Dr. Chen teaches anthropology at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. He performed this research in New York. Three of Dr. Chen's many case studies are excerpted here, one each from the professional class, small business class and working class.
Dr. Tou, a Medical Doctor
Dr. Tou is a mainlander [note from NM: people in Taiwan often categorize each other according to whether their families came to Taiwan from China around 1949, versus having been in Taiwan for many generations] who received his master's degree from the Biochemistry Department at National Taiwan University in 1966. He came to an American West Coast university for his Ph. D in the same year. His wife, a classmate in Taiwan, joined him in the same department a year later. In 1969, Dr. Tou received his Ph.D. and Mrs. Tou, a master's degree.
Between 1969 and 1972, Dr. Tou held a postdoctoral fellowship at a hospital in the South, and Mrs. Tou secured a position as a medical research assistant in the same hospital. Dr. Tou then became an assistant professor in a university in Illinois in 1972. Between 1973 and 1980 he was an assistant professor at Mt. Sinai Hospital, New York City. At the end of this period he began studies for a M.D. degree, which he attained in 1982. Between 1982 and 1983 he held a training scholarship at a research foundation, and since then he has worked at a hospital in New York City.
Mrs. Tou stayed home to take care of their new daughter while they lived in the South. From 1973 to 1979 she was a laboratory supervisor in cancer research at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in Newark. I1982 she and their daughter went back to Taiwan, where she studied accounting at the China External Trade Development Council for six months. After she returned from Taiwan she took an accounting job in a textile import company for two years. In 1984 she gave up this job to visit Taiwan again. She did not return to work immediately after coming back from Taiwan. Because the Tous' financial situation is comfortable, she has decided to study for a real estate license, and then work on her own, buying and selling houses and managing the apartment buildings they now own.
For them, life in the United States is not hard. Dr. Tou earns a good salary at the hospital. On vacations, they go to Taiwan or to other countries. They have been to Taiwan three times as a family, once when Dr. Tou was invited to participate in a meeting held by the government in 1976, and for summers in 1981 and 1982. In addition, Mrs. Tou and their daughter usually go back to Taiwan once a year.
Their daughter was twelve years old when I first interviewed them in 1984. She took dancing lessons and played guitar, piano, and pingpong. She attended the Ming Yuan Chinese School in Elmhurst on Sunday mornings. Her parents admitted that she could have almost whatever she wanted. Under their influence, she is interested in biochemistry. "She may pursue the same subject as we did in the future," Mrs. Tou said, "but we don't want to push her. Her future depends on her own interest." When Mrs. Tou and her daughter visit Taiwan, she hires physics and mathematics tutors for her daughter. They are proud that she is "number one" in her class.
Their daughter is a "latchkey child," who lets herself into her home because her parents both work. Dr. Tou told me, however, that his brother, a computer-science student, lives in the basement, and his mother visited from Taiwan in 1983 and several times later. Both of them can take care of the daughter if there are any problems. The Tous do not worry about their daughter's safety. When I met Mrs. Tou in 1986, she told me that her daughter was in Stuyvesant High School and a member of several science clubs there. It seems she is following in her parents' footsteps. She is also avidly reading Chinese novels, and her mother said she has to stop her from reading too much.
Sometimes the daughter invites classmates or neighborhood friends to do homework or play with her in the house. The Tous' daughter has good relationships with children in the neighborhood, but her parents do not have much contact with adult neighbors because "everyone minds their own business," as they see it. One friend, Mr. Chong, once visited quite often, but since he opened a coffee shop he rarely comes.
During the first five years after her arrival from Taiwan, Mrs. Tou wrote letters once a week to her family. Now that their financial situation has greatly improved, she uses the telephone. Mrs. Tou says it is more convenient, and easier, to talk and discuss things immediately.
Dr. Tou's brother, as noted, lives in the basement, so the couple can see him often. A sister of his also lives in Elmhurst, and they call each other once every week or two. Another sister, in Oklahoma, is in touch by phone every month or two. A third sister is also in the United States, but they never call or see each other. Mrs. Tou said, "The communication among brothers and sisters depends on the character of each one. Some do not have contact with any part of their families. For example, the last sister we mentioned, I do not even know where she is."
