A Beedazzling Spellebration: Li•ter•a•cy (noun)

The Rapidian was honored today by the Literacy Center of West Michigan with the Marshall Pitler Public Relations Award. We were one of the last to be announced at the Beedazzling Spellebration and had the chance to really steep in all the emotions that played across the stage. The tutors, students and families recognized for their diligence – Eritrean, Mexican, American – were just a few swatches from the gradient that fills in the Literacy Center.

Before we went up, they played a video compiled and edited by various students and tutors who couldn’t make it tonight. Among the testimonies was a Vietnamese woman, Hai (2:13), who shared that the Literacy Center equipped her with the confidence to serve her community better by being able to translate for her neighbors at medical appointments or childrens’ school functions.

It resonated. My mom moved to the States a couple years ahead of our birth (twins), and even though her English is versatile, her understanding is blameless, she never trusted herself. At the doctor’s office, in banks and on the phone, she insisted that I stand nearby, always checking her own understanding against mine.

There must have been something like the Literacy Center in the South Bay, and seeing Hai beam, I wish my mom had had the same.


Filed under: Grand Rapids, Immigration, , , , , ,

Chinese matryoshka dolls

To my mom, my blog entries are complete gobbledygook. She understands not a word. Mom rarely makes her way to my little web patch, so I feel pretty safe about sharing my plans.

As a CTC Vista, I’m hardly raking in large sums right now, at least not enough to get my mom a sumptuous birthday present. Besides that, she regifts most of the presents I buy anyhow. With these facts in mind, I’ve decided to make her next birthday gift: customized nesting dolls, starting with my great grandmother.


Mom was the second born in a six-kid line-up, but she was the eldest daughter. She was very close to her mother, who died at a relatively young golden age of lung cancer (she was in her early 60s; I was 14 at the time). What I remember of puo-puo was something of a social butterfly, generosity, and internalizing the pain from her eldest daughter’s failed marriage (divorce was still unusual in Chinese society), 15 hours apart and nearly 7,000 miles away.

Mom in her late 20s. Her favorite descriptors for herself—loosely translated—are "carried herself well" and "Jennifer-full-of-grace."

Unfortunately, there are very few likenesses of my great grandmother, photo shoots being cost prohibitive at the time. However, there are many of my fashion maven grandmother. My favorite’s resolution is too low for my project, but I want to celebrate it anyway:

Grandmas in the foreground. Im not sure how old she was in this photo. Mom likes to describe grandma as having a dignified beauty.

Grandma's in the foreground. I'm not sure how old she was in this photo. Mom likes to describe grandma as having a dignified beauty.

You may have realized by now there are five nesting dolls and I am one of four women. But don’t worry—I am not fool enough to give my mom a reason to start nagging about a granddaughter. To sidestep this suggestive fifth figure, I am cutting out a photo of my childhood bear, who still goes everywhere I go today.

Me & my Cosby.

Taken shortly after my stint with Peace Corps. Me & my Cosby.

I know this is just coincidental, but I really like that my puo-puo, mom and I are all the second-born of our families. Now that I think about it, too, the two generations before me were technically immigrant generations. My grandparents are from Shanghai and fled to Taipei prior to the communist revolution. My mom was the first of her direct family to move to the States, her older brother taking suit almost 20 years later to Canada. While I’m not an immigrant, my mom laments how I’m always trying to move away from her: Ithaca, NY; Oxford, Ohio; Urbino, Italy; Chicago, Ill.; Menkhoaneng, Lesotho; Portland, Ore.; and, in July, Grand Rapids, MI. And from my travels, I’ve come to sympathize very much with issues of assimilation, identity, community and shared culture.

Remember: Mum’s the word.

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Filed under: Ethnicity, Immigration, , , , , , ,

Brain surgery ≠ American citizenship

I woke up this morning to OPB‘s Think Out Loud. Host Emily Harris was broaching the DREAM Act, in which undocumented immigrants under 35 who have been schooled primarily in the States could pay in-state college tuition and eventually be granted citizenship amnesty. The percentage of these undocumented immigrants going on to four-year universities currently is minuscule and the majority of them have no memory of their parents’ countries; they were raised in the United States.

