LML   [林敏玲 - 1976夜校校友]

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“Life has meaning only in the struggles. Triumph or defeat is in the hands of the Gods.

  So let us celebrate the struggles.”

 -Swahili warrior song

Like a lot of Americans my husband and I can’t afford to retire in this country because of the high cost of living. This is primarily caused by cars and healthcare. We are looking for a cheaper, yet nice place to live. This summer we are going to spend three months exploring South America to find out whether there is a country there for us. I’m a little sad about this since America always has been my dream country. Life is a struggle though as you end your working years and it looks as if I have to go to another country and start again.


I have been living in America for more than 20 years and am proud of being an American Chinese. Although I didn’t have a chance to earn a college degree, I worked very hard to accomplish my goals. I am very lucky to be married to a wonderful native Arizonan and writer in my later years and we own a nice home in a good and secure neighborhood. I worked very hard to build a new life in America and make it a reality.

Life was not easy when I first came to America. I was a stranger and knew nobody and nothing about this country. No one from my family lived here then to help me. I was in a dilemma as to leave or to stay behind in New York. As a traveler, it was hard to find a place and a job to support myself. Language was also an obstacle for me. As I was studying in evening school, I didn’t have many chances to practice English. I was also living in a Chinese Community so I could survive without speaking English.

I was very lucky to find a freelance job as the administrative clerk in a Chinese wholesale video company where I improved my Chinese Character processing and Mandarin. I worked very hard and my employers favored me. They help me to change my status.

Chinatown Manhattan is an undesirable place to live. It was very hard to imagine living in a 100 year old building cramped with tenant apartments. Four to five tenants shared one apartment with broken windows, lighting, stairs instead of a lift, mice running around and sharing bathrooms in the hallways with other apartments. I moved many times during a four year period from a windowless dark room to a basement in a townhouse.

What were the reasons that made me stay in America even though I had to go through all those unpleasant experiences? The political change in Hong Kong was not the main reason. I always wanted to go somewhere to escape living in the Chaozhou ghetto while growing up. I thought there would be more opportunities in the big country like America. I was born in a poor family with three brothers and two sisters. My father was a devoted, faithful and loyal man who spent most his life working in the church as a custodian while my mother didn’t work because she could not speak the Cantonese dialect. My father’s small income could not support the family, so my sisters and I went to work at an early age to sustain the family economically. I am the luckiest among my sisters because I was able to finish my elementary school in the day time. My sisters and I fought against the odds to continue our study at night after long hours at work. I started as a sewing girl and went on to become a bookkeeper. Though I had taken different classes at night, I didn’t have a degree to help me advance. As a result life has never been easy for me.

I went through a lot of difficulties with my American immigration interview in Hong Kong and had to wait nine months instead of a month. As an example, I was told I didn’t qualify for immigration. Then I was contacted and told to take a typing test. The day I went for the test they didn’t have a program I knew on a computer so I had to take the test on a typewriter. Then the power went out. By the time it came back the monthly quota had been filled so I had to wait another month. As we Chinese say, when you think you’ve reached a dead end there is always another village along the road.

In New York after working graveyard shift 40 hours a week in the Chinese Daily Newspaper as Chinese character processor for more than four years, my health was in jeopardy and I had no social life. I worked from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am without a break for six days a week. In order to improve my language and situation I went to the community college to learn ESL(English as Second language) after work.

Because of the demanding work and long hours with no breaks and the stress I developed a neck and shoulder pain. I quit my job and moved to New Mexico where my sister and her husband lived at the time. Deming, New Mexico is a small town and there were no jobs. I went to Mexico to travel for almost a month by myself. The trip gave me greater self confidence. Afterwards I stayed in my brother-in-law’s house in Nogales, AZ for a few months while I was learning how to drive. There was no job for me since Nogales is a border town and you have to speak Spanish as well as English.

My sister and her husband came back to Nogales and suggested we take a trip to Phoenix. A few months later I went to Phoenix for a job interview. I was hired working in accounts payable in a Chinese supermarket. Because of the low pay, I found better job as a bookkeeper in a property management company. I changed jobs several times after that; each one was better and paid more.

During this time I was very lonely and have difficulties because of the language barrier. Fortunately I met my husband and I have learned a lot from him. He is my mentor and my private tutor. Yes, we still have occasional communication problems but when that happens it is usually just funny. I continue to improve my English. Of course, if we move to a country in South America I’ll have to start learning Spanish. I am very grateful that God has given me the opportunity to build a wonderful life.