Dear Futurelink Parents,
It’s been many years since I first noticed the inevitable signs of aging—I couldn’t read with my contact lenses, I gained weight for no reason, my blood pressure was abnormally high, and I developed a chronic pain caused by spinal misalignment. It seemed the stress of making a living in this New World had taken its toll on me. Some time between battling my stubborn physical ailments and running the ever-busy Futurelink School, my two daughters, along with hundeds of other Futurelink students, had grown into adults. (If I bump into a Futurelink alumni and see a baby calling them mommy or daddy, I wouldn’t be surprised). Everything went by in a snap, and before I knew it, twenty years had passed! Now, whenever I see you and your children, I think of me, my daughters, my family, and the lives we’ve made together. Thinking back on the past, I came up with this idea to share my family’s immigration experience with you. It all started with the birth of Ms. Angela in America (so you know I’m old enough to narrate a memoir!)
In 1990, when my husband and I were 33 years old, we came to America with 6 huge suitcases, barely under the airline’s weight maximum, my 5-year-old daughter Anelise, and Angela, an 8-month-old sitting in my tummy. We had waited eight years for our immigration application to go through, and when we got the green light, we left behind our careers—my husband Henry as a vice president of a computer company and I as a high school teacher turned TV scriptwriter–and everything else that didn’t fit in those 6 suitcases.
My initial impression of America was none too favorable. Surrounding the San Francisco Airport were brown, bare mountains. “It’s so ugly!” I exclaimed, frowning, already missing the lush green mountains of Taiwan. However, my second impression was more redeeming. The airport workers were friendly and energetically helped Henry and I haul our heavy suitcases. With their help, we made it successfully to LAX. I was a bit more tolerant of the brown, bare mountains when they stood as a backdrop for the chessboard-like metropolis, miniature cars moving ceaselessly to-and-fro in all directions. My third impression left me awe-struck. In my whole life, I had never been among so many different types of people, with so many different colors of skin and clothing, so many different characteristics and cultures. Navigating my way through LAX, I couldn’t stop looking around me at the various people. I thought to myself, “An Asian like me is just a grain in this gigantic pot of sand.” Calling America a “Melting Pot” suddenly made sense to me.
Because Henry’s sister and her family lived in Rancho Palos Verdes, we settled down there as well. We rented a 3 bedroom apartment at the edge of the city. The complex was shadowed by humongous redwoods and cypresses, and it was so quiet that you could hear a toilet flushing when you walked on the path nearby.
We furnished our apartment with a rented living room set. White fabric couches and a whitewashed wood coffee table gave us a feeling of newness—white and blank for us to paint some colors into our new life.
We had to get driver licenses. The DMV officers, uninterested in our years of driving experience in Taiwan, believed that we, the new immigrants, didn’t know how to drive properly in the States. Henry failed his driver’s test twice and, in despair, begged the officer on his third try, “Please let me pass or I can’t drive my wife, who is due in two weeks, to the hospital!” The officer had mercy on him. My license was granted on my second try, after the first officer failed me for driving “carefully slow.”
Henry drove a 1980 Honda Civic to interviews and got a job as a programming engineer controlling traffic lights. I stayed home waiting for the birth of Angela. Then Henry purchased a Toyota Camry and drove 100 miles roundtrip to work everyday. I drove the Honda to take Anelise to school.
The elementary school Anelise went to sat at the edge of a mountain, overlooking the ocean. It had a view of Catalina Island; ships dotted the blue below. I held Anelise’s small hand and said to her one day after school, “We are standing at the very edge of this big chunk of land. Imagine! Move just a few steps forward and we’ll fall right into the ocean!” I must have scared her because after that she refused to approach the spot at which we stood that day, even after I insisted that the view was beautiful.
