Dashing across the street, Joanna whipped out her Nixon camera in order to catch the perfect shot of taxis and bustling people or what she called the epitome of New York. Joanna was always like this, one moment she would be next to you and the next instant she would be gone taking pictures. “As each minute passes, the same place becomes different and I think it is important to capture the beauty of the changes.” Joanna is a 16 year old high school girl living in Bayside, Queens. Although only 16, she aspires to be a photographer or a film director because she wants to showcase the world in all its glory. Her eagerness to explore change has helped Joanna through her many moves around the world. Joanna was first born in Brazil. Then her family proceeded to move from Brazil to New York, to Hong Kong, to New York, to Hong Kong, and then permanently moved back to New York this year (2018).

One of the major reasons Joanna’s family left Brazil was because Brazil has been in one of the worst economic crisis in decades. “On special occasions, we were given pig fat as a delicacy because that was all our neighbors could afford.” So they moved to New York, but had to constantly move back to Hong Kong because of her father’s job as a christian missionary. Christianity in China is a very tricky business. Although Christianity is legal, the three self patriotic movement (TSPM) can censor and control churches to what they feel is appropriate. Censorship of TSPM became so extensive that some books in the bible like Daniel and Revelations were banned. Evangelism was also off limits. Therefore many illegal underground churches erupted. Joanna’s father was a pastor at one of these illegal underground churches. This resulted in his family’s constant moving because he was running away from the Chinese government and he did not want them to track him. He switched phones every month and rented houses from friends. Joanna’s mom even had to quit her job as a pharmacist so they were free to move and they could not be located by the chinese government. The church would take place in many casual settings like restaurants, bars, rented homes or apartments. If found, they could be persecuted. However, their family decided to have their final move back to New York this year. They were finally done with all the secrecy and hiding. Joanna’s dad switched his positions in his job so he could have a stable job in New York. Joanna’s mom found a new job as a pharmacist in Skyview mall, Flushing. Her parents also decided New York had the best opportunities and education for her so they bought a house and settled in. They decided they wanted a new beginning and what better place to start their new beginning than New York?

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Joanna moved into a red bricked house with a large garden in the front. She lives a few blocks away from Crocheron park but, if she took the bus she could make it to a bunch of food shops along Northern Boulevard. It seemed like the typical “white picket fence American neighborhood, like something from Tom Sawyer.” The living experience is a big change for her. In Hong Kong, Joanna lived in an apartment because “barely anyone lived in a house, there’s no room in Hong Kong.” Hong Kong is relatively small so she could take a train for 20 mins and travel to almost anywhere. In America, she needs a car or bus if she wants to go anywhere. “I feel like I’ve gained a lot of weight since moving here because I would walk everywhere back in Hong Kong but in America I just take the bus.” She also feels like Hong Kong was much safer because American culture preaches not to trust any strangers. Since they moved here, she has read so many articles in the news about crazy people that randomly push other people into the subway tracks. “I could stay out until 1 am and my mom wouldn’t care but in America my mom is very strict about my 11:30 pm curfew because she feels like I can get kidnapped in any moment.” Joanna feels that her mom is does this because Hong Kong is very small and everyone was Chinese so it is easier to trust people with a common identity rather than New York which is a large unknown place bustling with diverse people.

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Shown by her family’s willingness to move around the world for their faith, christianity plays a large component in Joanna’s life. For a majority of her life, she had attended an International Christian school, a school were prayer and faith in God were mandatory. So when she started attending Townsend Harris, she experienced a major culture shock. “Visiting America and living in America is completely different because when you live in America you experience a different side of people.” Personally, a major difference for her was her new friends’ morals. A lot of her ideals and beliefs revolved around scripture and were reinforced by her christian friends in Hong Kong. Her friends would call her to pray with her and make sure she was keeping up with her scripture reading. Therefore, she felt a deeper bond and community with her old friends. “But in New York, many people say they are christian but only go to church once a year. I feel like just because you believe there is a God means nothing unless you act upon it. Here, people put a stronger emphasis on politics to express their beliefs rather than religion.” In this way, she feels it is harder to fit in and express her religion because her friends are more consumed with the party and hookup lifestyle. She feels as though she is looked down upon because she refuses to participate in parties because of her religion. “My friends would always tell me how great it was that I was moving to New York City because of all the opportunities I would have for filming. But I feel like New York City has a built up reputation of being perfect since it is the land of dreams and freedom. Nobody really talks about the discrimination and violence that takes place.”

