ESON KIM: He blurts out, "Korean parents "don't love their children "as much as American parents do.
Our parents just use us as workers."
SUZANNE LEE: "You guys don't even speak English.
"You are garment workers.
What makes you think that you can take on the government?"
DAVID HU: I was 18 years old.
First time away from home.
I miss my family, I miss my friends.
I miss sleeping in my own bed.
And everyone on campus did not look like me.
♪ ♪ LEE: I'm Suzanne Lee.
I came to this country when I was 11.
I came by myself, with a tack on my lapel that says "To Boston, Massachusetts."
And they put me on the plane from Hong Kong to here.
And that experience have really shaped my life.
I became an educator in the Boston Public School as a principal, and more importantly, I'm the president emeritus of the Chinese Progressive Association, which is a grassroot organization in Boston Chinatown that brings people together to understand how to fight for their rights.
How do you feel that storytelling is important in your activism work?
You know, in any kind of work-- in teaching or in community activism-- you're talking about bringing people together.
And a lot of time, in order to activate people, they have to know their story.
You have to connect with people, and storytelling is the best way to connect with people.
I understand that storytelling is very important in all of your work, but this particular kind of storytelling that we do here at Stories from the Stage, on the stage, personal storytelling, is that something that you have done before?
And how are you liking the experience?
I've never done this before.
I've done plenty of speeches, but I've never done storytelling.
So, I really learned a lot from this experience.
It taught me that even my own personal feeling matters.
So this is a new experience for me, and I wish I had it earlier.
♪ It was a hot, humid day in the first week of August in 1975 in this small, cramped hearing room in the Boston Public Schools headquarter, where there were hundreds of people waiting to testify in front of the school committee on the second phase of the Boston busing plan, where they would bus elementary school students.
I was there with three representatives from the newly formed Chinese Parents Association.
They were there to plead their case.
We organized all summer long.
The meetings went from 20 parents to sometime 200.
Some of the parents were parents of my own students, and some of them were my students in my Saturday English classes.
And there are others who are my mother's friends from the garment factory.
So all summer long, they organized.
They went to community meetings, they went to community organizations, and then pleaded with community leaders to help them.
And all of them, including their own husband, would kind of laugh at their face and say, "Women, you guys don't even speak English.
"You are garment workers.
What makes you think that you can take on the government?"
So they were so mad.
And they said to me, "We're gonna have to do this on our own without their help."
So when, when their chance came up to testify in front of the school committee, we have written them three times with their demands-- no answer.
So at that time, they have a chance to tell them in person, so I went with them as their interpreter.
We waited for three-and-a-half hours.
When their name was called, three of the five committee members just got up and left.
And the two remaining one was whispering each other and snickering, and the parents didn't know what to do.
They turn around and look at me, "Should we stop?"
I said-- I was fuming inside-- I said, "How dare them?"
But I have to be strong for these parents, even though I'm only a first- year teacher, what do I know?
So I told them, "Go right ahead.
"It doesn't matter if they're there or not, it's recorded.
So we want your statement recorded."
So they said all their demands, and we didn't hear anything from the school committee.
So we left and we waited, and waited a few more weeks, and they continued to organize and strategize what to do.
The very last weekend of that summer, I received my assignment to report to a new school, and I was to ride the bus with the students from the South End, through Chinatown, to Charlestown, which is about 20 minutes away from Chinatown.
And the night before school started, I got a call from one of the parents, they said, "Miss Lee, we're not sending our students to school tomorrow."
I said, "Wait a minute, how can you do this?
How can you notify so many people in such a short time?"
He said, "We'll find a way, but we're not going."
So I was so nervous.
The next morning when I got up early and went to the bus stop, the first bus stop, nobody was there.
The second stop, two Black students got on.
And as the bus rode towards Chinatown, in every single bus stop, I saw there were lots of people, but nobody got on the bus.
So by the time we got to school, the same two Black students was on the bus with me, and they were getting nervous, because they were the only two.
And I have to stay calm for them.
As soon as we got there, the principal got on the bus and said, "You better hurry up.
"There's a phone call waiting for you in the office, from the Justice Department."
I said, "What did I do now?"
So it was that the Justice Department want me to organize a meeting with the Chinese parents right away.
It took us about three days to get everybody together.
When we met, the first thing the representative said was, "You make sure that these parents know that what they're doing, boycotting school, is illegal."
