Emilee Wu moved to the United States with her family in July 2006, as part of a plan by her family to find a better environment to grow up and go to school in. Emilee attended Federal Way Public Academy and Federal Way High School before going to the University of Washington, where she is now in her senior year finishing up an International Relations degree.
Not speaking English when she first arrived, Emilee’s experience growing up in the United States included a great deal of reflecting on her own identity as an immigrant and the sacrifices that families make, both economically and culturally, when they move to new homes.
I mean, I think a lot of people I’ve spoken to who have moved at this age… it’s usually, we move because it’s a part of a plan by our families. Mostly it was my brother, who, he wanted to come here, and then my parents thought it’d be a better environment here.
I’m Emilee, I’m a senior at UW. I lived in Federal Way since I was 11, and before that I was living in Taiwan, so I moved over here around sixth grade.
Going to school was definitely a big episode, just because I didn’t understand English at the time so I’d get really stressed out. I don’t know, when you’re in an environment where you’re surrounded by judgmental middle schoolers it’s very stressful not knowing the language they speak.
Like for gym, for example, for P.E., I didn’t know where gym was. I thought that was a name. When people were like, “it’s Jim!”. I don’t know, it was stressful. Or, for like a whole semester I ate pizza for lunch because that was the only word I knew how to say.
So you know, small things like that were… I wouldn’t say traumatizing, because that’s a bit dramatic, but, I mean, it was definitely kind of stressful. But I mean, I’m glad I went through that.
It took me a long time to start talking about race and start talking about my immigrant background. Just because… and I didn’t know all this until I had time to think about it years after I moved. For years, I didn’t want to be an immigrant. Like, I didn’t want to be associated with that. I was trying really hard to sound American, have an English name, you know look, not look white, but you know, be assimilated. So I tried really hard.
Some families give up their language and give up their culture. Not because of a complicated reason, but just because they feel like this is the best way to survive here. And that’s OK to do.