Clean, large streets and no traffic. Those were Jackson Hu’s first impressions of America when he immigrated to the United States from Taiwan in the early 1980’s. Jackson explains that there was tension between Taiwan and China at that time and his family was worried that Jackson and his brothers would be drafted into the war and torn from the family. But in America, that wouldn’t happen.
During the family’s time in Taiwan, Jackson’s father worked as a successful architect, designing homes and Taiwanese infrastructure. Because of that, Jackson’s family had the financial capability to come to the United States. But without access to a variety of American pop culture at the time, Jackson had no clear idea on what America would be like. He was being brought to an unknown land, shrouded in mystery.
To him, it was just another move. But when he arrived in America, he noticed the changes in the air above him and the world around him.
Jackson understood why his father brought him here. It was a better environment than Taiwan in every way, shape and form. For example, there was no traffic in the US compared to the endless lines of cars in Taiwan at the time. Because of this, Jackson was willing to move even though that meant parting with his friends and family in Taiwan.
For his daughter, junior Amber Hu, annual trips to America gave her the opportunity to look up and see a clear blue sky compared to the grey sky in Taiwan. To her, America was pretty. And as a young child in Taiwan, she wanted to move here.
Although Amber was born in the United States, her parents planned to move back to Taiwan for what they considered a valuable asset for Amber’s life — a chance to be fluent in Chinese. By the age of three, Amber began living in Taiwan.
The first few years in Taiwan were tough for Amber. She didn’t have close friends and school was difficult for her, so she wanted to move back to America. But in middle school, that opinion changed. Amber had made much closer friends and was reluctant to leave them behind to move back to the states once she got into high school.
In 2014, Amber returned to the United States. Although she grew up dreaming to come to America, when she finally did have the chance, it was against her will.
Unlike her father, Amber grew up watching television and movies, and came to America with set expectations: that all the girls would be like the stereotypical popular mean girls in movies and that there would be lots of large, extravagant parties. But that wasn’t the case once she came to the United States.
When Jackson was around the same age as Amber, he and his family settled down in the early 1980’s in a suburban community in Los Angeles, in a house much bigger than the cramped apartment that he had lived in in Taiwan. Where he once had neighbors on both sides, upstairs and downstairs, he now finds himself rarely seeing them.
Jackson knew that it would be hard later on in Amber’s life if they did not move to the states because of the educational system in Taiwan.
The educational system was still the biggest thing that turned Jackson away from living the rest of his life in Taiwan. Because he wanted the best life possible for his two children, he had to go back to America.
“People [in Taiwan] are taught to memorize stuff and have a hard time making logical decisions,” Jackson said. “I think that is very similar in China and Japan in all these Asian countries because as a kid you are just told what to do.”
He wanted his two daughters to learn to have more self esteem and better critical thinking for themselves. Since the moment Jackson and his family moved to Taiwan in 2003, they had already planned to move back to America. They wanted to be sure Amber would return to America for the better opportunities they thought she could receive.
To Jackson, America is a land where the American Dream is still in play — if you work hard, you do have the opportunity to climb up the social pyramid. And although he acknowledges that the widened gap between the rich and poor nowadays does influence this ability, he takes comfort in the fact that it is at least possible.
“Whatever you do, you don’t want to make it easy because when you graduate or move into society, the challenge in life it’s not gonna be easy,” Jackson said, “so it’s better to be prepared when you’re still a student.”
For Amber, this difference was evident in the way the schools were structured. In Taiwan, she felt like the schools taught her not to talk in class and thus kept her from being the outgoing and confident person she is here. This change followed a shift in student mentality, where she now finds herself amongst peers that enjoy contributing to class discussions and don’t see participation as unnecessary.
Looking ahead, she marks the American dream as having three parts: liberty, success and wealth. And although she has had to leave her friends and family behind in Taiwan, she knows there are better opportunities here in America. With better schools, colleges, jobs and companies, Amber looks ahead to continue her life in America and live her idea of the American dream.
Photos used with permission of Jackson Hu.