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First Person


Cyle Talley

Trump released an immigration test and I wanted to see if I could pass it

Grace Chang, on growing up the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, parental relationships, and racism in America
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Courtesy of Grace Chang

Grace Chang, with her Japanese foreign exchange students.
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Courtesy of Grace Chang

Grace Chang, with her Japanese foreign exchange students.

Grace Chang needn’t have told me that she is an expressive person – throughout our conversation, her hands and facial expressions did much more talking than she did. We meet for coffee, and she tells me that she just had a very difficult conversation about the events in Charlottesville. That the subject is touchy for her as the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants. She tells me about her experiences growing up, and I tell that story here, in her own words.

I bet your parents were probably constantly telling you that you did a good job, right? I got two “good jobs” in my entire life. One when I graduated from college, and one when I won a competition at a camp in high school. Those were the two times that I can distinctly remember them affirming me.

They sent me to a lot of weird camps as a child. Space Camp, Computer Camp – you name it. This was a science/engineering/business camp where we had to come up with a product and pitch it to an audience and a panel of judges. We won that. What did we pitch? [pause] Oh! We pitched a tent! [pause, then laughs] Yes, we pitched a tent. Dammit. [slaps forehead] Anyway, it was a tent that was sort of pre-built. Like you could just throw it down and it would erect itself. [pauses] Damnit! I did it again! [laughs] Anyway, I think we won because of the marketing tactics. I’m good at connecting with people on an emotional level, rather than selling or even making a product, you know? My dad always wanted us to go into the sciences. “Become an engineer! Or fix computers for a living!” And my response was, “Yeah, I’m not so sure that’s for me.” But I went. I’m a good, dutiful daughter. I want him to be proud of me. So it was weird when we won the competition and he was. All of the other people in the group got big hugs from their parents. My dad shook my hand. The difference – and I’ve noticed it since I was a small child – between how my parents interact with me versus how my friends’ parents do with them is stark. For a long time, I resented my parents for a lot of those cultural things. Especially when I was a rowdy teenager. Well, OK, admission: I wasn’t actually a rowdy teenager, but I feel like my parents sort of wanted me to be a bad kid. The worst thing I ever did was I snuck out to feed the homeless in downtown St. Louis. But this was back in 2012 when St. Louis was declared the most dangerous city in America. So I get that. Oh, and I snuck out once to see [the band] Owl City, which is just embarrassing.

I realize now that I was resenting my parents for things that they shouldn’t have been blamed for. It wasn’t them. It was me. I was an American teenager with Taiwanese parents. A lot of people would tell me, “You’re like a banana – yellow on the outside, white on the inside.” That was confusing for me because I didn’t see myself as any different than anyone else. I didn’t want to be different. I just wanted to live my life. It’s difficult living in a world where people feel the need to ask, “What are you?” I want to say, “I’m a human. What are you?” Sometimes people try to hide what they’re actually asking. They’ll say, “Where are you from?” I want to say, “I’m from St. Louis.” [sighs]

Sophomore year of high school, our teacher made us read “The Joy Luck Club,” by Amy Tan. I remember reading the first chapter and sobbing – weeping. I’d never read anything that was about me. As I read more of the novel, it occurred to me that my parents had been through some shit. Not only dealing with racism, the struggles of learning English – my parents gave up everything to give us the chance to have everything. The worst thing for me was coming to the realization of what my parents were and what they had to give up to immigrate. That was a really poignant part of my life, a turning point.

Trump released an immigration test and I wanted to see if I could pass it. I’m an American citizen, after all. I should be able to pass it no problem. Womp-womp. I don’t make enough money. I don’t have a degree in a STEM field. However, I do speak English proficiently. If I were trying to come into this country, I wouldn’t get in. I then tried to do it for my dad circa when he first came into the country. STEM degree? Check. But not a master’s. He was proficient in English, but, lo and behold, he probably wouldn’t have been able to immigrate. Looking at it from that perspective, it’s really heartbreaking. I wouldn’t be here talking to you if my parents hadn’t been able to get into the country. We should be past this by now, shouldn’t we? It’s 2017! We should know better, but we’re regressing. We’ve come a long way, but I was watching a reporter talk about why Trump was elected. He called it a “whitelash.” He attributed it to white voters feeling underrepresented and not heard. People who think that the media focuses too much on Black Lives Matter and minorities and things that don’t represent them. I don’t want to be a jerk, but I almost want to say, “Welcome to every goddamn day of my life!”

Cyle Talley thinks that John and Paul are mostly right. All you need is love. And empathy. And a willingness to have difficult, honest conversations. Email him at: cyle@cyletalley.com