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


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.  




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。


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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!」


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