One of the parents did not skip a beat, and she said, "Wait a minute, why is it not illegal for white people, but it's illegal for us?"
I was smiling inside.
I said, "Good for her."
She set the tone for that meeting, and within half an hour, they got everything that they asked for, except for one.
They got all the monitors on the buses, they got people hired in the schools to translate for them, but they could not get them to agree to hire more Chinese teacher, because they have to negotiate with the union.
As we were leaving the meeting, I said to the representative, "What took you guys so long to answer them?"
And she said, "Well, you know, the last three days, "there was almost no Chinese students in any school.
"So we really need them back right away, to be the buffer between Black and white students."
I couldn't believe what I heard, and I couldn't even translate it for parents because I was fuming inside.
Is that all we are worth?
To be the buffer between Black and white students?
But the parents were so happy, because they have won most of what they wanted, went back to the community and told everyone, and the very next day, as I got on the bus, from each stop, there were more and more student got on the bus.
So they won and the moment of crisis has been averted.
Since that time, for more than 40 years, non-English-speaking immigrant women workers has been the pillar of strength and the center of almost every single struggle that we have in our community.
♪ KIM: I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a really, really poor neighborhood of East New York.
And my parents were immigrants, like a lot of Americans, and we had very little money, very few resources.
And when you grew up in Brooklyn, that area, was there a lot of immigrant families or, you know, what was the situation like, what was the demographic?
There were a lot of immigrant families, but I remember growing up as the only Asian family.
Until I hit fifth grade, and then there was one other Asian family.
(laughs) and a huge Black community.
So at school, did you have a lot of friends or was that a struggle?
KIM: Oh... School was hard-- school was hard.
You know, I did very well academically, but socially...
I know the feeling.
Very much treated like an alien, called an alien.
And the idea of alien comes up in my story, too.
And when you're a child, you really kind of believe more than you should, and you internalize it.
It was a difficult time in school, but I'm still glad that I grew up in that area.
It taught me a lot.
Are you the storyteller?
I find, like, most groups tend to have someone who's known for doing that-- is that you or someone else?
People are surprised when I tell them that I'm really an introvert-- I'm more of a listener.
I love listening to other people's stories.
I grew up listening to my father's stories of the Korean War.
In many ways, he taught me a little bit of the art of oral storytelling, because he didn't, we don't share a common language.
I understand a little bit of Korean, and he obviously understands a lot of English, but it's not nuanced when we have the overlap.
And so he's usually speaking in Korean, and I'm usually speaking in English, and so, in listening to his stories, I really, really, I think, trained my storytelling ear.
♪ It's the '80s, I'm 12 years old, and I'm sitting in the Korean church parking lot with my friend Andy, and he is ranting about his parents, because he doesn't get along with them.
And suddenly he blurts out, "You know, Korean parents don't love their children "as much as American parents do.
Our parents just use us as workers."
I'm completely offended, so I push back and I say, "That's not true!"
He points his finger at me and he says, "You'll see."
And it comes at me like a curse.
A few weeks later, I'm at the family hardware store with my father, and two customers walk in.
And in just a matter of seconds, they whip out these guns, one pointed at my father, one pointed at me.
Now, my father has endured armed robberies before, but this is my first time.
So they drag us to the cash register, where they order my father to fill a brown paper bag with all the cash in the register.
But the problem is there isn't enough, and the robbers are angry.
And so they keep repeating, "That's it?
Where's the rest?
Where's the rest?"
And my father keeps repeating, "There is no more.
You have all, there's no more, no more."
And every time they go back and forth, I feel the gun dig deeper into the back of my skull so that I have to tip forward, and finally, the gun moves from the back of my head to the side, as if to give my father a better view.
And the voice behind me says, "I mean it, man.
Get the rest, now."
And what follows is a steely silence so tense, that I have to close my eyes, and in that time, I imagine what it's going to feel like to have a bullet course through my brain.
Because I'm certain that's what's about to happen.
And I'm also certain that my father is bluffing, because there is a stash of cash in the back, and I'm about to lose my life for it.
And I don't know how much time passes, but eventually the robbers give up.
They push us in the backroom and they leave.
But for the days and weeks after, I completely freeze out my father.
I can't forgive him for taking that kind of chance with my life.
And I begin to wonder if maybe Andy was right.
Maybe Korean parents have a lesser capacity for love.
Maybe my classmates were right, in that my parents were alien and abnormal.