The school recommended that parents “carpool”—a word that I had never heard before; I had to ask Henry’s sister what it meant. Following the school’s advice, I happily got to know our neighbor Cindy, a Filipino woman, whose daughter was in Anelise’s class. We became carpool partners. My English was poor, so we smiled a lot to fill in verbal gaps in conversation. Cindy and I took turns driving the girls to school. The girls became friends and played together all day long without talking to each other. Anelise and I were both nervous about our English. But my little girl faced the challenge every day and I felt we were learning everything together. We visited the library almost every day, checking out books. I read to her, teaching her the ABC’s. Life so far was peaceful and full of hope. I quietly waited for Angela to come into this new world.
1990年，我和先生Henry 時值三十三、四歲。經過八年的等待，我們的綠卡申請批準了。我們知道移民是人生的大變動，首先，我們得放下基礎已定的事業，到那個語言文化不同的國度裡，我們不知道是否可以存活。Henry 放棄了大電腦公司副總經理的職位，我放棄了寫了三分之一的電視連續劇劇本，我們拖着六個超大皮箱，懷着既興奮又緊張的心情，帶着五歲的大女兒怡安，和坐在我肚子裡八個月大的小女兒安祺，從台北扺達舊金山機場。我對美國的第一個印象是超級失望——「真醜」！看着那光凸凸，土黃色的饅頭山，我已經開始想念台灣的翠綠蒼鬱的山嶺（從1988 到1990年洛杉磯發生了嚴重的乾旱）。還好，當機場工作人員很熱心地為我們搬動那六個大皮箱，送我們轉機，安全到達洛杉磯機場後，「很有人情味」的第二印象給得負分數的第一印象加上許多正分數。而當我俯視而下，看着棋盤樣的大市區，公路交叉如織，來往跑着有如玩具一般的車輛的時候，那些環繞在周遭，黃土堆一樣的饅頭山看起來也沒有那麼刺眼了。印象最深刻的是第三個：「哇！全世界不同的人種都在此彙集，眼花繚亂！」這時才明瞭上帝真正創造了數不清的人種。我的眼睛老盯着人看，猜測著他們的出處。我們亞洲人只是一堆沙中的一粒，我想！「世界大熔鑪」一詞絶無虛構，在此完全具體呈現！
我們應Henry 姐姐夫婦的邀請，在靠海的南灣，叫Ranch Palos Verdes 的小城租了一個三房的公寓，以便他們照料這個人生地不熟，又有產婦嬰兒的家庭。這公寓社區的紅樹和翠柏，擎天高聳。我張口結舌，仰望著這些可能近百歲的巨木，油然敬仰，一邊想，怎麼可能我就睡在這些老樹身旁？這社區靜悄悄，一聲兩聲車子引擎發動，或聽不懂的英文入耳，才覺得我還在人間。走在社區小道，可以聽見馬桶沖水嘩啦啦，配上鳥鳴啁啁，環顧無人的四週，心想，一個在台北高樓叢林裡奔忙的小螞蟻，到了森林中來做人。因為在這麼安靜的地方，真的可以聽見自己說話的回音，可以察覺自己在呼吸。
我們首先得拿到駕照。那些考官們深信我們新移民不會好好開車，我們在另一個國家開車多年的經驗不算數。我先生Henry 被當了兩次，第三次他只好求考官：「我太太再兩個禮拜就要生產了，拜託請讓我通過，否則我沒法載她去醫院！」這招苦肉計果然有效。我第一次也沒過關，因為開得「太小心，太慢了」。Henry 得開着一輛1980年的Honda 老車四處求職面談，很快他應聘於一家電腦交通系統控制公司，做程式設計工程師。他買了一部TOYOTA，每天開車到Anaheim，來回100哩上下班。我便接收了老車，接怡安上下學。學校建議家長們 carpool, 「車子在游泳池？」我沒學過這個字，還得去請教先生的姐姐。結果我認識了對門鄰居Cindy，她是菲律賓人嫁給了白人，女兒Nancy 和怡安同班。我們便輪流送她們上下學。我經常邀Nancy 來和怡安做伴。兩個小女孩整天玩在一起，卻是默默無言，比手劃腳。