Unique book reveals life of satellite babies

By Hong Xiao in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-05-26 11:26

A fictional book titled Satellite Baby co-authored by students and based on their actual personal experiences as "satellite babies" has been published by Boom Writer Books.

"Satellite babies" is a term referring to children born in the United States to Chinese immigrant parents who are then sent back to China as infants and raised by relatives, typically grandparents, and then returned to the US to enroll in school at the age of 5 or 6.

Parents opt for this lifestyle because of various limiting economic factors, working nontraditional hours or holding down multiple jobs.

According to research, this kind of upbringing can cause disruptions to the child's stable environment, which in turn can lead to depression, anxiety and acting out in the classroom. The trauma that both children and parents experience can last a lifetime.

The Chinese-American Planning Council Queens School-Age Child Care Center is a non-profit that provides child-care services and helps satellite babies adjust. It's located in Flushing, Queens, one of the largest communities of Chinese immigrants in the US.

Some 70 percent of the children now at the center are Chinese American, and 70 percent of those children are satellite babies.

Last summer, fifth grade students at the center participated in a writing workshop as part of a summer youth employment program.

The four-chapter-long "open book" Satellite Baby was written collaboratively by the students. It begins with a first chapter called "Story Start" written by contributing author Nelly Rosario, author of Song of the Water Saints: A Novel (Pantheon, 2002) and winner of a PEN/Open Book Award. Rosario is familiar with Chinese culture because her grandparents lived in Flushing.

The children read the first chapter and then used their writing skills and imagination to create what they thought should happen next.

After submitting their chapters, the students read each other's work and anonymously voted for their favorite. The winner then became the official next chapter to the story, and the process continued until the book was completed.

In the story, the main character comes to live with her parents in the US at the age of 6, leaving behind her grandparents in China.

"I hadn't felt like speaking since. New words buzzed in my ears like flies," the narrator says.

She says she has always felt distant with her parents, even after living together for four years. She has always been scared of dark and had trouble sleeping because of her insecurity.

"When I lived with my grandparents, I would look up at the moon and wonder if my parents were there. Now that I lived with them, I looked for the moon, hoping for my grandparents," she writes.

But after a series of fantasy experiences, the family grows closer and she takes on the job of helping her parents with babysitting her newborn brother, who avoids being sent back to China to become another satellite baby.

The book ends with the last sentence written by Sherry Zhou: "We don't need the money. I loved being part of this unique family."

Lois Lee, director of the Queens School-Age Child Care Center program, has been working with immigrant families and helping thousands of children adjust for more than 40 years. She said the goal of the book project was to start a conversation about satellite babies in a safe space and bring the need for affordable quality childcare to light.

"I hope a lot of people read this book about satellite babies so they can understand what they go through," said Lee.

"People should not forget that they too come from immigrant families. We all work hard and sacrifice to make a better life for our families."

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