"Immigrant Voices,” a web exhibition of contemporary Chinese American immigrant stories presented by the Angel Island Immigration Station, includes intimate profiles of two Committee of 100 members - actress and director Joan Chen and fashion retailing executive Jenny Ming.
Chen arrived in the U.S. as a teenage movie star in 1981, and Ming emigrated with her parents from Macau to San Francisco in 1964. Below are excerpts from these absorbing profiles:
Having grown up under the strict communist regime of Mao Zedong, as a youngster in Shanghai, [Joan Chen] had heard Americans were “imperialists.” There was also a vague sense of “freedom” attached to the United States.
“I know it’s a free country and you can do anything you want,” [Chen] said of her impressions of America growing up. “But ‘freedom’ was actually such a bother when I first arrived. Imagine going to the supermarket, and seeing 20 kinds of shampoo, and 20 kinds of toothpaste! With no party cadre telling you what to do. I wasn’t used to choices and I was so lost. Freedom was very difficult.”
--“Actress, Director, and Immigrant,” by William Wong
In 1964, the family settled in Chinatown and Jenny [Ming] began attending Spring Valley Elementary school on Jackson Street in Nob Hill.
“I was nine years old when I entered the fourth grade. I didn't speak one word of English. I remember the first day of school. Of course at that time, they didn't have ESL class yet. I was in the class and didn't understand anything. My teacher was being very nice so he sat me next to another Chinese girl. Her name was Sylvia Mok and she sat next to me but we spoke different dialects. She spoke Toisan and I spoke Cantonese.”
With much fortitude and a desire to learn, Jenny copied everything Sylvia did, including signing her own school papers as Sylvia Mok.
--“Fate and the Importance of Remembering Where You Came from:
The Jenny Ming Story” by Eva Martinez