportunities were limited for us. The Malays were the original people like the Native Americans in America. The ethnic Malay were always on the alert about not letting the ethnic Chinese becoming a significant political threat. When the British gave up Malaya in 1957 they negotiated with the ethnic Malays to take power. The Malay government didn’t take long to set up regulations for national groups. Malays were to be considered the children of the land and as such entitled to special privileges—preferences for college, for business, etc. These were arbitrary and high-handed laws. As a result non-Malay ethnic groups were struggling with their opportunities taken away. When there were elections, the party with most Malays always won. One time a party with many Chinese won and there was a celebration on the street, and next thing you know there was a riot leading to deaths.

I was in my late twenties when I came. My father couldn’t make up his mind to come, and then he passed away before we left, but my mom came with us. We emptied out our savings from our jobs, the “public cumulative funds.” I had less than 2000 Malaysian dollars, which were three times less than US dollars. Nobody had much money. I was working as a middle school teacher in Sabah, Malaysia.

The decision to come was mostly economic and for opportunity. All we knew of America was from the few TV programs that were exported to that part of the world. We saw The Saint, which actually was a British show, and The Munsters, and a few movies with white folks by the pond sipping champagne with nice clothes and talking stylishly.

When I was a child we went through a period of extreme poverty. My father was a Chinese doctor, an herbal doctor. He had a good number of patients but he didn’t know how to manage his business. He was terrible when it came to providing for us. My mother had to be very creative to feed six children. You could make a meal by making small cakes out of starch for five or ten cents. She would also get little dried fish from the market for very cheap, for 10 or 20 cents, but it was not easy to make 10 cents back then. My mom was illiterate but very intelligent and creative with how to survive. The economy was not rosy worldwide but it was much worse in Malaysia. There were originally ten children but some died earlier from different causes. We didn’t talk about it—too busy surviving. After we came here we talked and reflected on things we never did at home.

Malaysian and English were the common languages but everyone spoke different languages at home. I spoke English but not as fluently before I came here. I spoke three Chinese dialects, Malay, and English, but not any Indian languages. If I wanted to play with other children I had to learn their dialects. I speak Cantonese, Fujianese, and Mandarin was spoken at my school. My own dialect is Hakka that we spoke at home. Malaysian English expressions and inflection are totally different. It was like United Nations in my family—we mix Hakka and English and we all know different Chinese dialects. The girls went to English speaking schools. My oldest brother went to a Methodist boy’s school. My younger brother and I went to Chinese medium school. We didn’t go to the free Malaysian school. My mother somehow managed to pay for our schools and books, I don’t really know how. My mother learned English in her 60s and she spoke three different Chinese dialects but she was illiterate.

The Hakka culture and food—I am more drawn to that than Malaysian. My mother was a very good cook. People came to her with notebooks to get her recipes. She liked to cook pigs feet, stewed, sour with vinegar and ginger, dried oysters, soy sauce, onions, garlic. Her way of cooking pork chops and her fried pork was also very famous, marinated with special spices, hard to describe. Malaysian dishes are very spicy. Assam sweet and sour curry is another one. Later in life, everywhere my mother went she compared the price of food.

It was a 17-hour flight to the US. We didn’t know what to expect when we came here, but we knew we wouldn’t go back. We emptied out all our money and sold everything. I haven’t gone back although some of my siblings have. It was definitely worth it. It was totally unexpected. My first impression, I was very surprised—it didn’t match my idea of America. We saw snow for the first time and we didn’t see people sipping champagne.

We went directly to Tecumseh, Michigan, a farming town where my older sister owned greenhouses. A year later I came to Philadelphia where my sister had bought a house. I had many different jobs. I got a part time job at Drexel teaching Chinese, I did kitchen work, translation for Berlitz, and I was the councilor for a Chinese mutual assistance association. I was a court interpreter and translator for City Hall. It was kind of terrifying to have so much responsibility. They didn’t train you at all. It was supposed to be literal translation, but sometimes I had to stop and to ask questions because with two different cultures sometimes yes means no and no means yes. I was translating culture, not just language.

My last job was with the government, the City of Philadelphia Human Relations Commission, which I did for 24 years before I retired.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition in June 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of Blanca

“From Ecuador to Guatemala we travelled in a boat. The ship got lost in the middle of the sea. For ten days you could only see water and sky.”

