We’ve all heard of the stories of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as babies — culturally American but legally not. But what happens if you’ve been in the US legally for decades, but still can’t obtain a green card to stay in your home country because of holes in the US immigration system that the government has no plans to fix?
ISSUE: Fall 2012
STORY: Ada Tseng
In 2006, Ana La O’ — at the time an undergraduate at UCLA — wrote a cover story for the alternative weekly newspaper LA Citybeat titled “The Hidden Classes,” about the first wave of undocumented immigrants that could afford to attend California public colleges after 2001’s AB 540 law allowed them to pay in-state tuition rates. The students she interviewed had been brought over to the United States as kids and educated in the American school system, yet they were unable to work legally and in danger of being deported to countries they hadn’t lived in for 15 to 20 years.
“It was the first time that I had spoken to people who had the same kind of psychology that I did,” says La O’, who moved to the U.S. from the Philippines when she was 11 months old. “I totally understood everything about being culturally American, but not having the same rights, feeling in limbo, and working toward this degree without knowing what I could actually do with it when I graduated.”
Except that La O’ was not an undocumented (what some call “illegal”) immigrant. By 2006, La O’ had been living in the United States legally for 21 years. Yet, for the next five years, she would continue to struggle to get a green card, until she was so fed up with the holes in the United States immigration system that she voluntarily self-deported in 2011, leaving her family and friends to move to the Philippines. Being plopped into a country she hadn’t lived in since she was a baby seemed like a better option than the hoops she would have to jump through just to be considered for – let alone acquire – a green card, after 26 years of living in this country.
Actress, model and activist Yangzom Brauen fights for her grandmother’s Tibet in her new book Across Many Mountains.
ISSUE: Fall 2011
DEPT: My Story
STORY: Yangzom Brauen as told to Elyse Glickman
Though I am lucky to have a thriving career as an actress in the United States and Europe, I feel especially privileged that what has fueled my interest in acting and politics is directly traced to the persevering attitude of my mother and grandmother, who were forced to flee Tibet in the 1950s when the Chinese occupied the country.
The early years in the life of Kunsang, my grandmother who I call “Mola,” were idyllic, surrounded by tradition, family and proximity to nature’s wonders. It was in this setting that she became a Buddhist nun, devoting her life to prayer and spirituality, while building a marriage and raising a family. (Tibetan nuns and monks are allowed to marry.) But this simple life that sheltered my family and their ancestors was shattered when Chinese leader Mao Zedong exerted his will on Tibet to bring it under his rule.
The valiant Tibetan resistance under the fourteenth Dalai Lama was crushed by the Chinese military in 1959, sending my family and thousands of other Tibetans into exile. As if it were yesterday, Mola recalls with a melancholy resolve how she, my grandfather and two small daughters were propelled into an uncertain journey across mountains and along the Pang Chu River in icy, treacherous weather conditions after Chinese soldiers destroyed the monastery they called home. They traveled with barely enough food, some clothes and blankets, as well as a heavy bronze mould for making tsa tsa, sacred Buddhist images, out of clay. They shouldered the burden with dignity, not only staying out of sight of the Chinese soldiers, but also fulfilling the responsibility of preserving their culture, now in grave danger of disappearing.
Though my family reached India about a month later, life continued to be a daily struggle for survival. There was constant shuttling from refugee camp to camp, few jobs other than manual labor, and the consistent threat of disease, which claimed my grandfather’s life seven years later. Making life even more of a struggle was the fact that the Chinese army staged invasions into India, and Tibetans were not allowed to integrate themselves into Indian society. What is most remarkable, however, is that in all of these faith-testing situations, Mola and my mother, Sonam, never gave up hope, maintained their spiritual practices and did what they needed to in order to survive.
