Rose Yao’s Interview as Told to Genevieve Hynes

Rose Yao is a first generation immigrant from Shanghai, China. She moved to the United States when she was three years old. She is now eighteen years old and attends Macaulay Honors College.


I am from Shanghai. Usually it’s very hot because I always go back during the Summer but it’s cold too. But you mean what is it like? I don’t want to say it’s familiar and somewhat similar to NY, but in a way it’s different because not as mixed as America is, you know, everyone is one race. It’s basically like NYC except less greenery. It’s really over populated. And theres also, I don’t wanna say immigrants, but they might as well be, because they come from outer areas in the country, so they can speak a dialect that’s completely different from Shanghainese and it’s kind of like seeing tourists on the streets when you’re walking except for the fact that they’re tourist workers, so they just work. My mom was and has always been a textile designer, so she was an artist for most of her life and traveled all across China just to paint landscapes and went to technical school too for art, but to make it marketable she got a degree in textile design so that she can go paint patterns for clothing and things like that. And my dad, he kind of did a bit of everything. He sometimes worked in a movie theater, he was a car salesman for a little while,he opened his own noodle shop, a ton of other things.


If I were a high school student in China getting ready to go to college I don’t think I would make it. I probably wouldn’t even get into a community college in Shanghai just because there are so little schools but so many students who want to get into them and so I guess the biggest reason [for leaving China] is just like everyone elses reason: To create a better life for their children. My dad is just really excited to be away from China because both our families were targeted during the communist revolution so they’re really happy to get away from that I guess, just the mindset after. In pretty much all the schools in China you were supposed to take another language so both my parents just happened to be assigned English. My mom was very good at it, that’s why she chose America.


My mom was sort of the pilgrim that came to the U.S. and she found a job, she got her visa and everything and when she came here she got a sponsor from one of the companies that she worked with, and so with their help, she also brought me and my dad over, and we came at the same time, and my brother came a few years later. She [my mom] doesn’t really let us forget it because she’s still working hard because the retirement age in China is fifty-five for women and her older sisters are retired already, they have grandkids and I’m still the one in college. She’s still working.


I do remember being really excited when I came here, because I hadn’t seen my mother in a year and I was at the airport filled with other weird looking americans and I was just really happy to see my mom and she brought me and my dad to the home she was currently living at and had rented and I remember when I first walked into my room it was the best thing in the world because she had like a little keyboard for me and little table for kids and decorations, valentines on the wall. And I was just really happy to be there, I was like wow so many cool things! And in China because I lived with my Uncle most of the time and we were really poor so I didn’t have any toys, so when I came here and I saw all this awesome stuff I’m like yes America!!


The first thing on my mind is I got really sick when I first came here because I just think cause of the different climate and different allergens in the air, things like that. I had almost every not fatal disease possible. I was sick for a very very long time. But then I got better because I got used to everything around here. I guess it was hard when we had to find new places to live because we always wanted to move closer to where my mom’s job is and closer to transportation to good schools so we’d move very often and, because I still wasn’t in school at that time (I came during the middle of the school year) so my mom would have to kind of like wheel me around in a stroller even in the dead of winter just to look for places to live.


My family isn’t really cultural so whereas all my relatives in China they would celebrate Chinese New Year, and like all the other holidays. Here we only celebrate Chinese New Year because that’s the biggest one and I guess eating dinner together. We eat Chinese food all the time. I’m gonna tell you a secret: I don’t really like Chinese food. My dad doesn’t touch any American food at all. You can’t give him a slice of pizza or something, he’s like “Ew, no, what is that?” I was confused when I got here and everyone loved Chinese food, I was like “It’s just boiled vegetables and rice!” And I love fake Chinese food too, I mean, who doesn’t? I really like pasta though, I could eat it everyday. I do know that the weddings we attend are all traditional Chinese style. Just think American wedding, but in red. I am still fluent in Mandarin and Shanghainese dialect, but since I didn’t go to school in China I can’t read or write in Chinese. In China, families are really close. We’ve adopted the American way. You’re just plain relatives, you’re not as close as you would be. It’s kind of sad actually.


Honestly, I can’t imagine my parents living there, but I guess it was just what they’re used to so that’s their normal. But I have found that now they go back, they’re not used to Shanghai anymore because now they’re gotten used to American mannerisms and sometimes find people rude.

We’re a lot more sensitive to racism. Still to this day my parents still consider themselves Chinese people, so they feel that they don’t belong here. If a teacher just really hated me, and that happened a lot, my parents instead of wondering what I did wrong, would think “maybe your teacher is racist.” They instilled in me that I’ll forever be different from Americans, but since I’ve gone to schools here I’ve kind of unlearned that. When I first came, people were more aware of me when I was walking on the streets because I was an asian kid, and on T.V. it was all white kids. And now there’s a conscious effort in including people of all races into everything. I find it a lot more peaceful here [in the U.S.]. I just think my personality is more suited to America.