And my father's not helping here, because he too is distant and silent this whole time.
And all he does is jot down these numbers on a notepad, and I keep thinking it's because he's worried about the money we've lost, because that's what he really cares about, and we carry on like this until Thanksgiving.
That's when my father wakes up early, and he gathers us up and takes us to the hardware store on a day where it's usually supposed to be closed.
And he ushers us inside, locks the door behind us, and flips on the lights.
And there, leaning against one of the side walls, are six long countertop slabs wrapped in brown craft paper.
And he goes up to the first one and he rips a corner off, revealing a one-inch-thick piece of glass, and he taps on it, and he says, "Bullet not go through.
Each piece $1,000."
Now, the math is not hard here, and I'm amazed at where my father was able to find $6,000.
And I'm even more amazed about where he was able to find bulletproof glass.
But there's no time to ask him, because he immediately gets to work.
He whips out that notepad with all the figures on it, takes out a circular saw, pulls out a measuring tape, and he measures and cuts, and measures and cuts, for 36 hours straight.
And at the end of it, he stretches his stiff back, sweat pouring down his neck, drenching his T-shirt, and we all look at what he's made.
And it is a wonder.
It is a wall, floor to ceiling, and countertop and cabinetry, made entirely of bulletproof, clear glass.
And it's so pristine and new, that it looks like spring water compressed.
And he turns to me and he says, "Go inside."
So I push open this door that he's made and framed and I step inside, and I feel like I'm entering this sci-fi world.
And I close and lock the door behind me and I step back.
And I see my father and the rest of my family, and really, the rest of the world behind him, beyond the storefront through this clear, bulletproof glass.
And honestly, my 12-year-old self kept thinking, "My father has made a piece of Wonder Woman's invisible jet."
(audience laughs) Right?
It is the most cool thing that I have ever imagined that he would ever be able to do.
And as I'm kind of wrapped in the awe of all of this, he finds this little opening that he's made so that we can interact with the customers, and he sneaks his hand through and he tickles me, and I jump back, and it's the first time we laugh in weeks.
And he goes in for another, but this time I'm too far back, and he can't reach, so he's just grasping air.
And he leans into the little opening so his lips are there and he says, "See?
Nobody can touch."
And that line is like a spell that makes everything clear.
And I realize it didn't matter what Andy said, it didn't matter what my classmates said.
And it didn't matter why my father took that chance with my life.
But what matters is what I know now.
And at this very time, I know what love looks like.
I know what love feels like.
And it's unmistakable.
And so I step forward, unlatch the locks, and open the door wide.
And I bring my father, and the rest of my family, inside with me.
(cheers and applause) ♪ HU: My name is David Hu.
Born and raised in the Bronx, currently live in Brooklyn.
I've been telling stories since 2015, and during the day, I'm a technology adviser and instructor using storytelling to teach people about technology.
Tell me a bit more about how storytelling plays a role in your day-to-day life.
So if you think about it, storytelling and technology are very similar.
Instead of zeros and ones, it's, you know, details and emotions.
Yeah, instead of zeros and ones, there's details and emotions.
OKOKON: I like that, that's great.
It's a perfect way of how, that's how storytelling works, just using, like, comparisons, and just basically using something that people can relate to to make them understand it.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
So how and why did you yourself get involved in storytelling?
That's a very good question.
I never expected to be a performer.
I always had a fear of public speaking.
And I tried really hard to overcome that fear.
I've taken courses at work, but I felt like it just made me more self-conscious in how I spoke to other people.
And one day, I heard about storytelling, and at first, skeptic.
It sounded like an overpriced slumber party, where you share stories around a room.
But after I took my first storytelling class, it not just made me a better public speaker, it made me more assertive and be able to reflect on how I saw the world through my own eyes.
♪ In the summer of 2005, I'm on a 16-hour flight to a foreign destination I never been to before for my mom.
Shenzhen, China, is a city that borders Hong Kong to the south.
Couple of weeks prior to our trip, I remember sitting on my parents' couch and watching TV.
And my mom says, "David, I need to tell you something."
The tone of her voice brought chills down to my spine.
I'm, like, "Mom, what?"
"David, I want to go back to Shenzhen, China, for two weeks "and revisit the place I was born, "and reunite with an older sister I've never met before.
"I'm scared and I don't want to go alone, and I want you to come along with me, okay?"
Shocked and excited, "Mom, how come you never told me you had an older sister before?