My political activism is a byproduct of a romance that blossomed in the early ’70s between my father Martin, an ethnologist from a prominent Swiss family, and my mother, who by then was beautiful, clever and working as a waitress in western India. Martin was passionate and persistent, yet respectful. However, Sonam was understandably hesitant about getting into a serious relationship with a white man, especially since mixed marriages were almost unheard of in the Tibetan community. Tradition dictated that the suitor seek permission from my mother, so Mola turned to her guru for guidance. Eventually, the guru gave the union his blessing, but made Martin aware that he wasn’t just marrying my mother but also my grandmother and, by extension, the Tibetan community.
Growing up in Bern, Switzerland, I had a multicultural upbringing where we celebrated Christmas and Easter like every other Swiss family, but thanks to the insistence of Mola, who lived with us, we also celebrated Tibetan New Year and the birthday of the Dalai Lama. With these influences, I grew up with a widened view of the world that, in turn, put me on a very non-linear personal and professional path. I have often put acting aside to take up Tibet-related causes. However, I truly believe I have not sacrificed anything. After finishing my studies in Europe and establishing myself in German film and television, I put acting on hold to become the president of the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe, encouraging young Tibetans and non-Tibetans to get involved in demonstrations, cultural events and benefit concerts. As a Tibetan, and also due to my father’s ongoing academic pursuits in Asia, I consider Tibet a second home country.
Though my acting career in America started gaining momentum recently, when Mola turned 89, I realized how important it was to get the stories about the old world down on paper. Through my grandmother I realized that the old ways were fading, even back in Tibet, with monks and nuns now outfitted with laptops and cell phones. It was also important for me to document how my mother came of age as a refugee in India. Then in March 2008, a huge up-rising in Tibet added to my sense of urgency to preserve the traditions and stories. The attention of the whole world was on Tibet, which by then had been occupied for more then 50 years.
I ran the idea by publishers, who suggested I go a step further by not only telling my mother’s and grandmother’s life stories, but also my own, about how their lives shaped mine. The result is Across Many Mountains, the stories of survival that defined, sustained and fortified Mola and Sonam. It turned out to be quite the journey to create, as my mother and grandmother for the first time in years had to relive many of their most painful experiences. In turn, those events opened up a near century of Tibetan history, revealing just how much the world can change over three generations. While there are definitely some beautiful memories, there was also bitterness, sadness and turmoil that followed Mola and Sonam from Tibet, to India, and eventually to Switzerland.
As I documented these stories, it became increasingly important to me that people in the West understand more about Tibet. I am surprised that I still meet people who have no idea where Tibet is, that there are not only monks and a Dalai Lama, but also nuns and farmers. I also learned more about myself — that to be Tibetan, you are automatically born into a political life. My name is so unusual that I am often asked about the origins of my name, which leads to political discussions about Tibet’s current state of affairs.
Even though my mother and grandmother endured so much pain and loss, the one thing they never lost, and passed along to me, was the ability to believe and have faith. It doesn’t matter what you believe in — for us it is Buddhism, while for others it could be Christianity, Hinduism or something else. What ultimately matters is that faith gives you the strength to survive any tragedy. I hope younger generations of readers will be prompted to dig a little deeper into their own family histories, because everybody has a family story worth telling and sharing.
Yangzom Brauen has appeared in the films Aeon Flux, Pandorum and Wilde Salome. Her next film is Escape from Tibet, due out this fall. Across Many Mountains: A Memoir ($24.99) will be released September 27.
More stories from Audrey Magazine’s Archives here.
David Chiu’s in a race to become San Francisco’s first Asian American mayor.
ISSUE: Fall 2011
STORY: Shirley Lau
He’s living the American dream most immigrant parents have for their children — he attended an Ivy League college, attained a master’s and law degree, and is on his way to changing the world … one political campaign at a time.
“I want to continue leadership that brings people together to get things done,” says David Chiu via telephone one busy morning. The Chinese American politician, who is one of the frontrunners in a 16-person race (at press time) for mayor of San Francisco, spends his days campaigning and sharing his vision for a revitalized city. If he wins, he will become the first Asian American mayor of the 13th largest city in the U.S.