They usually buy food in Elmhurst at such stores as the A&P, Shopwell, and the two Chinese grocery stores, Five Continental, and Shin Guang. Sometimes they step into Mei Lien and Kam San Chinese stores in Flushing, too. Furniture and appliances are purchased at department stores in Elmhurst or Manhattan. They do not think it is necessary to buy things from Chinese businesses. They point out that very few Chinese sell furniture or electric appliances. Except for Chinese food, they have no ethnic preferences in shopping.
In the evening they watch television and listen to music. The daughter has piano lessons at home on Saturday mornings and attends Chinese school on Sunday mornings. Mrs. Tou goes to aerobic dance class in a non-Chinese club and chats with friends on the phone. Weekend activities include meals out in Chinese restaurants, apple-picking trips, movies, and driving to the suburbs or upstate. Dr. Tou's old friends from the West Coast university he attended try to get together three times a year, on July 4, Labor Day and January 1. Usually they meet in some friends' homes on Long Island, where the houses are big enough for a large group of people. Occasionally they meet in a restaurant.
The Tous enjoy American holidays more than Chinese holidays because these are vacations days away from Dr. Tou's work. On Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the American New Year, their daughter receives gifts from her parents. But the most important celebration remains the Chinese Lunar New Year. They eat in a Chinese restaurant for this special occasion. The daughter enjoys the holiday because she receives a red envelope with money inside. October 10, "Double Tenth," is the national anniversary of the Republic of China, and they sometimes go to the "Double Tenth" party held by the Chinese Student Club of which his brother is president.
Although they are professionals, they nonetheless feel that they have some difficulty in communicating with non-Chinese, not only because of language difficulties but also because of different cultural backgrounds. Other than some lunches she has with her non-Chinese colleagues and some parties held at work, Mrs. Tou has very little social contact with non-Chinese. "Generally speaking", she said, "I contact non-Chinese only when work requires it."
Dr. Tou has joined the Ho-nan Chinese Association, and Mrs. Tou the Manchuria Chinese Association, both groups of mainlander Taiwan immigrants. They both are members of the Chinese American Voters Association (CAVA) in Queens, which Mr. Ong (see Part III) invited them to join. Dr. Tou is zip-code representative in the CAVA; he calls members to remind them to vote at election time. In a CAVA Board meeting I attended, one member said that some zipcode representatives were responsible and others were not. Dr. Tou belonged to the first group, who did remind the CAVA members to vote. Dr. Tou, as a medical doctor, was also invited to be a judge in the annual Healthy Baby Contest held by a Chinese women's group.
Dr. Tou invests in stocks, buying and selling often. If the price goes up, he sells, but he keeps stocks whose price falls. He does not want to lose his investment and does not care how long he has to keep them. Besides stocks, the Tous own rental properties and land in Florida bought as a long-term investment.
The Tous live in a three-family home in which they rent one floor to an American family and one to an Indian family. Mrs. Tou said that in the beginning everything went well, but in the month before the Indians moved out they used the security deposit as rent but left behind broken furniture and dirty walls. After they moved out, a Cuban woman rented the apartment through a non-Chinese real estate agency. Dr. Tou helped her move some of her possessions because she did not have a car. Some days later Mrs. Tou found out that she was pregnant. "No wonder she wore a heavy overcoat coming to look at the house with the real estate agent." A few days later the real estate agency called to ask if they had cashed any checks from the woman, because the checks the woman gave the agent had bounced. She called her new tenant's bank and found that her account had closed several months earlier.
The Cuban woman had told them that only she and her two children would live there. Now, in addition to them and the baby on the way, her mother, brother-in-law, and a large dog moved in. Mrs. Tou said that she would rather have the woman and her family move out and lose what she owed them, but the woman refused to move. The Tous had supposed that non-Chinese would be better tenants than Chinese because they would keep a cleaner kitchen---Chinese use too much oil in their cooking. Now they think they have made a mistake.