She takes a deep breath, followed by a long awkward pause, and I feel this nervous tone in her voice.
"David, you know I had a hard life.
"My mom died when I was a baby, "and my dad and stepmom had an opportunity "to bring us to Hong Kong for a better life.
"Unfortunately, we couldn't bring my older sister along, and we had to abandon her-- so sad."
After my mom told me that, I could not believe the weight of guilt she's been carrying all these years until that day.
Supportive, being in my mid-20s, I never traveled outside the United States in my entire life.
I'm excited to learn more about my culture and my language.
After a grueling 16-hour flight, we finally land in Shenzhen, China.
Exhausted and dehydrated from eating too many salted peanuts on the plane, we exit the airport, and remember, standing in the middle of the street with my mom, and just seeing a mist of people walk by us.
Suddenly, I see an older woman walking towards us.
As she gets closer, I see a reflection on my mom.
Oh, my God, I can't believe it's her.
As she embraces my mom in her arms, and hugs her as tight as she can.
And I stand there, and I stare at both of them.
And I think about my older sister back in New York City, and how crazy it would be if we were separated for that many decades.
For the first couple of days, we travel through the countryside and we end up in the neighborhood where my mom was born.
It was very urban and dense, and I remember walking through the staircases of one of the buildings and seeing fishbones everywhere, garbage piled on the side of the hallways, and people tightly packed in a single apartment.
Compared to how I grew up, I had my own room, backyard surrounded by trees.
I'm grateful to be raised in the United States.
Although the experience was priceless, ironically, I felt disconnected.
Directions, advertisement, how everyone interacted with each other was in Chinese.
And my mom was giving all her attention to her older sister, and I started to feel alienated around them.
One afternoon, we end up at a restaurant for lunch.
And the waiter brings us our food.
And instead of a chops...
Instead of a fork, he hands me a set of chopsticks.
I never used chopsticks in my entire life.
My parents never taught me, nor how to speak in Chinese.
Born and raised in the Bronx, I always assumed my parents wanted me to be American like everyone else, and when we would ever go out to eat, they would always ask the waiter for a fork in Chinese on my behalf.
Unfortunately, I don't have that luxury, because of my mom is giving all her attention to her older sister.
And I stand up, and I get the waiter's attention, like I'm hailing down a cab.
"Excuse me, waiter?
And he gives me a glazed look, and I realize, I'm not in New York City, I'm in Shenzhen, China.
And I take my hand, and I clench it like a fist, and I make this circular motion on the side of my face.
And I say, "Fork, fork!"
And he gives me this frazzled look.
My mom starts to laugh.
And she asks the waiter for a fork in Chinese, like she did when I was a kid.
And now everyone is bursting out in laughter.
Embarrassed, I storm out of the restaurant.
20 minutes later, I'm back at the hotel, and suddenly I hear music playing down the street.
As American as it sounds, I ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe.
The walls are covered in rock and roll memorabilia: plaques, guitars, and posters.
And I see a bunch of people standing by the bar.
And I walk through the crowd of people.
And I see the bartender with a mic in his hand.
And he's doing a cover of Stone Temple Pilots' "Wicked Garden."
Impressed, it brought back memories when I was a freshman in a small town called Oswego, New York, home to the Port of Oswego, the hub in the city.
I remember I was 18 years old, mid-90s, first time away from home.
I missed my family, I missed my friends, I missed sleeping in my own bed, and everyone on campus did not look like me.
And I spent all my free time watching MTV.
And one night, Stone Temple Pilots' "Wicked Garden" was aired.
And I remember the video.
It takes place at a rock concert, and everyone is crowd-surfing across the room.
It was very uplifting, and inspiring, and encouraged me to meet new people on campus.
If Stone Temple Pilots' "Wicked Garden" could get me through freshman year in a small town like Oswego, New York, I'm sure it could get me through two weeks in a foreign city like Shenzhen, China.
And I can't take it out on my mom and her older sister.
I had to take the initiative to change.
The next day, we end up at a restaurant for lunch that afternoon.
The waiter brings us our food, and he hands me a set of chopsticks.
I'm not gonna look like a fool and try to use the chopsticks, and end up using it as stilts for my hands.
And I asked the waiter for a fork in Chinese, cha zi.
And it brought a smile to my mom and her older sister's face.
It was truly a rock star moment, like Stone Temple Pilots' "Wicked Garden."
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