The guests on the show ranged from an undocumented immigrant smuggled into the US at seven weeks to the president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform. Although this post is not meant to spawn a debate on the legitimacy of the DREAM Act, it is a response to some of the infuriating and illogical comments made by Jim Ludwick, president of OIR. The part that really got me rankled came at about 35:50 in the episode:

New Yorker Cartoon by J.B. Handelsman
New Yorker cartoon by J.B. Handelsman

“I keep hearing this term ‘undocumented’ thrown around, but that’s an intellectually dishonest term … In addition, it creates this attitude of, man if I just had this document, everything would be all right. Well, a document is more than a piece of paper. It’s a signal that somebody’s done something, accomplished something. It would be like me saying, I’m a brain surgeonput a sign up on the wall that says ‘Jim Ludwick, Brain Surgeon’I am not a brain surgeon. A piece of paper is meaningless unless it shows something.”

What kind of equivocation is that? Becoming a brain surgeon is a result of effort. Being born a citizen of the United States is a result of circumstance.

As I continued to listen, I heard arguments that legalizing the DREAM Act is the equivalent of endorsing a brain drain from third world countries, legal Oregonians would be subsidizing undocumented immigrants’ educations, their admission would reduce college slots for legal students and increase the tuition.

The fact is, even if you are an illegal immigrant, chances are you pay taxes. You cannot vote, but you can be called up for combat duty. If anything, it’s more likely that illegal immigrants are the ones subsidizing Oregonians’ benefits. In regards to education, the admissions process for colleges are also separate from their financial process. Universities send out acceptances to students who meet their standards with little regard to geographical boundaries. They do this knowing they won’t have a 1:1 return on registrations.

In my personal opinion, holding children responsible for a choice their parents made is a return to serfdom. As “Jennifer” said on air to Portland State University’s College Republican president at about 18:33, “The difference [between you and me] is seven weeks.” Claiming that undocumented kids who grew up their whole lives in the U.S. are causing a brain drain from their parents’ country of origin is like saying to an American-born-and-bred visible minority, “go back to your country.”

The whole thing is infuriating because of the lack of sophistication to Ludwick’s arguments. By sophistication, I mean making sound arguments that are based on facts rather than using red herrings, tangents, appealing to emotion and many other logical fallacies. It is an affront to public intelligence for Ludwick to be “intellectually dishonest.”

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Filed under: Ethnicity, Immigration, , , , , , , , , ,

My Portland romance

It took a big hit the other day, my romance with Portland. I’ve been here about a year now, and for the first time ever, I really understood how Portland’s progressiveness might be a tall tale.

It was Valentine’s Day, and Charlie and I took a bus ride to SE 82nd and Division. We were going to have dim sum at Wong’s King Seafood Restaurant, something I’ve been trying to organize for the last two weeks–since Chinese New Years started–but have been incredibly unsuccessful with. I was itching to see this part of Portland. When my mom visited in November, she had asked around to figure out where the real Chinatown was, and the resounding answer was this far-off intersection. There were less bikers and pedestrians as the street numbers climbed while increasingly more restaurants and schools flew multilingual banners: Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese and English.

The bus warp-sped through a wormhole between 57th and 85th streets. In that 30-block span, the greenery, the foot traffic–all of it disappeared. The quaint, early 20th century houses faded into 70’s architecture and sprawl. We were dropped off in a literal concrete jungle with debris instead of sidewalks and crosswalks every three blocks.

We had a 40-minute wait for Wong’s, so Charlie and I decided to take a walk in search of the fabled Fubonn Supermarket. But instead of taking a left at 82nd, we took a right and passed countless car dealerships. I watched people dodge traffic to avoid walking a couple endless blocks to the nearest crosswalk. It was an unpleasant street to be on, so we tried the backstreets on our return to Wong’s. Where there should have been asphalt, the streets had been ground into gravel. No sidewalks. No grid pattern. Just dead ends pointing to poor urban planning.

I was stunned. Where was Portland? This “neighborhood” was as good as being in the suburbs, and yet it’s still well within the city limits. Everything we celebrate about Portland–great public transportation, walkability, bikability–none of it applied. Many Chinese and other ethnic groups had been pushed out to the edges due to rising costs of living in inner-Portland, but this was ridiculous. Biking might be a fresh choice in Portland, but it’s also one of the oldest, most common-sense economic options anywhere. On SE 82nd and Division, it was not an option. The streets had clearly been unpaved for years, and it was an unnavigable and dangerously car-saturated area.

Was this racism? Classism? Assuming the Chinese weren’t there till recently, where was the City when the roads began to blister and crack? And assuming the Chinese had been there for a while, did the City presume that this immigrant group preferred the ubiquitous expense of cars over walkability? Even though the majority of people in Asia’s most population-choked cities walk and utilize public transportation? It was an outrage. Where everything great about Portland would have made the best sense, it didn’t exist in one of the areas that needed it the most.

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Filed under: Ethnic groups, Immigration, Portland, , , , , , , , , , , ,