Biao Chen


Biyao-Chen.jpgI was born in Taishan, Guangdong, China in 1939. My grandfather and ancestors went back and forth from China to the US, so our family had five generations in America…

My father worked in Guangzhou, managing a factory that made hospital equipment. Mother stayed home in the village working in the fields. She died when I was only three years old. I had a little brother, but there was not enough to eat, and he was only one year old when our mother died. He died when he was three. My father re-married, and my stepmother had five children. I took care of my baby sister and helped a lot around the house.

My grandparents encouraged me to go to school, and my family supported me. When I was 15 years old, I needed $100 to finish my studies. My grandmother said she had no money, but my aunt said there was $100 put aside for my wedding. I didn’t want the money for my wedding, but I needed it for school. They gave me the money, but told me not expect any wedding gifts from them later!

I finished 12 years of school and became a teacher. I met and married my husband who was also a teacher. Although life in China was poor, we had stable jobs. We saved money whenever we could: we lived and ate our meals at school, and got around by walking everywhere. We had three children.

One of my students became a famous painter and won a prize in a national contest. I’ll never forget the special dinner they had, and it was such an honor to be there.

My favorite color is red. It is a strong color that shows determination, that you can stand up for yourself, even to bullies. That’s especially important for women!

I stayed in China until 1990 when Deng Xiaoping opened China’s economy and society, and I could immigrate to the US.

In the United States, I always had jobs in the sewing factories. I could make clothes for my kids. The whole purpose of coming to America was to give them new opportunities. I am not afraid of hardships, and was willing to do all the jobs in the factory… repairs, working at different machines, and all the sections of making the whole garment.

My longest job lasted for ten years, working in a sportswear factory in Manhattan’s Chinatown. I tried working in the Brooklyn factories closer to where I live, but the pay was not as good as Manhattan. I also was offered a community teaching job in Brooklyn but there were no benefits. I liked to sew, and the union benefits and activities were important to me. I took English classes, became an American citizen, and I vote in every election. I helped the union make phone calls to remind other workers to vote. I became very active in the Union’s Workers Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. I met lifelong friends. They helped me so much after my husband died. We really care about each other and share everything together.

What matters most to me is good health. I want to be able to keep doing things for myself, to keep active.

My messages to young people are: learn and listen to your teachers, learn both English and Chinese, and take care of your health. Discrimination is a big challenge, and you need to learn how to speak up, to complain and to fight discrimination.

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