Close to fifty years ago our whole family immigrated from Hong Kong to America. My parents had experienced the life of both refugee, having fled the communists in China and immigrant here in the United States. Life in Hong Kong was secure, stable and comfortable. Both my parents held high ranking administrative positions in educational institutions. They had attended prestigious graduate schools in the United States and believed coming to America would not present a difficult adjustment. Because my parents displayed great hopes and confidence, I too felt the same. However a different reality was experienced. My father faced institutional racism, unable to find gainful employment in higher education even with an Ivy League Masters and Doctorate in education. It was the fifties and mainstream was not as accepting of an immigrant Asian educating their students to become future teachers. Three years my father was unemployed. A historically black college was my father’s first employer.

I found it difficult to fit in with mainstream peers even though many of them were Asians but were native born. Not many reached out to help or support a school child from Hong Kong to fit and adjust. So a constant task was how to fit at school and at home where my parents discouraged my siblings and me from being too Americanized. Also living in the South there were strict rules and boundaries for white and blacks. So as an Asian being neither white nor black how do you navigate in that type of environment and culture?I have lived in San Francisco, Boston, Texas, Tennessee where I experienced living as one of five Chinese families in the city to one of hundred of thousands families in the city. There are pros and cons with living in both of these situations.

I came to Northeast Ohio after I got married and my husband found a teaching job at University of Akron. That was close to 50 years ago. At that time we were not actively engaged with the Asian community that was rather loosely organized. We were so pre-occupied with work and raising a family, we did not conduct an environmental scan of friendliness towards immigrants.

It was not until I started working as a professional( Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor) in an immigrant serving community that I began to be more scrutinizing of this region’s acceptance/support of immigrants. I believe that there are many factors that contribute to the experience of being welcomed as an immigrant. How authentic and committed is the welcome? How inclusive are immigrants when it comes to resources for services, education and leadership roles? How are immigrants helped to be contributing citizens? These questions and my personal immigrant experience were the driving force for the founding of Asian Services in Action 20 years ago.

Our work started in Akron, Ohio. To advocate for immigrants, especially Asian American immigrants is a challenge and continues to be a challenge. When ASIA, Inc invited to Cleveland to replicate our programs, ASIA experienced stronger and greater support for its work. The growth of immigrants in Cleveland was increasingly more visible. More advocacy, awareness and attention to their living here occurred. In this respect ASIA’s work was welcomed and respected.

Immigrants and refugees are the foundation and cornerstone of America. If America is to embark on a path of purpose and success for its future, America must know where she came from to know where she is going. Aside from the many festivities and celebrations of the immigrant culture, I believe global education, cultural diversity and demographics must be introduced and incorporated in our K-12 curriculum to increase the students’ understanding of the immigrant experience during their formative years. However, this education needs to start from the top with leaders, administrators, policy makers and educators. If we are committed to embark on this endeavor, Cleveland will become known as a city that many immigrants would want to call home.

Why is it important to travel abroad?

Traveling abroad deepens our understanding of ourselves and others . The sun does not rise in Akron/Cleveland. It helps nurture our own humanity. I travel three to four times overseas annually. Each and every time I learn so much, appreciate my life in America , increases my respect and strengthens my compassion for the people I encounter daily when over there.