51. IMG_0662Photo by Jennifer Baker

I came here fourteen years ago from Cuenca, Ecuador. I was seventeen and had a child who was two years old. I didn’t really see me having a future there or being able to offer a future to my child. Many times I wasn’t able to buy clothing for him. I had no job, no profession. I was so young. The second thing, my parents were getting older and by the middle of the week my mother wouldn’t have groceries in her kitchen. I would visit her and she would want to offer me a plate of food and she didn’t have any. That was really heartbreaking for me—I wasn’t able to help them.

I had all these dreams and plans that I would make a lot of money. You have this idea that you will get to the US and you find money everywhere. People who are here send beautiful photos and nobody tells you the reality. I also wanted to escape. I felt somehow trapped in a little town where there was a lot of machismo and a lot of “women don’t do this and women don’t do that” and I didn’t like that.

My plan was to be here for three years. I was going to work, save, pay my debt, about $15,000, which I had to pay for people to bring me here. And then I had to pay 6% monthly interest so maybe I ended up paying over $20,000, money that I had borrowed from people in my town. In three years, I will make enough to go back. I was going to buy property in the city that I was going to rent to people and I was going to live happily ever after.

Instead what happened was this: my now ex-husband was here already. He came six months before, the same way I did, with the same amount of debt. He wanted me to wait, but I didn’t want to. He left me in his parents’ home. I wasn’t happy there at all. When I came (to the US) I had a second child. My older one stayed in Ecuador. He was two years old. I left him with his grandparents. I left him there and embarked on a trip.

It took three months to get here. From Ecuador to Guatemala we travelled in a boat. The ship got lost in the middle of the sea. For ten days you could only see water and sky and we were eating only once a day. There were 90 women and more than 200 men. In Guatemala they transport us in a tuk-tuk (pedi-cab) and the rest of the travelling was by lakes, car, and walking. One time there were a few horses and I was happy to ride because I grew up on a farm. There was a period when they abandoned us in the middle of the woods for ten days and we survived eating oranges until they found us again. In Guatemala I was on the phone with my husband and he got really mad. We didn’t realize people were listening and a voice came out of the phone. They said, “You will never see her again, we are going to kill her tomorrow.” The next day there was a really tall man with a gun and he came to me with threatening voice, “Just be thankful I am also from Ecuador another person wouldn’t care about shooting you.” It is like the mafia.

Our group was assaulted when we were about to cross the border. They had guns, they know where you hide your money. I think it is all arranged. Someone put a gun to my head. I think I was in shock. We walk across the river and we crawl for about six hours. They had watered the plants where we had to hide so we were full of mud and it was impossible to run. And then we needed to run and I couldn’t. They left me behind. I had no more energy and I was gong to pass out. I had no idea where I was. I just started walking slowly. I saw plants moving and they were waiting for me. We got to a house. They took a group in a car so I didn’t have to walk in the desert. I think I wouldn’t have survived. I was so skinny and so tired. They put people in a van and bring me to Philadelphia, where my husband had arranged for me to get dropped off. After two weeks I started working in a meat packing factory.

My husband had a serious problem with alcohol. I was pregnant and we had a car accident because he was drunk and I almost lost my baby. I was with him 5 years. I started working in another factory, a company that sewed bags and special covers for airplanes for the army. I was a machine operator. I worked there two years and a half. They asked me to be a supervisor. I was in that position for two months. There was a woman who was really racist and was treating me really badly. I didn’t speak English, and the people I was working with didn’t speak English or Spanish, they were mostly Cambodian and Vietnamese, so we just communicated by signs. After that job I started doing housecleaning. I really started to think I should learn new things, get my GED. Then the problems started at home. My husband was very controlling and he never supported me to learn English. Things started going down the drain, he started using drugs. I left him, I left the house, I left everything and took my child and started building my own life. I was very depressed because my older son wasn’t here. I always felt guilty.

He is here now, thank God. He came four-and-a-half years ago when he was 12. He did a similar trip that I did. He got here Thanksgiving day on my birthday. It changed everything. It erased whatever bad happened in the past. My younger one was born here so he could travel. Both of them are special in different ways. They are my world.

I never took English classes. I dedicated myself to learn. I went to the library and rented a bunch of kids’ cartoons. I would watch Barney and Sesame Street and Dragon Tales. I watched the Maury show. I put the subtitles on to learn. I read.

