Adelle’s interview with Joanne Chan

Introduction

Joanne is a 46-year-old Asian American woman who immigrated to the United States during the late 80s. When my mom went overseas to study, she met Joanne through college and became best friends, therefore Joanne, also known as “Auntie JoJo,” became one of our closest family friends. Although she lives in the US, she would always visit and keep close contact with our family.

During her high school years, she left Hong Kong and moved to the Bay Area as an international student studying in a private boarding school. During and after her college years, settled down in Los Angeles in hopes for higher education and better job opportunities. After college, she had to apply for OPT to continue working in the United State and then apply for a green card to become a permanent resident. Throughout the stressful and tedious immigration process, she also had to struggle with her own sexuality, language abilities, race, and her family living situations.

Early Life

Joanne originally grew up in Hong Kong and planned to continue her education and pursue her career in her hometown. However, due to the 1997 handover/ return to the mainland, her family encouraged her to move to the United States in hopes for a better future.

“At midnight on the 30th June, 1997 the sovereignty of Hong Kong was returned to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from the United Kingdom. This event marked the end of 156 years’ of British colonial rule in Hong Kong and hence the end of the British imperial influence in East Asia. The significance of this event went beyond the handover itself which became the site of struggles among various discursive communities for dominance over meanings” (Cao 1)

During that period, many parents send their children abroad to avoid the republic government in China and political riots. In order to ensure their children’s safety, most Hong Kong citizens who were born during the 1970s-1980s were sent to different countries.

“Simply because of the political situation, because of the handover, there was a trend that a lot of people are immigrating to Australia, Canada, and the US. And so I chose the US because of my family. I have my relatives there.”

From F1 Visa to Green Card

Joanne first came to the United States as a F-1 student. Being a high school student attending a fairly strict private school in the Bay Area, she didn’t get the chance to explore the culture, surroundings and lifestyles in the states. Since she first arrived without her family, she felt very homesick and unfamiliar with the whole idea of studying abroad. However, after graduating high school, she finally had the chance to attend college in Los Angeles and learn to love the place that she’s been living in the past few years. After college graduation, she applied for OPT to continue working in the United States. With this Visa she was able to be sponsored by employers and receive labor certification to be eligible for a green card. She describe the process as “long” and “tedious” because she not only spent nine plus years as an F1 student/OPT employee, but she also waited another 2 ye ars to earn the green card and was not able to leave the country. During that time, there were many Asian applicants, especially Chinese, therefore, it made the process of earning a green card harder and protracted.

Language Barriers

Before moving to the US, Joanne only spoke Cantonese. The only English she had learned was from her Filipino maid, which contained broken English and wrong grammar. Since English was not her mother tongue, she would always struggle in comprehending or communicating with others. Therefore, she would always carry a dictionary in case of emergency. Although she personally struggles with language barriers, she does not believe in language discrimination. In her opinion, English is a national language that everyone should be able to speak in order to communicate with foreigners. Since she lives in the US, she feels obligated to learn proper English and correct her accents to a become a more competetive candidate in the society and profession.

“I think as long as the accent is not too funny, it’s fine [and] I can’t say it is discrimination, but it’s not in favor. Like when you look for a job and you can’t speak proper English, especially in the US community.”

While she believes that immigrants should learn English and should correct their way of speaking to better communicate with others and with English being the dominant language, she does personally fight battles with language. I believe that the reason why she stresses the importance in learning English is to avoid negative treatments by the society. In “Mother Tongue,” Amy Tan describes the way her native Chinese speaking mother was treated on a daily basis: “people in department stores, at banks, and at restaurants do not take her seriously, did not give her good service, pretended not to understand her, or acted as if they did not hear her.” (Tan 257) Therefore, to avoid these situations and to ensure having equal job opportunities, many similar to Joanne believe that fluency in English is very important.

Sexual identity

Growing up, Joanne always knew that she was different from others; she always had her hair short and never doubted her sexuality. When I asked her to compare her experience as a lesbian woman in both Hong Kong and the US, she says,

“In the 1990s, even in the US, it is not very open.”

