One of the most amazing story of perseverance I learned is from a woman I interviewed. I only have her permission to release her detail information in the book. So for this post, I will just call her Ms. Betty.
Ms. Betty is a professor who grew up in Washington DC to Chinese immigrant parents during the Chinese Exclusion period, a time when Chinese were not allowed to immigrate to the United States. She faced first-hand discrimination and exclusion from American life. Her father expected her to get married to a man he chose for her, but she amazingly went out and hustled up a scholarship at the University of Illinois. She worked her way through college by washing dishes and cleaning restrooms.
After graduating she got a job with the Voice of America, writing scripts on Chinese Americans that were broadcast back to China. While doing research for her stories, she discovered that Chinese immigrants were horribly vilified in American culture and politics. She was inspired to write a book son the history and experiences of Chinese Americans, showing all the contributions that Chinese immigrants had given to this country. After ten years of writing (This was before computers and the internet)—all the while raising her four children—she finished it and got it published, only to have her husband abandon her out of envy! She told herself, “You’re not going to let this conquer you. You have to think about your children.”
Ms. Betty continued raising the children on her own and her book, came out at the opportune time of the budding Asian American movement. It was the first book of its kind. The book’s success led to her being invited to start an Asian American Studies program at City College in New York. Ms. Betty taught there for 22 years, rising to become chair of the department, and she wrote six more books on Chinese American communities and cultural problems.
She also helped expand the US Census to include Asians as a category in the 1980 census, and she has even convinced the US Library of Congress to start a collection on Chinese Americans from the historical documents and materials she’s collected for over 50 years.
Ms. Betty’s work has been groundbreaking and it paved the way for Chinese Americans and other minorities to achieve the freedoms and success they’ve found today. Ms. Betty remains as humble as anyone, though. Through all the difficulties she experienced—the Depression, bombings during the Sino-Japanese War, World War II, cultural traditions that favored males, abandonment, and single motherhood—quitting was never a choice for her. “If you’ve gone through hardships, if you’ve gone through difficulties, then it hardens you like steel,” she says.
Listening to Ms. Betty, I couldn’t help but wonder what if more people can embraces hardship like Ms. Betty did. What will we become? She raised 4 kids on her own in a time when there are no social service help. A time when her country is trying to exclude her. A time without disposable diaper or formula. Her spirit is like steel, she is a woman who is un breakable. Her books had impacted millions of Chinese Americans and she went on to become the role model of countless Chinese American leaders of our time.
When you are facing hardship, think of Ms. Betty, it might just be your time to becoming strong like steel!
Imperfect Action is better than No Action
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