KUAN Y. – AGE 90

“I was born in Shanghai, the old Shanghai. My mother and father lived in Berlin before I was born, and my sister was born there. My father worked in Berlin as a technologist; he studied in a college there. My mother was a homemaker. I went to college in China and studied agriculture. At that time China needed help to use fertilizer to increase production of rice, corn, and cotton.

I hated what was happening in China just before the Revolution. You always had to behave yourself and watch what you said. You didn’t know what might happen to you. My parents and grandparents went back to Germany before the Revolution. My oldest sister went to Taiwan. My second sister went to Australia and my brother moved to Seattle. I went to Thailand with my husband in 1961, where another brother was working in Summit Company. After three years in Thailand my husband and I went back to China.

My family was Buddhist and I still consider myself a Buddhist. We used to go to the temple, maybe once a year, to remember my ancestors; my grandmother and grandfather. But I am not able to do this any more.

We came to the United States in 1991. When I first came here we lived in Bayside, Queens. My husband was a veterinarian and I was a homemaker; I never worked outside the house. It wasn’t hard to adjust when I came here. My husband and my son arranged everything. Mostly I stayed home. I would just go out sometimes to buy groceries and then I would cook.

But my husband passed away from cancer in 1996, the year I became a citizen. When my husband died I was alone, so I came to St. Margaret’s (an independent living facility). I like it here. I have a very good apartment, and cook for myself. I have an aide for about 20 hours a week. And I have a good social life here. Many old ladies live on my floor; we talk a little, we walk together. It is mostly Chinese residents.

I learned English in middle school and college, so I knew English before I came here. But since I live in Chinatown, I don’t talk English all the time. I spoke Mandarin growing up, but I have had to learn Cantonese to talk to all the people in Chinatown.

Until about four years ago I sang in a chorus with friends accompanied by a Chinese violin. When I was a young woman I sang in a club in Formosa. When I was a young girl, I used to sing in a chorus. I could sing over 100 songs. I sang Chinese opera songs. Now I like American classical music, but not jazz.

I have a son who lives in Flushing, NY and my daughter lives in Japan. She married a Japanese man. My son comes to visit every Sunday and my grandchildren come sometimes. It is hard for me to go to Flushing now to visit my son. My seven grandchildren all have their own families and I have one great-grandchild. My daughter in Japan is retired. She used to come once a year to see me, but now a bit less. She is having trouble walking.

To keep engaged in life, I walk with my friends to the coffee shop. When I sit in the dining room or the lobby, I always meet people to talk to. Everyday, I am busy. I have to wash, take a shower, cook. I watch the Chinese programs on TV. I read the newspaper every day and I walk a lot. That is what I enjoy doing. The days pass very quickly.

I didn’t like the politics in China, so I didn’t want to go back. They are always changing everything and every year there is some kind of revolution. I think America is peaceful. I also feel that I am at peace in my life. I have nothing to worry about and I have no regrets.

Physically, things aren’t so good. I am losing my memory. I can’t walk a lot anymore. I used to do Tai Chi but I am no longer able. I just walk for exercise. All of the relatives in my generation have passed away.

The advice I would give to a young person is to be very honest and don’t do anything wrong. Work hard.”

Interview conducted by New Jersey artist Janet Boltax for this exhibition.