This means that her experiences were quite similar in both places; her words explain how homosexuality is not very common in the past nor is it a very open topic that is often discussed. In her opinion, her generation was definitely more conservative and had less liberal perspectives, however, she didn’t receive much hate or negativity from the people around her. She carries her sexuality with confidence and pride and accepts herself as being different from “the ordinary”. She has her own way of expressing herself and finding opportunities for herself without being hindered by her sexuality:

“I’m too confident. You know, I am okay. Except, okay, I got good grades in everything. I was good at singing. I was good at sports. So. And I’m a very, like, kind of social butterfly.”

Part 1: struggles with family members

While she didn’t experience many discriminatory behaviors in her social and work life, she did have some problems at home. Although she wants to believe that her parents are 100% supportive of her sexuality, she understands that there is still some tension with this topic and when discussing future children. I believe that this mindset is caused by sexual socialization such as self-criticism and disgust.

“We’re raising women to be sexually dysfunctional, with all the ‘no’ messages we’re giving them about diseases and shame and fear. And then as soon as they’re eighteen they’re supposed to be sexual rock stars, multiorgasmic and totally uninhibited.” (Nagoski 155)

I believe that this message perfectly represents the lack of sexual education and negative sexual and body images that pass on generations and circulate the media. In Joanne’s situation, it is not just about sexual socialization but also how that relates to fertilization. The bright side of this situation was that she never had to hide her sexuality or pretend to be someone she’s not, her family understood that since she was young and accepts her sexual expressions. However, similar to most Chinese families, family heritage is very important, therefore, it is hard for her family to accept the fact that she won’t be able to or are not willing to continue their family name. Joanne also mentions how instead of blatantly expressing what they feel, Chinese parents, in general, would keep these thoughts to themselves or secretly talk about it behind her back. Therefore, while she is confident and comfortable with expressing herself as a tomboy, it is not a conversation that she would discuss with her family. 

‘I wasn’t trying to hide this from them. But, you know, after all, fire cannot be wrapped with a paper”

Part 2: sex-negativity and sex-shaming

Being likeable is definately an understatment, Joanne is a funny, easy going and very down to earth person, therefore, she didn’t personally expereince many negative treatments on her sexuality. However, she did mention one of her experiences in the bar where she was yelled “you fucking lesbian” by a drunk man. I believe that this behavior of agression is definately rooted in the patriarcal system that most of us grew up in, focusing on

“domination and control that privileges cisgender men at the expense of everyone else.” (Utt)

After Joanne was yelled at, Joanne stayed away from this situation and did not try to fight for herself. While she believes that it is not ideal to cause a heated argument in public, I believe the reason she and many other victims didn’t interfere was due to the patriarchal system that has brainwashed our minds since a very young age. Being controlled by this system, many women especially those from the LGBTQ+ community have suffered or are silenced due to their intersectional identities. 

My Thoughts

As a Chinese student who has been studying in the US for the past 4 years, I definitely relate heavily to Joanne’s experiences and perspectives. Growing up in Hong Kong, I understand many of her thoughts on sexuality, race, class, etc. These social justice issues were not something that is typically discussed at home or at school, therefore, I understand why she didn’t have a lot of problems with her identity in both Hong Kong or in the US. The main reason for this behavior or mindset comes from the disregard and ignorance of these topics. Since we grew up in this environment with no awareness about these situations, many of us are unable to see discriminatory behaviors and negative treatments that are happening around us or towards us. Therefore, I strongly believe that education is the first and most important step to providing equal opportunities and justice to all, being able to attend this course allowed me to view the world differently and truly acknowledge the flaws in our society.

CItations

Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” Dreams and Inward Journeys: A Rhetoric and Reader for Writers, edited by Marjorie Ford and Jon Ford, 7th ed., Pearson, 2010, pp. 253-261. 

Utt, Jamie. “5 Common Behaviors Cis Men May Not Realize Are Abusive (And How to Stop Them).” Everyday Feminism, 14 Aug. 2020, everydayfeminism.com/2016/07/cis-men-socialized-to-be-abusive/.

Nagoski, Emily. “Cultural Context: A Sex-Positive Life in a Sex-Negative World”. Come as You Are: the Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2021. pp.153-188

Cao, Qing. “Signification of Hong Kong’s Handover:the Case of the British Press.” , Journal of International Communication (1999), Vol.6,No.2, Pp.71-89. Https://Www.researchgate.net/Publication/254296676_Signification_of_Hong_Kong’s_handover