Eddy Zheng emigrated to the U.S. from China with his family in early 1980s. His parents bear the hope of providing a better education for the kids. Four years later, he committed armed robbery and was sent to San Quentin. He was only 16. Now he works with troubled youth in the Chinatown area of San Francisco. He encourages young Asian Americans to be more involved in community affairs. “This is your country,” he says. “And you should be proud.”
President Johnson signed the Immigration Act in 1965, leading to a rapid growth in the Asian immigrant population in the U.S.. Between 1971 and 2002, more than seven million people arrived from Vietnam, China, Laos, Thailand, and others. Steeped in their own cultural and political traditions, Asians are generally reluctant to voice their opinions to take action to safeguard their rights. “Immigrants are more concerned about survival, getting a job, economic security,” says Harvey Dong, who teaches Asian American studies at U.C. Berkeley. “They can be targeted and scapegoated.” To become fully participating American citizens, they must undergo great personal change.
In recent years, an increasing number of Asian immigrants have become active in community affairs. This is closely related to the efforts of Asian American community leaders, who have committed themselves to helping immigrants deal with both hardships and opportunities they might not have faced in their home countries. This series of stories profiles three such leaders.
Ming Ho arrived in Oakland from Hong Kong in early 1980s. He was born in southern China but smuggled himself into Hong Kong in 1976 to escape from the Cultural Revolution. He was a businessman before he retired in 2003, paying no attention to community affairs. But now he has become a dedicated volunteer in Oakland’s Chinatown, helping with all sorts of issues, small and large.
Torm Nompraseurt fled from Laos in 1975 to avoid political prosecution due to his role in the Laotian Civil War, arriving in Richmond as a war refugee. Having noticed that a lot of Laotian immigrants neither understood their rights nor knew how to stand up for them, he started educating them regarding local social and environmental issues and training them in how to made their voices heard in the local government.
Eddy Zheng, Ming Ho, and Torm Nompraseurt: Three immigrants from very different backgrounds who all ended up serving the Asian community after they settled in the U.S. This series of profiles explore their journeys from Laos and China to the Bay Area, where they created new lives.