Looking for a GED class, I got to an organization that taught computer classes and English classes to immigrants. When I got there I had the feeling this is a place for me, I am going to work here. I had never turned on a computer. After I took that first class I was asked if I would be willing to teach a class. How am I going to teach something I don’t know myself? But I liked challenges, so the director trained me. I started teaching a power point class. I prepared my entire class. There were 15 students. I have never taught anything, never spoke in front of a group. When I started trying to teach, I forgot everything and just started crying in front of everyone. They applauded me and said don’t worry about it, we will learn together.

When I arrived, my first thought was to tell my mother I got here safe. For three months I wasn’t able to talk to her. But then I had this feeling, what have I just done? I got a feeling like if I run to the corner I can catch a bus to go back. I cannot go back. My mother didn’t want me to go, she was really mad at me, but she didn’t know it was for her too. I have helped her ever since.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition in June 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of Ime Inyang

“I was standing at the bus stop shaking, shaking. A Nigerian woman came up to me and said, ‘My sister, put God aside. You are going to die. I will come to your house and show you how to dress.'”

50. IMG_0531

I came here because my husband was here before me. He thought it would be easy for me to come, but it took 10 years. It wasn’t easy. I believe it was 1987. Before I came, I did gardening, I was a farmer. And I worked in the ministry as a radio translator. I had two children that I took care of. We grew many different types of vegetables, that is what we mainly depended on. In order for me to get enough food to feed my children I would get up very early in the morning and buy from the farmers before the food got to the market. Without that I wouldn’t have been able to sustain my children and myself. I tried to keep my children from going hungry.

We were raised in Ghana, but then Ghana sent us back to Nigeria. There was fighting and they said all foreigners should leave the country. My father had been in Ghana for almost fifty years, but he was originally from Nigeria. My mother was taken away by my grandfather to Ghana when she was five years old.

My father decided he wasn’t going to leave. I had a scholarship to school because of my athletic and academic abilities. My mom was a tailor and also sold produce. Usually after school I went to the market to relieve my mom because she had been there since 5:00 a.m. One day when I came back she was crying and said they had sent a big truck and were going house to house asking if any Nigerians were living there and the police took my father. She said she didn’t know where they took him. It was very frightening. The Ghanaians had turned against us. Even our friends started saying it is time for you to leave the country. They took the men to the police station and they put them in cells. When they had enough men they packed them into trailers like sardines and shipped them somewhere unknown. My father was in jail. I quickly took the bus to Mr Chu’s office—the Mayor of our province—and told him. He called the precinct and told them he wants my father out right away! Meanwhile the Nigerian government was sending ships to Ghana to take people back to Nigeria. My father had initially refused, but after he was released from jail he said to himself, “If I don’t go they will kill me and my children.” My father took what little things we had and went to the university where my two brothers were and said we are leaving right now. And that is how we came to Nigeria.

Thanks to the Lord we came with the last ship. When we came we were at the wharf in Lagos for more than a week. We slept where they laid out the rice and it was filled with rats. When we were leaving Ghana they put all of us in a refugee camp. There were women and girls who were raped by soldiers. The camp conditions were horrible; we had absolutely nothing. We stayed there for three months. Many people were sick with diarrhea. When we arrived in Apapa (the Lagos port) my sister was there. She had left school because the teachers beat us. So she married early and that is why she was back in Nigeria. When we arrived we were left on our own. So my sister who lived far away would bring us food once a day.

When we came home to our village it was very sad. If you passed the market you passed my father’s house—a small little thatch house. My father looked at it and said I should have stayed and died in Ghana. My mom’s village was the next village and somebody said we should come there. We lived in the house of Papa, the school principal, and they really welcomed us. But Nigeria was very hard. If we ate food once a day we were blessed. My father couldn’t put me in school so our education was halted. That was when I was put into an arranged marriage. It was the hardest decision for my father and I. There was female circumcision back then and they wanted to do me and my father said it was not going to be me. Life was bad with nowhere to go. I couldn’t go to school. This man appeared to marry me but I didn’t want to. That was when Papa’s wife said this man is very intelligent, he has education, if you don’t marry you have to leave this house. This is a very good man. My father said don’t force her, but my mother supported it and Papa’s wife demanded it. That is how I ended up marrying. When he came here he brought me.

There wasn’t a wedding. My people were poor. There were days my mom didn’t have food for my brothers. My mother would beg food from her relatives and we had to farm just to eat the little we could. But if it wasn’t for Papa who knows where we would have ended up? Papa was special.

