Much of my youth was a blur. I remember growing up in the idyllic countryside of Chang Le, China. We didn’t keep an outlook calendar of our daily activities nor were there even locks on our doors. In the late 90’s, both my parents had decided that I was ready for the culture shock that would ensue. Little did I know, I would spend the next 18 years of my life watching every episode of Seinfeld, getting lost in the South Bronx, almost failing out of school and finding myself reflecting on the merit of being a Fujianese American. Chances are that most people you’ve encountered have not heard about Fujian and often gets you confused with either Cantonese or folks from Fiji. But the Fujianese American story is a subset of the greater Asian American experience and growing up Fujianese has some unique perks:
1. Your Fujianese Radar
If you’re from the Northeast, you’ve likely heard about the Lucky Star, the Fung Wah, the fleet of Chinatown Buses that usher thousands of passengers across the country every day. These buses were originally chartered to help transport restaurant workers (mostly Fujianese) from one city to another. I didn’t realize the reach this network until my car broke down in the middle of white river junction (where? exactly.) and had to run into a fast food restaurant for help, only to learn that a family of Fujianese was running the shop. I immediately reciprocated with my lackluster Fujianese and there was an instant connection. Not too many Asians can claim to have set up shops across every niche of small town USA, but the odds of you finding a Fujianese running a Chinese restaurant anywhere in the world is pretty good.
2. Entrepreneurial at Every Level
Several years ago, I went on a double date with this Fujianese woman introduced by a family friend (I know, we’re also pretty old school). The date was meh but I later learned that she was actually a hotel heiress. Not implying that all Fujianese are stacked like the Hiltons but if you’re Fujianese American, it’s likely that you run your own business(es). Again, this is a generalization but the merit behind this stems from the concept of entrepreneurialism which implies that you’re willing to take a risk for a potentially better future. For those old timers that risked literally everything for a slice of the American Dream, starting a business is merely a side dish. To put things into perspective, in 1998 more than a quarter billion dollars were sent back from the US to Chang Le (my hometown in Fujian) and that’s only including legitimate bank transfers. So if you’re Fujianese American, you should embrace your history of risk taking and entrepreneurialism.
3. Sacrifices On Display
In Snakehead, Patrick Keefe detailed the perilous journeys of hundreds of thousands of Fujianese being smuggled into the United States. Many seeking political asylums from a government that was implementing population control measures (forced abortion) and censorship Incarceration. Even more were seeking an opportunity to escape poverty. Some asylum seekers embarked on a journey that would take them from China to Thailand, to Kenya, to South Africa, across the Atlantic to New York. Those who were successfully brought into the states would immediately start working to pay back the underground syndicates that had smuggled them here. For us millennials who can’t fathom a lifetime of manual labor in a sweatshop or a restaurant, contrast that with the alternative (a near-death experience out at sea) and most things would pale in comparison. That’s also why the word being grateful is tossed around quite a bit in a typical Fujianese family. You’ve likely seen both you parents work long hours, 7 days a week but happily lavish you with a pricey education. Because to them, your successful upbringing is the fruit of their backbreaking labor and sacrifices. And that is worth appreciating.