Mrs. Ying, a Waitress
Mrs. Ying is a mainlander who formerly lived in Kaoshiung, the largest city in southern Taiwan. She is in her early fifties and had been an elementary school teacher before coming to the United States. She did not get along with her husband, so she decided to bring her two daughters, nine and eleven years old, to the United States in the summer of 1982 on a tourist visa. A friend in the travel agency had told them that he had arranged living quarters in New York and charged them for his help. When they arrived, the friend brought them to his girl friend, Ms. Lan. They were supposed to share a living room, which Ms. Lan herself subrented from the apartment's tenant. The tenant was angry at this arrangement, and they had to move out the next day. However, they had already paid money to "share" with Ms. Lan.
The next day, Ms. Lan found them a living room in a Chinese couple's apartment. But again they had to share the living room, which was divided into two parts by a sofa: one part was for the couple's brother, the other part for Mrs. Ying and her two daughters. Their half was also the area where the family watched television and talked, so the Yings could not have it to themselves until everyone went to bed. The Chinese couple rented their first-floor apartment from a very strict landlord, who lived on the second floor. The couple told the landlord that Mrs. Ying was a relative and would move out after she found a place of her own. Although the landlord was Cantonese and could not understand other Chinese languages, he could detect that the relationship between Mrs. Ying and the others was troubled.
After two weeks, Ms. Lan found part of a living room in the apartment of another Chinese woman for herself and invited Mrs. Yin to share with her. They used a curtain to separate their sections. Two households slept on two mattresses in this rented part of a living room---one for Mrs. Ying and her two daughters, and one for Ms. Lan and her new-born baby. The rent Ms. Lan received from Mrs. Ying was the full amount paid to the Chinese tenant; Ms. Lan paid no rent herself. Mrs. Ying still did not have a job and had little choice in the matter.
One of Mrs. Ying's friends from Taiwan operated a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan, and he allowed her to learn how to be a waitress in his restaurant. After several days Mrs. Ying thought she had learned the basic skills, and she asked to become a paid waitress. She found, however, that she was not able to understand the customers' orders and had to quit the job.
Next she tried knitting work at home, where she could take care of her two daughters at the same time. Knitting was a low-paying job because there were so many Chinese knitting factories and an oversupply of Chinese women looking for knitting work. As a beginner she received an even lower wage. Through a friend's introduction, she again tried waitressing in a Chinese restaurant and again found she could not hold the job.
Through another friend in early 1983, she found work in a Chinese metal-processing factory in Manhattan assembling necklaces and wreaths. This was stable work, five days a week, eight or nine hours a day, but she was not satisfied with the weekly salary of $150 and hoped to find a better-paying job. She always felt that she was being exploited.
After ten months in the factory, she learned from a friend how to operate a typewriter with Chinese characters. She then found a typing job with a Chinese newspaper publisher with this friend's help. She began work at midnight. Six days a week the company sent a car to pick up workers at 10:00 p.m. and brought them back around 7:00 a.m. When she came home, her two daughters were already up. After they left for school, she went to sleep. She had time to talk to her daughters after they came back from school. She also bought a Chinese typewriter to earn money at home by typing letters and documents for individuals and for other Chinese newspaper publishers, charging eight dollars for one thousand characters. She also used the typewriter to teach students how to type.
She felt that she could not have a stable life unless she had her own house. "I have to watch the landlord's face. If the landlord raises the rent too high, then I will have to move; otherwise, I cannot afford it." She had brought a modest amount of money with her from Taiwan, and when the Chinese tenant from whom she rented space, a Mrs. Ko, wanted to buy a house, she lent her some. When the tenant moved to her new house, she suggested that Mrs. Ying rent a room from her. Mrs. Ying accepted reluctantly. The new house was not as convenient to work as her former room.
They did not get along, and Mrs. Ying left. With another friend, she rented a one-bedroom apartment in a three-story house; they in turn rented the bedroom to a student. Mrs. Ying, her friend, and her two daughters slept in the living room, where they used standing closets to separate sleeping and eating spaces. They stayed there for a year and then moved again. This time, Mrs. Ying and a married couple, work colleagues, rented a two-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a two-story house. The couple occupied one bedroom, and Mrs. Ying and her daughters the other bedroom. A year later they had to move when the landlord discovered that five people, and two households, were occupying the apartment.
In 1986 they moved to a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor of an attached three-story house. They took a medium-sized room and rented out the other two bedrooms. Mrs. Ying's dream of her own home still had not come true.
