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'Amazing' Grace

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Mother's Plight in Georgia
Mother's predicament in America was more complex than my father's, although he also certainly also had a difficult life. She endured and survived the mental and physical demands of being the only Chinese woman in her community. She barely knew how to speak or understand the English language and has little chance to learn for her first 20 years here. Somehow she acquired knowledge that was essential for surviving in a foreign, if not also hostile, environment. She had to be resourceful and strong enough to adapt to the Southern way of life, help father earn a living, and bring up four children.

To achieve these goals, she relied heavily of what she learned by observing how other people behaved. She noticed how the successful differed from the failures in how they behaved. For example, a wealthy white man, Mr. Hooks, who owed the Lanier Hotel up the street from our laundry, would sometimes offer me and my siblings chewing gum if he ran into us on the sidewalk. He would take a stick of Wrigley gum, tear it in half and give only that much to each of us. Mother would make a lesson for life out of this incident. She pointed out that even a wealthy man such as Mr. Hooks was thrifty. She argued that if, instead, he gave each of us a full stick of gum, he certainly would not be likely to become rich.

Coming to this country as poor and uneducated immigrants, coupled with the ordeal of living through the Great Depression of the mid 1930s contributed to mother's high need for financial security. Accumulating money for security could be achieved by being very frugal and bargain seeking on the one hand, and on the other, by avariciously and aggressively thinking of ways to make more money. Lacking much formal education and advanced technical skills, there was little opportunity to secure higher income through a business or occupation. She realized that the future of their children depended on opening the door through education to a more secure life.

Moving The Family to San Francisco
 
Mother did complain often, perhaps too much, about her lot in life to her children, but what else could she do?  She maintained her Chinese identity and tried to instill Chinese values and beliefs in her children, even though she could see that they often resisted in preference to American customs. 
When the future well being of the family was placed firmly on her shoulders and she had to relocate the family to San Francisco, she did not flinch or show the slightest hesitancy.  Considering that up until then she had never had any authority or opportunity to make major family decisions, it was all the more remarkable that she succeeded in finding a new life for herself and her family in San Francisco. 

Faith and confidence in her own ability to survive is not something she lacked, as exemplified by her approach to health issues.  She told numerous stories of occasions where she either figured out by trial and error or intuition how to remedy her problems herself, sometimes doing things that ran counter to what doctors had recommended.  Often her advice may have been based in superstitions, coincidences, or luck, but she firmly embraced them.  She repeatedly advised us to be careful about what doctors recommend in treating illnesses.

Mothers intrepid plunge headlong into stock and option investing late in her life following fathers death was in marked contrast to her meek and timid style of dealing with racial discrimination.  She did not believe in confronting hostile persons, preferring to retreat to safer positions.  Financial risk taking, however, was a different type of situation.  She felt that undue caution here would not be profitable, and that one needed to be aggressive to succeed financially.  She felt that even without a formal education or English fluency she might be able to parlay a sum of cash into a larger amount by skillful or lucky investments.

From being a young uneducated girl in rural China who came to America through an arranged marriage to becoming a successful stock investor is truly a remarkable story.  Her life is a testament to how much a person can achieve despite considerable obstacles such as racism, lack of literacy, and poverty.  Her dogged determination, strong commitment to family, and survival skills enabled her to transcend these impediments.

Mother was in every sense of the term, a survivor. She dealt with cultural, social, economic, marital, family, and health obstacles head on. She was fatalistic; yet she also believed that when adversity strikes you must try to do what you have to do to survive. Mother was an amazing woman, one who also displayed amazing grace. The gentle and quiet exterior that she displayed when she dealt with others hid the torment, hardship, and pain she felt inside and expressed only to her children in private.  She had an unselfish and sacrificing side where she placed the well-being of her children above her own needs, as if she believed her function in life was to always protect and guide her children.

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Mother in 1927 Coming to U. S.

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Mother operating Polk St. Laundromat in S. F. 1955

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Mother conferring with her stock broker, c. 1974

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