I couldn’t bring my two sons to the US because of the system and money. You have to come and go through all this complex and costly paperwork. When I left my children I saw my second son crying, “Mama, what should we do when you are gone?” I didn’t see them until my daughter Affi was born, ten years later. When they came, Affi was a year old. If I had known it would take so long I would not have come. We lost so much time together. We wrote letters.

I came in the winter. First time I saw snow was in Amsterdam. When I came we were in Cleveland I didn’t want to wear pants, I thought women don’t wear pants. When I started going to community college, the cold was getting into my system and I was standing at the bus stop shaking, shaking. A Nigerian woman came up to me and said, “My sister, put God aside. You are going to die. I will come to your house and show you how to dress.” So one day she came, “See how I dress? One long john, two long johns, three socks, that’s how you dress!” I was so skinny and the wind felt like it would take me away. It took about a year for me to get my papers together to go to school. I worked at night. My husband decided we should move to Philadelphia where he went to school but then he couldn’t find a job, so I had to take two jobs. We agreed that when he finished it will be my turn. He graduated from Temple, got a job at Savannah State, and then went to visit his ailing mother in Nigeria and suddenly died.

I have been going home every couple years and I take my daughter Affi with me. I usually go whenever there is a burial. Lots of relatives depend on me. I have one brother who is disabled with 4 children. We talk on the phone almost every day. It is much easier to keep in touch now. Everyone has cell phones. I love my culture but there are certain aspects that confuse me. I cook African food—Jelloff rice, fufu, black eye peas, mui mui, and I garden. I make sure I buy land back home, if America makes us leave one day I don’t want to go back and have nowhere to stay.

Photo by Jennifer Baker

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition in June 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of Allan Irving

“When Dianne and I moved to the US, friends held a ‘bon voyage’ party for us. They gave us two sculptures, an Uncle Sam statue with an American flag and a Canadian ‘Mountie.'”

Allan with daughter Beatrice in Toronto.

Allan Irving teaches in the social work programs at University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College.

I moved to the US from Toronto, Canada, in 1998 with my wife, Dianne and son, Dylan, when I accepted a faculty position at Widener University’s Center for Social Work Education. After teaching at the University of Toronto from 1984 through the late 1990s in social work, I decided I was ready for a change. A major factor in deciding to leave the University of Toronto was the rapid corporatization of the university and how this was negatively affecting and undermining its academic purpose. I became involved through the faculty association—I was chair of the academic freedom committee—in many anti-corporate protests on the campus.

Dianne’s family was located in the Philadelphia area and Dylan would have more family here. This decision meant leaving my daughter, Beatrice, to be with her mother, which proved very challenging. That, along with my ambivalence about life in the United States in the early 2000s led me to accept another faculty position at the University of Western Ontario in 2003. In 2011, after many trips back and forth and much uncertainty, I returned to the US where I now teach part time in the social work programs at the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College. During the years that I travelled frequently between Canada and the US (2003–2011), I had many confrontations with immigration officers on both sides of the border. Once I was denied entry back into the US because I refused to answer questions I felt were inappropriate and intrusive. I have, since I was young, challenged and opposed arbitrary authority.

There are many reasons for my ambivalence in leaving Canada. Though the countries seem similar, their differences are profound. The most notable difference involves universal healthcare. It was fully implemented in Canada in 1968. It is much more equitable. No matter your financial situation, no necessary care is excluded, and anything covered by the public system cannot be provided privately.

I also had trouble with the extent of American racism. I notice it all the time. Canada is not without it, and has had many problems with the treatment of indigenous peoples. As in so many societies, racism presents a range of challenges; I truly believe there is greater openness to social justice in Canada. When Pierre Trudeau was elected as Canada’s Prime Minister in 1968, it was on the promise of creating a just society. Fundamental to Canada’s constitution is that it supports and promotes a multi-cultural society, in its commitment to “peace, order and good government.” In the 1960s, 60,000 Americans moved to Canada. One of my closest friends in the 1970s was an American draft dodger. And Canada was the destination of many escaped slaves through the Underground Railroad. Canada has often been a haven for—and welcomed—American dissenters.

Canada also has much greater public support for the arts. In the 1950s, there was great concern about too much American influence on the arts in Canada. In 1954, government support of the arts and a publicly funded film industry were firmly established and continue into the present. Since 1933 the Canadian Public Broadcasting System was a way to hold the country together through communication. Even people who live in the far north listen to the CBC. It is significant that one of the 20th century’s most prominent philosophers of the media of communication was the Canadian and University of Toronto professor Marshall McLuhan.

