Lana Cheung



Living in China

I was raised by my mother, in a single-parent home. Despite having only met my father three times in my life, I had a great, loving relationship with my dad. I have known him to be a conservative, educated, patriot with strong ideals who dedicated himself to his country and countrymen. My mother grew up in the countryside, while uneducated, she was brilliant, adaptive, embraced change and all things modern. After WWII, China was chaotic and its people poor. My mother wanted to flee the country in order to provide us with a better and more stable life. My father on the other hand, felt that communism gave the country hope. He felt that it was his duty to help rebuild China, especially when China was in need. My family was split. This marks the end of my first meeting with my dad.

When I was a child, my mother—ever so bold, moved me from GuanZhou to Macau by illegally claiming a Macau resident to be my official mother. After living in Macau for a short while, I was reunited with my mother in Hong Kong. As I child, “love” to me meant sacrifice. My mother gave up a life with her husband for her daughter. My father gave up a life with his family for the love for his country.

Growing up in Hong Kong

My mother has always pushed me toward education. She insisted that I learn English even when it wasn’t popular to do so in Hong Kong. She had these three rules.

  1. Don’t be afraid of hard work and taking on more responsibilities.
  2. Don’t get caught in gossip and negativity; see the good in people.
  3. Never stop learning.

I used to think that the first rule was just a scheme just to get me to do more chores. As the only one literate in my home, my duties included the daily reading of the newspaper to my mom. I was also in charge of all the correspondence with my dad. I loved receiving letters from him and I love writing to him. I would write him about all my problems and in turn, he guided me through life from my mailbox. Although, my father was never beside me, I felt like was always by my side. I developed a love for reading. I read everything, newspaper, poetry, fiction and non-fiction. My world was filled with fantastic stories and romance. “Love” to me meant bliss. My mother’s love for my father was obvious in the daily dose of praise for him. My parents’ love for me was obvious in their care. I felt capable and was full of passion. I even went to visit my father for my sixth-grade graduation. By then, he had a new family.

After my high-school graduation I saw my dad in China for the third and final time. During that visit, I noticed that something had changed. He aged. Although we never spoke about it, I sensed a sadness in him. Perhaps he felt that his dream for a better China was unrealized. Perhaps he wondered what life would be like if he stayed with my mother and I.

In the year I became 23, my father died in March of that year. In July, my elder son was born. In September, my mother died. I noticed that I started a habit of holding on to people. I held on to the arms of my friends. I held on to the hands of my child.

Living in an orphanage

A few years later, I started working as a counselor at an orphanage called St. Christopher’s Home. For the next seven years, I lived in the orphanage and spent every minute of every day surrounded by children. I was living among other young counselors that were full of love, compassion and hope. The children were full of innocence and joy. I considered the orphanage my family. Through them, I grew stronger, wiser and once more full of love. I regained my passion and learned to use it to help others. I felt empowered as I remember my mother’s third rule. I went back to school and even learned to ride a bike.

Moving to America

In my 30’s, I immigrated to the US. I reunited with my husband but had to move away from the family I had in the orphanage. While I felt isolated, was friendless and unemployed, I also remembered my mother’s second rule. I stayed positive and hopeful. A year later, I started working with a union named ILGWU and continued to work there for the next 30 years. The union, my colleagues, union members, and community leaders became my friends, then they became my second family.

I am lucky to have such people in my life; each providing invaluable influence. I continue to apply my mother’s rules in my life. I find it rewarding to work hard and have responsibilities. I find joy and goodness in daily life. I continue to learn. The union has given me a chance to learn a great deal, such as building organizations, developing leadership, learning about the election process, spirit of democracy, labors’ rights, and multi-cultural nature of America. In 2006, the union partnered me with the NY State Senator election campaign. For the past decade, I got to work with the State Senator and helped served Chinatown community.

Like many immigrants, I am not wealthy. However, I am rich in life. I get to help others, I have a strong bond with the community I help serve and I have a wonderful family. My grandchildren like to say “Love is in the air”. It’s true that love has always been around me. Just as I feel my father’s love even though he’s not in my life. Just as I feel my mother’s love through her rules and guidance long after her passing. Just as I feel my friends’ love as they nurture me. I see my parents love through me. I see my love through my children. I see my children’s love in my grandchildren. Despite the ups and downs in my life, love has always been in the air.

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