The political world is nothing new to Chiu, who currently serves as president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (he was the first Chinese American elected to the position and he’s done so twice). The 41-year-old has been a civil rights attorney and criminal prosecutor, Democratic Counsel to the U.S. Senate Constitution Subcommittee, and founder and chief operating officer of Grassroots Enterprise, a public affairs technology company. He says this gave him the skills he’ll need to execute one of his goals as mayor — to create a 21st century economy for a city he’s called home for the last 15 years.
So to whom does Chiu owe his success thus far? “I give my parents a tremendous amount of credit for their sacrifices,” he says. Even though Chiu didn’t become a doctor like his parents wanted — he even took all the required pre-med courses while at Harvard — he says they eventually came around and have “become my biggest champions.”
Growing up in Boston, Mass., Chiu’s parents made a conscious decision not to raise their three children to be bilingual. But the language barrier doesn’t stop him from trying to ad- dress the needs of the Asian American community. “Chinatown is one of the poorest neighborhoods in San Francisco — by income, by job opportunities,” says Chiu. “We’re a city with a huge, huge population of immigrants and diverse communities. … [San Francisco] hasn’t been represented by an Asian American in the 160-year history of the neighborhood and the city.”
If the campaign continues its uphill climb, Chiu will be breaking that record come November 8.
— Shirley Lau
More stories from Audrey Magazine’s Archives here.
In one of the most ridiculously, outlandishly, xenophobic videos funded by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a sinister futuristic world is seen where an evil Chinese professor is laughing to a class of Asian American students about China’s takeover of America. How can such a video even exist in this day and age?
How do we combat such ludicrousness? Fight fire with fire! Angry Asian Man, along with 8 Asians, Disgrasian and Reappropriate as well as ChannelAPA and Hyphen is holding a contest for the best parody to the “Evil Chinese Professor” video. Here’s what you have to do to enter:
Download the .ZIP archive, including the subtitle-stripped .MOV file and .RTF text file transcript of the original “Chinese Professor” video.
Get the video file, write a hilarious alternate monologue for the Evil Chinese Professor, re-subtitle the footage, add a call-to-action voiceover at the end, and upload your parody to a video sharing service like YouTube or Vimeo.
Then send the link to email@example.com. The best three videos as judged by the sponsoring bloggers will win some fabulous as-yet-undetermined prizes. The deadline to submit is November 27.
Don’t be a stereotypical “quiet Asian.” This is your chance to speak out about racism!
G.I. Joe my god! I say this in the politest possible manner, but Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can shush it.
For now that is.
A federal judge reaffirmed a ruling allowing gays and lesbians in the military because congress repealed the discriminatory policy. To get straight to the point: For the first time in the history of the United States of America, openly gay and lesbian applicants are now accepted!
I thought this nation was a melting pot of diversity, but why did it take so long for all this to happen?
Tuesday’s Anderson Cooper 360 featured LGBT activist Lt. Daniel Choi on the show, one of the DADT protestors who had handcuffed himself to the White House gate in March earlier this year.
Discharged because he was openly gay, Choi is now allowed to reenlist. Can you imagine people not wanting to hear who you are? What purpose does that serve for the LGB who want to serve our country with honor and integrity?
The 29-year-old Orange County native is an Arabic and environmental engineering graduate of United States Military Academy at West Point. And, did I mention that he was a veteran of the Iraq War?
And so on Oct. 19, he went and re-enlisted in the Army at a recruiting office in Times Square.
“They’re very professional, motivating and inspirational,” said Choi.
“They were excited because it’s rare to see people with prior service,” he added.
If this [DADT ban] is appealed, then what’s the fate of gays and lesbians who have applied now; what will happen to those enlistment papers?
However, the LGB are still not over with fighting two battles. They’re advised to delay their declarations because the DADT ban is wavering.
To watch the entire segment on AC360, click here.
What are your thoughts on the ruling? We’d love to hear it. Comment below.