She quit the typing job in early 1986 and went to work in a Chinese restaurant on Long Island as a waitress again. At first she commuted between home and restaurant. At 10:00 a.m. she took a bus to Jamaica and then transferred to a train. When a Long Island Railroad strike occurred, she had to remain on Long Island. After that, she came home just once a week. She worried that her two daughters were staying at home alone with two males sharing their apartment, but she could not find a job in Queens or Manhattan.
She also started smoking. Once she offered me a cigarette at a dinner, and because I do not smoke she put it back in her purse. Her younger daughter was shocked and asked, "Mother, do you smoke?" She had never seen her mother smoking before. She told me she needed something to relax herself because the pressure on her was too heavy. She had the triple burden of working, taking care of the house, and raising her children without a father. A helpful friend invited her to attend the Sunday service at the Reformed Church of Newtown, although she did not understand very much of the Taiwanese service.
Her daughters understood what their mother was trying to do for them and tried to help. In their first year in the United States they also had language problems and could not communicate with the other students. But after two years they had caught up with their school courses. They joined a church in 1984. On Wednesday nights, a member usually picked them up at their home and brought them home after the service. The younger daughter went to the YMCA to learn swimming and ballet. The elder one worked to save money for college; she found herself a job in a knitting company as secretary for the owner who could not speak English.
Mrs. Ying did not want her husband to know where she was. Several days after they arrived in the United States she called Taiwan and told him that she would never return because he did not treat her well. She would not give him their home address in New York. She also asked for a divorce, but her husband would not agree. When her son married in Taiwan, he sent her pictures and she called Taiwan. Although her husband and the son asked her to return to Taiwan, she refused again. Neither the husband nor her sons have tried to come to the United States to look for her.
Mrs. Ying remains in the United States illegally, and because she arrived after January 1982 she does not qualify under the amnesty provision of the 1986 immigration law. She had hoped that it would help her to change her status. She has no plans to open a Chinese restaurant or other small business because she does not think she is capable of doing so. She saves her money and hopes that her waitress job will remain stable and that her daughters will enter college and find husbands who have legal status. She also hopes for a more liberal amnesty bill that will legalize her own status.
Mr. Long's Chinese Restaurant
Mr. Long is a high school graduate. In Taiwan he was first a taxi driver and later a cook on a ship. He jumped ship in the southern United States in 1980, but because he heard that there were more economic opportunities in New York City, and also more Chinese, he came to New York and found a job as a busboy in a Long Island restaurant. In the many Chinese restaurants on Long Island it is common for workers to move from one to another for jobs are readily available. He worked as a busboy in one restaurant, and then as a waiter.
As a busboy, he assisted the waiters making mustard sauce, putting ashtrays and soy sauce bottles into boxes for machine washing, and vacuuming floors. When customers were seated, he served water or tea. After they left, he cleared the table, brought dishes, utensils, and cups to the kitchen, and replaced tablecloths or paper mats on the table. A busboy receives one-tenth of the total tips from waiters, but no wage from the boss. But whether or not he received the one-tenth amount depended on the waiters. A friendly waiter might give several dollars to a busboy for his work; another would give nothing. "Some would say 'Why should we give him money? We give him a chance to learn.'" He hoped to leave busboy work as soon as possible.
Mr. Long learned the names and the ingredients of the dishes, some of which were different from those in the restaurant where he had worked as a cook. After several months, he graduated to waiter when a waiter left the restaurant. As his experience increased over the years, his income increased too. Waiters or waitresses receive a small monthly salary from the owner, ranging from $200 to $480 in 1984, and their main source of income is customer tips. According to Mr. Long, there are two ways of dividing tips in Long Island restaurants. The first is individual, which means that each waiter keeps all the tips from the several tables he served. In the second, or "pool," all tips go into a can or box and are divided into shares after lunch and after dinner. (These schemes both differ from those in London, where seniority is counted in dividing tips among Chinese waiters [Watson 1975].)
As Mr. Long sees it, "The experienced waiter would like the first way because he can usually get more money from it. But new waiters prefer the second way not only because they can get more after the division but also because one can get some help from others if he is in trouble dealing with customers." Some restaurants owners alternate between the two ways, using "pool" on weekdays when customers are few, and "individual" on weekends.
