My American Story: Cheng Wan Chi

Fear, Family & Freedom: My American Story
by Cheng Wan Chi


Leaving was the only option. While in America Communism may have been but a Red Scare, in China it was a very real part of their daily life. Communism controlled mainland China under Mao Zedong and the people were dying of illness and starvation. Each day as Communism's influence grew, vast famine followed. Unable to live the life he wanted, my grandfather fled his small fishing village in the southern part of China to escape such a lifestyle of poverty, not knowing where he would end up or if he would survive the journey. To many, it did not matter how you escaped, just so long as you could get out. As Mao Zedong once said, “Every Communist must grasp the truth: Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,and to anyone who did not follow, they would be looking at the other. My grandfather later helped my grandmother escape and both set up their new lives in Hong Kong, their land of opportunity. By making the decision to leave the only home they have ever known, my grandparents were able to raise my mother and their five other children and open their own supermarket, a place where they would never be hungry again.

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Rally during the Cultural Revolution; Chairman Mao Zedong; Small fishing village in southern China.


Although my grandparents escaped the clutches of Communism, life was not easy running a business and raising six children. Fortunately for them, each child was as hardworking and smart as the last. Each did their part to aid the family by working in the shop and studying hard to embrace the opportunity to live a better life than the others that remained in mainland China. All the children accomplished something that their parents never had the opportunity to do, go to university. It was there that my mother met my father. While my mother was from the East, my father was a Western man, born and raised in London going to Hong Kong to seek opportunity but instead finding love. Both were studying at the local university in Hong Kong when my mother decided she wanted to go to America for her master’s degree, a feat that no one in her family had ever done before. Knowing the opportunity that awaited her, my mother and my father traveled to the US to pursue a higher education. She earned her degree while my father worked to stay in the country and support the woman he loved. They were later married and had me, the first first-generation American to be part of the family, soon after, my sister was born and thus my family came to be.

The choices of my grandparents [have allowed me to] live in a place where I am granted the freedoms generations before me were unable to have.


The American dream comes to those who work for it. Living in America in no way compares to fleeing Communist China but each generation has their struggles. My mother being the main source of income in my family worked hard to be in a position of power within the company she works in, which is rarely held by women, especially of color. While my father pursued his passion of art while looking after my sister and myself. My parents had the freedom to be successful and make their passions into a career. Their choices and the choices of my grandparents have made me able to live in a place where I am granted the freedoms that generations before me were unable to have. The values taught as a child remain with me today, anything is possible in a country that gives its people freedom. I have had the opportunity to travel the world and explore different cultures but I always return to America because it is my home and will always hold a special place in my heart.

*The author has changed her name to protect anonymity.