I exited the 7 train amid a bustling crowd of commuters running to make multitudes of buses on their commutes home. Flushing is quite a thriving neighborhood: after strolling up and down Main St. for about half-an-hour, I couldn’t help but notice the multitudes of banks, food markets, jewelry stores, pharmacies, beauty salons, and things with “Mall” in their names. Though originally assigned the category of clothing, I knew at the beginning of my trip that I might have to improvise. My group mates had tough luck, getting rejected from multiple stores before they could get an interview, and I expected to go through the same process…I wasn’t wrong. There weren’t too many clothing stores and the ones that I could find were extremely packed. I doubted anyone would give the time of day to an intrusively curious white girl who wasn’t there to buy anything. I, instead, targeted on jewelry stores, which seemed to stretch far and wide. They also seemed to be pretty empty and I hoped that I could find an employee who would talk to me. I didn’t. Even with recordings off the table (I offered to take notes by hand and said this was for a school project), though greeted by smiles, I was shooed out hurriedly with frowns. And though this was an incredibly frustrating experience, I completely understood where these people were coming from.
After a few attempts, I started making my way on Main St. towards Northern Boulevard, where I had looked up and found the Flushing Town Hall. This was my backup: I figured if no one in a business would talk to me, people meant to represent the community would. Annoyed and disgruntled, I passed by a small bubble tea shop with one young girl at the cash register. I thought though this wasn’t a clothing store, I’d give it one more shot. I walked in timidly smiling and trying to give off friendly vibes; my first words were “I’m so sorry to be doing this but…” In the end though, it all worked out. Though the young lady, we’ll call her Stephanie*, didn’t want to be filmed or recorded and was a little confused at the start of the interview, she ended up giving me an extremely honest interview, sharing intimate details of her fascinating life.
Stephanie was born and raised in Fujian, China and is the eldest of four. Her family immigrated to the United States before she was born, but for work reasons, her mother returned and gave birth to Stephanie in Fijuan. At eight years old, Stephanie’s mom left her to return to the United States, where her dad was still residing. Stephanie lived with her grandmother until she was 13, when her grandmother also moved to the United States. After then living with her aunt for a few years, she finally also moved to the United States at the age of 18, reunited with her parents and three younger siblings. Though she initially lived with her parents, she currently shares a living space with five roommates, and occasionally visits home.
Though she finished high school in China, upon her arrival here, Stephanie was placed in 10th grade of Flushing High School. She described not getting along with her classmates, partially because of the language barrier that she faced, but more so due to their age gap. “We had nothing in common,” Stephanie lamented. She quit high school two months in, opting instead for ESL classes.
I asked Stephanie if she planned on going to college back in China and she told me that was never something she thought of. She wanted to go to bartending school or do “something cool” but college was not something she wanted to do. I asked her if she wants to go to college now and Stephanie said “It’s too late,” laughing. Instead, she said she might open a small dessert shop, like the one she’s working in now, or a bar. She then mentioned she works a second job at night as a barista.
“Do you like it here?” I asked Stephanie. “Yes…” she said. “It’s so free.” I asked her to clarify and she told me that in China, you were judged for all of your actions and choices. Everyone watched and made opinions on everything people said, did, wore, etc. Here, she told me, you can do whatever you want. Additionally, Stephanie shared that economic opportunities are much better. In China, she gave me an example, let’s say you earned 8,000 yen per month. 5,000 of those yen would cover your phone bill. You were then limited in what you did for the sake of entertainment. Eating out wasn’t really an option for your average young adult. Stephanie shared that she loves that here, when she’s feeling like Chinese food, she can easily go and obtain Chinese food. However, she can just as easily obtain Italian, Indian, and Greek food. In China, this wasn’t the case.
Stephanie shared that she is close with her three younger siblings. She shared that they all want to go to college; one wants to be a doctor and one wants to be a singer. Though she still talks online with friends back home, she’s made new friends year. For fun, Stephanie shared they get together, visit karaoke bars, get food and desserts, and go hiking.
I told her I would email her this piece once it was complete and so, if you’re reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your time, enthusiasm, and honesty.
*This is an altered name.