At the Asian Art Museum through July 1, local artist Eliza Gregory is presenting Testimony—a project in which she invites Bay Area residents to share their personal stories as immigrants, and investigates the many layers of meaning within their experiences. Each account is represented through photographs, ephemera, and interviews assembled during Gregory’s three-year collaboration with the Asian Art Museum’s Artists Drawing Club.
Here, we present a portion of her project, from her interview with USF student Jack Huang. For more on Testimony, including stories submitted by museum visitors, visit the AAM website.
My parents are typical Chinese parents, in that they care about ranking very much. And USF was not the highest-ranked school where I got accepted. But I felt like if I went to one of the other schools that was more remote, I would be studying business in cornfields and forests. I wanted to know what city life was like in the United States.
For the first three months, I didn’t like school. I felt the dormitory looked very bad. The food… didn’t taste that good. The weather was very, very cold. Oh, come on, I thought. California is sunny seashores and bikinis! Not in San Francisco.
And there’s a big distance between people. As Asians, we live in a community that is very close. People will ask what you’ve been doing today. No one feels like this is too much of someone else’s business. They feel like, Oh, I’m caring about you. The downside is, people want you to behave the same way they do, or they will correct you.
"It’s not about changing the whole thing in one night. It’s about trying to affect it, and letting others see there’s the opportunity to change." - Jack Huang
At USF, if there’s an event going on, they will just post a notice quietly; if you don’t want to go, no one will bother you. That was a very big cultural shock for me. But then I started to realize it’s because people respect you. They respect your way of doing things. Until you feel like, Oh, I need someone to help or I need some advice, and then they will gladly tell you what they think. So I like it here. It feels like you can be yourself. But I do hold onto my Chinese identity.
I will go back. To be honest, I never think about whether I should get a green card. What I am thinking is, I can try to learn some of the ways that people here think and what they like, and become a bridge between China and the U.S. But I will always remain Chinese.
China is not great. There’s a lot of problems, but I can fix it. Every time I tell my friends, though, no one understands. They feel like you’re just a small piece. What can you change? The government is so big. The culture is so big. The traditions are so strong.
But I tell them, if I’m strong, I will change the rules. I might have corporations that respect women, respect human rights, and don’t make people work overtime. And if I’m weak, I’ll just try to work on myself. It’s not about changing the whole thing in one night. It’s about trying to affect it, and letting others see there’s the opportunity to change.
SOFT POWER runs June 20 - July 8. A contemporary comedy explodes into a musical fantasia in the first collaboration between two of America’s great theatre artists: Tony Award® winners David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly, Flower Drum Song) and Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home). SOFT POWER rewinds our recent political history and plays it back through a Chinese lens: a future, beloved East-meets-West musical. Learn more.