Over several months he became an experienced waiter. He could serve several tables at the same time. He knew how to deal with complaints from picky customers, such as "why was this not Chinese mushroom as is written on the menu?" He learned to be efficient in carrying trays and dishes. His tips grew to more than $2,000 a month, a good income in terms of restaurant work in the New York metropolitan area.
His wife, whom he had married in Taiwan, joined him in the United States with their two children and knitted clothes by machine at night, with material supplied from a factory. She worked from early morning to midnight, and she could also earn $2,000 a month. When neighbors complained to the landlord about the noise of the machine, they had to move. At that time, around 1981, the machine knitting of many Chinese women was bothering neighbors, and several apartment owners warned prospective Chinese tenants: "No machine, or no room." Mr. and Mrs. Long soon moved to another apartment building, where the owner allowed her to knit by machine, but no later than 11:00 at night.
In this two-bedroom apartment, Mr. and Mrs. Long occupied one bedroom, two Chinese restaurant-worker subtenants shared the other, and their two children slept in the living room. When Mr. Long's parents came from Taiwan to live with them, the subtenants moved out. Mr. Long's father found work washing dishes in the restaurant where his son worked, but after only one week was laid off because he could not work fast enough.
During this period, Mr. Long had an affair outside his marriage and then divorced his wife. Mrs. Long, who assumed her maiden name Chun, took the two children and rented a private house. Mr. Long and his new wife now lived with his parents and his sisters.
Realizing that Chinese restaurant owners made good profits, Mr. Long thought about opening a restaurant of his own. Besides his father, who had run a small food business in Taipei, he could use other family members as his work force. After finding a location in Flushing for the business, he opened his restaurant: "I was brave at that time. I had only $6,700 in my account. I got a loan from the bank. And I also organized a hui for the capital I needed. I worked several years, and so had friends to join this credit club."
Seven of of the 10 restaurant staff members were from his family. Mr. Long's father was a cook, and his mother helped fry appetizers and to make Chinese desserts. One sister assembled ingredients for orders. His new wife washed dishes and wrapped dumplings. I even saw her carrying her infant on her back while working in the kitchen. At first, only one kitchen worker was not a family member. The casierh was a brother-in-law, and Mr. Long's other sister was a waitress. He hired two more waitresses through friend's introductions. Mr. Long worked both in the kitchen and as host in the front.
He told me that he had paid close attention to operations in restaurants where he had worked once he decided to start his own restaurant. Now he had even more incentive to study and to improve his skills, because purchases came from his own pocket. He soon became a better cook. He learned to take care of the customers too, especially if a waitress could not handle problems or if they were busy.
Yet, Mr. Long complained abut being a boss. He lost several pounds through worry.
"Burning incense will bring blessings" is a proverb many Chinese business owners practice, as we saw in Four Seas Bakery. In the front part of Mr. Long's restaurant one can see a statue of Guan Dih Jiun, a general in the Three Kingdoms period and deified in later generations as China's god of wealth. Mr. Long's mother worships it in the morn- ing. Mr. Long said that increasing competition among Chinese restau- rants in Flushing makes profits lower than before. He tried to sell in 1984, but his price was too high and nobody was interested.
Before they divorced, Mr. Long spent all his time and energy, in restaurant work, and his wife devoted all her attention to knitting. They did not know English, and their two children had trouble with school. The boy did not pass the first grade and remained there for another year. Mrs. Long had to ask friends to read notes sent from the school. Some time after the divorce, the two children did return to their father for about a year, but now they live again with Ms. Chun.
After he became a cook Mr. Long applied to change his immigration status under the sixth preference. Although he was approved and was instructed to return to Taiwan for an interview there, he was afraid that he might be denied by the AIT [note from NM: as the U.S. has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the informal American Institute in Taiwan serves as a de facto U.S. consulate] because several similar cases had been turned down. One strategy the AIT used was to ask, "Now that you have come back to Taiwan for an interview, how can the restaurant operate?" If the answer is, "Someone is working in my place until I return to the United States," then AIT would say, "Since someone call replace you, it is not necessary that you work there." Application denied. Mr. Long said he preferred to await the outcome of the debate over the immigration bill in Washington, D.C. When the new law passed in 1986, Mr. Long felt he had a chance to change his status without going back to Taiwan because he qualified for amnesty.