The attitude toward government in Canada is much less antagonistic. Though it is changing, unfortunately, I think that seeing the government in partnership with the citizenry to achieve greater social good is more prevalent in Canada than it is here. More people participate in elections. America is a great democracy, but statistics indicate that people don’t vote.

I love Toronto. I am still a Canadian citizen. I have a green card and do not, at this point have plans of becoming an American citizen. But I do I love Philadelphia, with its vibrant cultural scene; to be able to hear one of the world’s great orchestras live on a regular basis is a pleasure I once only imagined.

I feel pulled by different cultures. Canada and the US are not the same. The US had a revolution to become a country; Canada became a country through consensus and agreement with Great Britain. I think that accounts, to a large extent, for the differences in the cultures. An undergraduate history professor of mine published a book, Canada, the Peaceable Kingdom, which influenced me considerably years ago.

When Dianne and I moved to the US, friends held a “bon voyage” party for us. They gave us two sculptures, an Uncle Sam statue with an American flag and a Canadian “Mountie,” and insisted, “You’ll be back.” We often contemplate that return. We’ll see.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

Portrait of James Wah Kong Chan

“The night before I was to leave Hong Kong, I dreamed of being chased after by vampires in Chicago.”

 James Wah Kong Chan is an export marketing consultant.

52. James Chan High ResolutionI was an illegal immigrant for five years. From 1977 to 1982, the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service sent me to three deportation hearings. I hired three lawyers to defend me until one day I broke down and prayed to God for help.

I came to America as a shy, clueless foreign student with a B.A. degree from the University of Hong Kong. I was on a student visa to study geography at the University of Chicago, where I got my M.A. degree in 1973 and at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where I got my Ph.D. degree in 1977.

By then, I had grown fond of the American culture and way of life and I wanted to stay. Boston University offered me a one-year job as an assistant professor. I accepted the job but my student (F-1) visa was about to expire. When I stayed to continue to teach, I “over stayed” and became by law an illegal immigrant.

One day, near despair, I found myself wandering nervously next to the Basilica Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Center City. I saw the Cross and I realized that there was one last resort—to ask for divine intervention.

I walked into the Cathedral and prayed to Saint John Neumann for guidance. After that, I went down on my knees and prayed to God. In silence, I made a vow to God: “If you could help me get a green card, I would promise to pull China and America closer.” I created a story of which I could be the hero. I forged my own myth. I left the church and typed 500 more job search letters.

A few months later, a Fortune 500 company hired me and proved that I could do a job that no American citizen could qualify to do. The company wanted my help to export scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly books and journals to China and other Asian markets. On my birthday in August 1982, the U.S. Consular Office in Hong Kong gave me my permanent residency card and said to me: “James, Happy Birthday!”

From being a shy, clueless foreign student from Hong Kong, I’ve transformed myself into a management consultant advising Fortune 500 companies on how to sell their products in China. My five-year herculean task taught me a lot about how to succeed in America and how to be an assertive public speaker and independent export marketing consultant. I set up my own consultancy in 1983 and I’ve advised more than 100 U.S. firms on how to promote and export their products and services to Asia.

I left Hong Kong in 1971 because I wanted to get a doctoral degree and see the world. I remember the night before I was to leave Hong Kong, I dreamed of being chased after by vampires in Chicago. I cried quietly on my first plane ride from Hong Kong to Chicago. I was afraid of failure but secretly I was excited. A friend from Hong Kong at Chicago let me sleep in his bed because he had noticed that I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. He slept in his own sofa instead.

My mother saw me off at the Hong Kong Airport in 1971. A few months later, she borrowed money from a loan shark to help me pay for Chicago graduate school tuition. I cried uncontrollably in the basement of The Joseph Regenstein Library that evening when I read the Western Union cable about the money. Luckily, from that year on, I was either on scholarship or teaching assistantships throughout my entire graduate school years. I sent money home to my mother every month until she told me to stop decades later.

All of my degrees are in regional and cultural geography. I was fascinated by how countries behave like individuals with their respective unique, quirky personalities and psyche. I love to study them and predict their conduct. It is no coincidence that my clients value my expertise in helping them to read the character of people in China and decode their feelings and motivation.

Even before I forged my own myth at the Cathedral Basilica, I had felt strongly that China and America have very different personalities and value systems. They would need cultural go-betweens like me.

My personal myth and my role as a mediator in business between China and America are documented in my book, Spare Room Tycoon, Succeeding Independently, The 70 Lessons of Sane Self-Employment.

