Chao: family root of US dream

Updated: 2015-12-14 11:55

By Hezi Jiang in New York(China Daily USA)

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 Chao: family root of US dream

The Chao family shared their experience as a Chinese immigrant family in the US on Dec 13 at Sheraton hotel in Queens, New York, at a celebration of the 40th anniversary of World Journal, a Chinese-language newspaper serving overseas Chinese in North America. From left: father James Si-Cheng Chao, oldest sister Elaine Chao, former US Secretary of Labor, third sister May Chao, and youngest sister Angela Chao. All three ladies are graduates of Harvard Business School. Hezi Jiang / China Daily

The American Dream of Chinese immigrants is often one that looks a generation ahead.

"They make many sacrifices, so their children can have greater opportunities," said Elaine Chao, former US labor secretary, during the 40th anniversary celebration of the World Journal, a Chinese-language newspaper serving overseas Chinese in North America, at the Sheraton hotel in Queens, New York, on Sunday.

Standing on the stage with a backdrop of "THE AMERICAN DREAM" in red and blue, Elaine Chao, the first Asian-American woman in US history to be appointed to a US president's cabinet, shared stories of her family's immigrant experience.

She did not talk about getting into Harvard Business School, becoming the secretary of labor or marrying Mitch McConnell, the current Senate majority leader.

Instead, she recalled the years her mother raised three older daughters in Taiwan while her father pursued higher education in America.

In 1961, after her father James Si-Cheng Chao saved enough money and filed all the paperwork to bring the family to the United States, they came to America on a cargo ship.

"My father did not see his third daughter, Xiaomei, until she's 3 years old," said Chao, the oldest of the six sisters. She was 8 when she walked off the ship.

"At that time, there were so few Chinese, Asians in America," Chao said. "We didn't understand the language; we couldn't eat the food; we didn't understand the culture or the traditions; we had no friends or relatives nearby."

"But throughout all these challenges, my parents always maintained optimism - their hope for a better future."

Her parents commuted to Manhattan's Chinatown every week for food and ingredients and her mom brought out delicious dishes to the dining table every evening in their first, tiny apartment in Queens.

"We grew up in such a secure and loving family environment," said Chao. "We never doubted our future would be bright."

Chao: family root of US dream

The Chao family celebrated all the Chinese traditional holidays and learned the stories behind them. Chao also remembered that on every weekend after they moved to a new house, her dad would take one daughter with him to work around the house, carrying the toolbox or the flashlight.

While working, their father would talk about Chinese philosophies, Chinese culture, their parents' lives growing up in China and their grandparents' lives.

"My parents taught us to take great pride in our Chinese heritage. They taught us to take the best from East and West. There is no conflict," said Chao. "Armed with this combination, they said, this will be our comparative advantage in an increasingly international world."

The six sisters also were largely influenced by the typically Chinese natures of their modest, humble and hardworking mother Mulan Chu Chao, who received her master's degree in Asian literature and history from St. John's University in Queens at the age of 53.

Mulan Chu Chao was diagnosed with cancer on Jan 11, 2001, the same day President Bush announced Elaine Chao's nomination. The elder Chao said nothing so as to not ruin the moment for the family.

She died of lymphoma in 2007, and to honor their wife and mother, the Chao family gave $40 million to the Harvard Business School, where four of the six sisters pursued degrees.