Entering the US from Taiwan: A Case Study
The subject, Mrs. K., of this interview is a 28 year old computer programmer for a major software company. She is married, but so far has no children, and works full-time. She came to the U.S. from Taiwan when she was 14 years old with her parents and younger sibling. When she first arrived in the U.S., she described herself as “Chinese” but soon learned that a more politic description was “Taiwanese.” Like many immigrants from Taiwan, her parents still consider themselves as Chinese, since they do not believe the People’s Republic of China is a legitimate government (Lien, 2008). She attended college in the University of California system and graduated with a degree in computer science. Since that time, she has worked in the computer industry.
Mrs. K. is pretty and slender, with a quiet, unassuming personal style, and dresses very conservatively, in clothes that seem slightly too large for her. Her proficiency in English is good, but not fully fluent. She is sometimes difficult to understand because of idiosyncratic pronunciation and difficulty with certain letters and sounds. Her reading fluency is quite high, much greater than her speaking fluency. She reports that her parents and family speak only Chinese at home. Her parents have very limited English skills; her younger sibling has somewhat better English skills.
Reasons for Immigrating
Research indicates that Asian immigrants can leave their homelands for a variety of reasons, including better job opportunities, better educational opportunities, and to reunite with family members who have previously emigrated; of these, the only clear-cut socially acceptable reason in Asian cultures is that of seeking a better education, while leaving for a better job in the U.S. is considered less acceptable and emigrating for family reunification has mixed social repercussions ( Chen, Gee, Spenser, Danziger, and Takeushi, 2009).
Her responsibility when she arrived was to work hard and get excellent grades. Getting As in classes was expected of her at all times, and she felt her family’s deep disappointment with her if she got less than an A. This strong emphasis on high academic achievement is also quite typical of Asian immigrant families in the U.S. (Hickey, 2005).
Mrs. K. came to the U.S. as a teenager. She lived with her family from the time she arrived in the U.S. through her college years. Even though she soon obtained a well-paying full-time job, she stayed living with her parents after starting work. Her family disapproved of her dating anyone not approved by them—in particular, no one who was not from a socially acceptable Taiwanese family was considered good enough by her parents. When she was 19, her parents negotiated an arranged marriage for her with the son of a socially prominent Taiwanese family. Mrs.K. had not met her proposed groom at that time, though her parents had met him and sized him up. Given her influences from the students at her college, she was not enthusiastic over marrying a stranger. She preferred to defer the marriage, pointing out the need for her to finish her degree, and get a good job to ensure her ability to contribute to her family. She was uncertain if the groom was equally unenthusiastic, but believes he probably was.
Over the next few years, she was allowed to meet and get to know the groom in carefully orchestrated meetings closely supervised by one or both sets of parents. In addition, she was allowed to meet her prospective in-laws. If she was not enthusiastic about marrying a young man she barely knew, she was less enthusiastic about the prospect of joining her the family of her prospective in-laws. She explained that in her tradition, after marriage, the bride and groom goes to live with or near the groom’s family and the mother-in-law has dominion over the bride, who is expected to serve and obey the mother-in-law. Mrs. K. believed that her mother-in-law was domineering and difficult.
Mrs. K. finally agreed to marriage when she was 26 after 7 years of engagement. Although she was not explicit about the subject, she implied that she was strongly attracted to a co-worker who was single. However, he was Caucasian, not Taiwanese, and therefore would never be accepted by her family. Mrs. K did marry the young man her parents betrothed her to. She describes her marriage as “all right.” She does not seem particularly happy in her marriage or in her home life.
When asked about her relationship with her mother-in-law and whether it was as difficult as she had expected, Mrs. K. grew very embarrassed and quiet. She said that her mother-in-law was “very strict” and that it was a relief when they were able to get their own apartment separate from her husband’s family. When asked if she had ever been struck, by either her husband or her husband’s family, her answer implied that it had happened occasionally, but only when she had “disappointed someone a lot.” She said she had never asked for help about that violence because it was not “excessive.” Again, this behavior is consistent with the 52% of Asian women who do not seek help either from the legal system or from domestic violence agencies (Raj and Silverman, 2007).