Chen Family Story #12

The City of Cerritos was a town full of new immigrants. Store signs in Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Hindi were side by side with the ones in English. Our relatives and friends informed us that choosing a good school district for children was the biggest concern when deciding on where to live. To our surprise, we had moved into a city with the highest ranked high school in California, Whitney High. The school admits students based on  highly selective academic standards. Students have to be at the top of their class and pass a rigorous entrance examination. Many families move here in hopes that their children will get in. I was surprised that the phenomenon of chasing a “celebrity school” didn’t only exist in Taiwan. “The school is more than 70% Asian students,”  my landlord Mr. Chang explained to us. He and his wife both earned master’s degrees in computer science and worked for a computer company as programmers. He gave us property investment advice: “The golden rule of buying a house is location, location, location, and the value of a house in a good school district can only keep rising.”

Henry and I were not thrilled with having the best school in town. First of all, we had never believed that kids had to go to a celebrity school to succeed. Secondly, we didn’t have the money to buy a house yet, let alone a house in a good school district. What excited Henry the most was a supermarket called Ding Hao where he could find Chinese food; for me, it was the library. We started buying tofu, Chinese vegetables, Taiwanese snacks, and fresh meat that we felt was too expensive in American markets. The library was a great resource that made me so happy. It was huge in size compared to the one in Rancho Palos Verdes. I got lost in its maze-like shelves all the time. I was moved by the significant collection of foreign language books. Standing in front of the bookshelves full of unknown languages, I felt very lucky to be in a melting pot where different ethnicities and cultures were welcomed. However, I skipped checking out the abundance of Chinese books because I had an urge to learn English.

Cerritos City Library in 1990

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Beyond the wall of our backyard was the field of Anelise’s school (Carver Elementary School). From upstairs, we had a view of the openness of the school. I paid attention to the school bells. After the long buzz of the bell, the cheerful shouts of children would follow; after another buzz, dead silence. Feeling the rhythm of a school comforted me. I got used to telling the time by counting bells. When I heard the last bell before noon, I would excitedly exclaim to Angela, “Almost time to pick up Jie-jie!” Then I would push Angela’s stroller and walk through the tiny park where some huge red-wooded trees sheltered a small playground. A merry-go-round was in a sand box, waiting for kids to enjoy.  

I noticed that this school was more ethnically diverse than the school in Rancho Palos Verdes. Parents and grandparents happily greeted their little ones by the gate, speaking different languages. Anelise and her classmate, a Korean girl, took the same route to go home. The girl’s grandpa and I would let them play on the merry-go-round. I would push it, making it turn faster and faster, and the girls would burst out with extremely excited laughter. The Grandpa would sit on the bench, watching them play. Neither of us spoke much English, so the way we communicated was through smiles and laughter, but at least we both knew “hi” and “bye.”

I was very impressed by a huge park located in the south part of the city, Cerritos Regional Park. An irregularly shaped artificial lake lapped at the open green lawn. A white fountain shot water up into the sky, humming in the tranquil, vast openness. We came to see model boats swerving around on the water among untroubled ducks and geese. Many grandfathers were instructing their grandchildren on their operation. On weekends, the park was festive, with music playing, picnic areas decorated with colorful balloons and garlands, and BBQ grills smoking with the sweet aroma of meat. Kids played on the lawn or rode bikes on the trails while adults prepared food or took care of children. The sun was bright, and the sky was blue. The air was clean. Surrounded by family in a place full of joy and peace,  I felt profoundly blessed.  

 


 

喜瑞都這城市有許多新移民,店面的招牌有各種外文和英文並列著:西班牙文,印度文,韓文,和中文等等。親戚朋友們都告訴我們說要選住家一定要選一個好學區,很巧合的,我們租來的這房子的學區,就有一個全加州排名第一的高中,叫惠特尼公立高中。學生們要在初中的成績屬於最優秀的一群,還要在入學考試裡得到最高分的成績,才能被選入學校。很多人搬到這裡就是為了讓孩子有進入這個高中的機會。我對著現象感到很驚奇,原來不是只有台灣才有「追逐明星學校」的現象。我的房東告訴我們說,這學校裏的亞裔學生超過了70%。我們的房東夫妻都在美國拿到了電腦碩士學位,一起在同一家電腦公司擔任程式設計師。「找房子的密訣就是地點,地點,地點!好學區的房價只會漲,不會跌。」他傳達給我們他投資的智慧。

我和Henry一點也不迷信明星學校,而且我們也沒有財力買房子,所以我們並沒有對這學校的事情在意。Henry最有興趣的反倒是一家中國超市叫「頂好」的,他們有中國中食物賣,我們就開始享用我們熟悉的東西,比如豆腐,中國青菜和糕餅點心。而我呢,就對他們的圖書館特感興趣。那館佔地好大,比Rancho Pales verdes大上十倍不止,好像個大迷宮,我在裏面常常迷了路。那圖書館還有好多的外語藏書,中文書也占了好大部分。我站在書架前,深深體會到這個國家真的是個民族大熔爐,我們很幸運,能夠成為這個歡迎外來種族、外來文化的國家的一員。但是,我並不借出中文書來讀,因為我有一股積極學英文的熱情。

喜瑞都市的圖書館–1990

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我們家的後院圍牆之外便是怡安的學校操場,到樓上可以俯視整個校區。我對學校鐘聲很留意,每當它那粗又沈的聲音一拉,孩子們尖銳吵雜的玩樂聲便接踵而來。再一次鐘聲之後,瞬間寂靜無聲。沐浴在這個校園的韻律裡,讓我覺得特別安逸。我養成了隨著鐘聲預測時間的習慣,每當中午的鐘聲響起,我就和安祺寶寶說,「走了,去接姊姊放學了!」然後我便把寶寶放進嬰兒車裡,推著她走過小公園。那公園裡有幾棵參天的紅木,濃密的樹蔭遮蓋了一小塊沙坑,沙坑上有一座鐵旋轉盤,等著孩子們去玩耍。

我注意到這學校的學生種族,比怡安的第一個學校要複雜。鐵門旁邊等著父母,祖父母,很多人用不同的語言和他們的小朋友打招呼。怡安的同學有個韓國女孩,她的爺爺天天來接她後,就跟我們走同一個路線回家。我們每天就在公園的椅子上坐下來,看著兩個小女孩去旋轉盤上轉個不停。應她們的要求,我常為她們加速推轉,讓她們又怕又興奮地,尖叫尖笑個不停。我們大家都不會說英文,所以我們就共同的語文- 微笑和大笑- 溝通 。不過,至少我們都會說「嗨,」和「再見!」

這都市的南邊有一個超大的公園,裡邊有個不規則形狀的人工湖。湖中有個噴泉,噴灑著白色的水柱,為這安靜的公園點綴出活潑的律動。經常有人在那兒玩遙控帆船,爺爺帶著孫子女,教他們操作。週末假日,公園裡充滿了節慶的歡樂:人們把餐桌鋪上桌布,裝飾著氣球和彩帶。烤肉爐上的煙燻出香甜的肉香。孩子們騎著腳踏車或在草地上玩耍。大人們忙著準備東西,照顧孩子。在這麼歡樂和平的地方,在藍天艷陽之下呼吸著清新的空氣,我深深感到自己的幸運。

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