Portrait of James Wah Kong Chan 陈华江移民美国的故事

Translated by Wendy Song,Tianjin, CHINA 天津市宋宏翻译

离开香港的前一天晚上,我梦到自己在芝加哥被吸血鬼追赶。

陈华江博士(James Chan)是美国费城出口市场营销顾问

我在美国当了五年的非法移民。1977年到1982年,美国移民归化局找我去参加了三次驱逐听证会。在那五年内,我雇了三个律师为我辩护,直到有一天我觉得走投无路了,向上帝祈求帮助。

在香港大学取得学士学位之后,我来到美国。那时候,我是一个害羞、没有社会经验的外国留学生。我拿到学生签证,在芝加哥大学学习地理,并于1973年在那里获得了硕士学位,1977年在安娜堡密歇根大学获得了博士学位。

从那时起,我开始喜欢美国的文化和生活方式,我想留下来。波士顿大学给我提供了一个一年的助教工作。我接受了这份工作,但我的学生签证(F-1)即将到期。当我留下来继续教书时,我因“过度停留”,成了非法移民。

在那些和美国移民局战斗绝望的日子里,有一天,我发现自己焦虑地徘徊在费城市的圣徒彼得和保罗的天主教大教堂旁边。我抬头看到了教堂屋顶的十字架,于是意识到,我还有最后一个可以请求的对象–上帝。

我走进教堂,向圣徒John Neumann祈祷以寻求指引。之后,我跪下来向上帝祈祷。在沉默中,我向上帝许下誓言:“如果你能帮我拿到绿卡,我会承诺把中国和美国的关系拉得更近。”我在心里写了一个故事,在这个故事里,我可以成为英雄。我锻造了自己的神话。离开教堂的那一刻,我的心感到异常的平静。回家后,我继续手打了500份求职信,向愿意聘用我的美国企业求职。

几个月后,一家财富500强的公司雇佣了我,这份工作所以会让我来做,是因为没有美国本地人可以胜任它。该公司希望我能帮助出口科学、技术、医学和学术书籍和期刊到中国和其他亚洲市场。1982年8月我的生日那天,美国驻香港领事馆给了我永久居留证,并对我说:“杰姆斯,生日快乐!“

从一个来自香港,害羞、缺乏社会经验的外国留学生,我把自己变成了一个美国企业管理顾问,为财富500强公司提供如何在中国销售产品的策略。那五年的艰苦卓绝教会了我如何在美国取得成功,以及如何成为一个自信的演说家和独立的出口市场营销顾问。我于1983成立了自己的咨询公司,并向100多家美国公司提供了如何向亚洲推广和出口他们的产品和服务。

我是在1971离开香港的,因为我想获得博士学位,并看看世界。还记得在离开香港的前一天晚上,我梦到在芝加哥被吸血鬼追赶。我坐在飞机上静静饮泣,那是我第一次从香港到芝加哥。我害怕失败,同时内心却也十分激动。一位先我来芝加哥的香港朋友看出了我的精疲力竭,便让我睡在他的床上。而他则睡在自己的沙发上。

1971年,母亲在香港赤喇角机场给我送行。几个月后,为了帮助我支付芝加哥研究生院的学费,她从一个高利贷者那里借钱。当我收到关于这笔钱的电报的那天晚上,我在芝加哥大学的Joseph Regenstein图书馆的地下室里不由自主地哭了。幸运的是,从那一年起,在读书生涯中,我就一直能拿到奖学金或助教工作。此后,我每个月都把钱寄给母亲,直到几十年后她告诉不用再给她寄钱为止。

我的大学及研究院专业都是区域和人文地理学。我着迷于一个国家如何像个人一样拥有独特、古怪的个性和心理。我喜欢研究他们并预测他们的行为。我的客户重视我的专业知识,这能帮助他们阅读中国人的性格,解码他们的情感和动机。所有这一切都并非巧合。

即便在我在教堂许下心愿之前,我也能强烈地感觉到中国和美国有着非常不同的个性和价值体系。他们需要像我这样的文化中间人帮助两国穿线搭桥,解决冲突。

我的个人神话故事以及我在中国和美国之间的商业中介角色都记录在我的书中,这本书就是《创业大亨》Spare Room Tycoon。这本书包含了我如何自己做老板的70堂课。

2015年6月25-28日,费城的Crane Arts展览馆举办了一个名为“迁徙的人们的肖像”展。这个展览通过用自己的话讲述了《费城移民》的故事。

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.