Yu Jie Chen: A Chinese American Education Story

Author: Yu Jie Chen

34 years ago on October 25, 1982, I immigrated to Minnesota with my mom, two aunts, and 10 other children who are my siblings and cousins, ages from several months old to 11 years old.

We didn’t know any English. Brought with us what we can carry in a few suitcases, with little money, and came to a place and culture that we are not familiar with. The kids reunited with their fathers and the wives with their husbands (who made it to Minnesota 6 months earlier.)  

We also reunited with our grandfather who immigrated to Minnesota in 1973 and found work for his three sons. My family and my uncle’s family rented this very old house in Minneapolis. Each family had one bedroom and we shared a small kitchen that fit a table and some chairs. Eleven people crowded into this kitchen to eat. Two families shared one car.

A couple years later the two families purchased a house together and our grandparents also lived with us. Our grandparents lived on the third level, my family lived on the second level and my uncle’s family lived on the main level. Each family had two bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom, and a small kitchen.

My parents kept on telling us kids that we need to learn English and do well in school. And I did, I stayed up late many nights to study and graduated with honors in South West High School, Minneapolis. I was on the Student Council and on the National Honor Society. My parents and grandparents never had the opportunity to attend high school or higher level education in rural Guangdong, China. My parents wanted their kids to have the opportunity to go to college. And we did. I was the first in my family to graduate with a college degree.

My parents worked very long hours at Chinese restaurants. I started my full-time summer job at the age of 14 at the Housing Resource Center in Minneapolis as an office assistant. I took two buses to go to work. Then I worked part-time at a Chinese take-out restaurant in Minneapolis where my mom was a chef and again I took two buses to work. In the evening when the restaurant closed, my mom and I walked 6 blocks in the dark to where my dad worked as a chef so we can get a ride home. Sometimes when my dad had to work very late to clean the kitchen hood, my mom and I took two buses home to Uptown, Minneapolis.

Eight years later after our arrival to  Minnesota, my family was very excited to purchase a Chinese restaurant in Shakopee. My father went from being a book-keeper and my mother, a farmer in China, to chefs in the United States to fulfilling their dream of becoming restaurant business owners.

I went from working in various companies holding client service, administrative, supervisor, and management positions to stay-at-home mom to career real estate professional. I am happily married, have two great kids, live in a comfortable house, and have a career that has kept me up at night. So we did all right. Minnesota is our home.

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