Apart from Christianity, Joanna feels as though people in Hong Kong are much more fast-paced, reserved and in their own world. An accurate representation of Hong Kong would be like Flushing Queens. “Everyone walks really fast, shoves pamphlets in your face and yells prices of fruits to you. I guess that is why I feel more at home at Flushing.” To her, Americans are much more friendly. “People are willing to give you directions if you’re lost or are willing to just walk up to you and there are even people walking around naked covered in body paint. I remember one time I was really lost trying to get to Washington Square Park and someone stopped me and asked me to buy their mixed tape. I was so scared but intrigued at the same time. New York is a mysterious place. There are literally people that make money in the park by jumping over a bunch of tourists.”

The first time Joanna went to the city, she went with only 20 dollars in her pocket because that was all she needed if she was in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, meals are typically 5 dollars and transportation is 2 dollars. “Everything is significantly cheaper in Hong Kong. I could live a week in Hong Kong with $20 but in New York that barely covers transportation.” She feels that the price differences make New York City feel like it is taken over by businesses. “People in America are so consumed with this money mentality like there is nothing else to live for.” Despite all the differences, she feels that New York City is exciting. To her, New York C

ity seems like another world, like one from idealistic movies. She is breath taken by the diversity and energy from the city. “You have know the places you are going to because everything is expensive and it is easy to get lost but other than that it is easy to get caught up in this new world. One time I went roller skating in Brooklyn and the next hour I found myself walking across the Williamsburg bridge to Manhattan.” Her favorite places in the city are Brooklyn Bridge park, Times Square, and a small dog shop where you can just play with the puppies. Although these places are very popular among tourists, she feels that these places characterize her first moments of pride for her new home. “There can be a coffee shop next to a dog shop next to a tattoo parlor. There can be such a large variety of places within a block.” Her most memorable experience was when she spontaneously decided to sneak out of her house with her friends. Since she did something as wild as sneaking out, she decided to something even more crazy and went to Times square at 2 am. “It was just such a moment of euphoria with the blinding lights and rain. I’ve been to Times Square before and it was packed with people. But at 2am there were barely any people there. I’ve never experience New York City like this. Yet, somehow even though it was somewhat peaceful and quiet, at the sametime the lights made it feel so lively. At that moment I finally understood what people meant by New York is the city that never sleeps.” Fittingly, she ended that night not sleeping. She went home at 6am with chicken nuggets in one hand and many pictures in the other.

When Joanna first moved, she felt like she was held back because she was unable to open up to change and was stuck in her old mindset. She did not want to be a New Yorker let alone an American. “I spent my days thinking about the next time I could go back to Hong Kong and thinking about how much better Hong Kong was in every aspect. Although starting my life over was so difficult, I wish I stood back and realized how amazing and beneficial living in New York could be.” So her advice to other immigrants is that “If you get consumed by how your old life was better, you’ll be unhappy. It is okay to miss your old home but be excited for change and it will open up more opportunities.” Joanna feels that  NY is still a place she is learning to love. “I remember I used to always complain about how cold New York is and how Hong Kong would be so much hotter. But then I experienced my first snow fall. That is probably when I first began opening up to New York. I remember just staring up and the sky and letting each snowflake land on my face and tongue. Snow is just so magical like something so delicate and so beautiful falling from the sky.” To her, New York is her second home and Hong Kong will always come first. Although her friends always tell her New York is a land of opportunities especially for film and photography, Joanna feels that there are opportunities everywhere so no matter she is she has to work hard to attain her dreams. Her New York isn’t so much a land of opportunity nor a home. Joanna’s New York is a fantasy like place where the unexpected happens. So when she grows older she believes that she will travel a lot just like her dad does. But, she will always come back to New York now that she has a permanent home.


Albert, Eleanor. “Christianity in China.” Council In Foreign Relations 9 Mar. 2018. Web. 10 May 2018.

Barron, Laignee. “Guerrillas for God: How Hong Kong’s Pastors Are Delivering the Message to China’s Christians” Times 5 Mar. 2018. Web. 10 May 2018

Clark, Colin. “What Christianity in China Is Really Like.” The Gospel Coalition 9 Mar. 2017. Web. 17 Apr. 2018.

“Cost of Living Comparison Between United States and Hong Kong.” Numbero Web. 13 May 2018

“Cost of Living in Hong Kong.” Expatistan Web. 13 May 2018