Aug 10, 2012
Henry Wang was born in China and moved to Taiwan when he was young. As a young adult, he moved to the US and earned an engineering degree. In this recording, Henry shares his story with local Sunset High students about the differences Henry has experienced as an immigrant. This recording kicks off our 2012 series of interviews with local immigrants.
0:19 Mackie: I’m Mackie, a senior at Sunset High School.
0:22 Henry: And I am Henry Wang; (I) am almost retired now.
0:29 Mackie: So, what did you do after college?
0:32 Henry: I used to work at Tektronix for a while as a Manufacturing Engineer.
0:37 Mackie: I had a science fair there once when I was little.
And then after a while, then I decided to get into business with China. Because I am bilingual and am familiar with both sides of the cultures, so that is what I decided to do and feel that I have a lot of advantage of doing that, so I have been doing that (ever) since.
1:04 Mackie: OK, so you were born in China and then went to Taiwan.
Correct. I was born in China and then after the war, moved to Taiwan with my family and then after college, I came to the United States and that was 1973. So, it has been a while.
1:22 Mackie: Wow, that is okay. So, did you guys have family in Taiwan or was there a reason that you chose Taiwan?
1:28 Henry: We still do. Yes, like I said, originally our family was in the northern part of China. So, the families in Taiwan are pretty much the same kind of background. We ran away from the Communists. That is what happened.
1:45 Mackie: So, what were some of the challenges you faced when you came here or as you were coming here?
1:50 Henry: At the very beginning, sure, it was the language; it has always been. We had a hard time. Because when we first started, we did not (speak the language), (and) couldn’t hardly even talk in English. It’s like here, you learn foreign language by reading.
2:08 Mackie: Oh, and by watching TV.
2:10 Henry: In those days, we didn’t have TV to watch. So, you learn to read, but you don’t learn to talk. You don’t hear it. You never have the opportunity to hear people saying English, so we had a hard time in terms of verbal communications. It took a long time and then gradually, you have to work on it. But, after a while, you get used to it and then everything was fine. I really did not feel that much of (what) you (might) consider difficulties or anything like that.
2:48 Mackie: That is good though.
2:50 Henry: Yes, it was. I was very well accepted by friends, by colleagues, by you know school mates and things like that. And so, I never felt that I have been kept (out) as an outsid(er). I never had that feeling.
3:06 Mackie: So, you said that you came from Taiwan to the States. Did you come with your family to the States? Or did they stay?
3:12 Henry: No, by myself, just by myself. I would consider I was naively brave.
3:21 Mackie: Wow, I would say so.
3:23 Henry: Yes, I did not know how difficult it could be and I was fearless. I just came.
3:30 Mackie: How did your family feel about you coming here?
3:32 Henry: My mother was the one that encouraged me. She said,
“you have this one chance, one chance only.” In those days, it was
hard for foreign students to come to here. I was the only one in my
college class that got accepted here. So, I was the only one. And
my mother said, “you can always stay in Taiwan, but if you want to
go to the United States and try to make something out for yourself,
this is the only chance. You can always come back. Don’t worry
about it. Don’t be afraid.” And I was fearless, so I came.
4:07 Mackie: Wow! I couldn’t do that. So, has your family ever come to visit you here?
4:14 Henry: Oh yeah, after they retired, they came over. The thing is, for example, the first day I came to the United States, the very, very first day, I got off the airplane and I needed to take a limousine. For us, we didn’t understand limousine is just a shuttle at the (airport). We thought it was one of those big, huge, fancy limousine. I said, “how much is it going to cost me to do this?” I need to take a limousine to the Greyhound bus. And from there, I had no idea where Corvallis was. I went to Oregon State. I had no idea how far that was and so I finally managed to get on the bus and then this bus driver said, “blah blah blah blah” and I had no idea what he was talking about. And then I was on the bus for all the time. I was so tired after 20 some hours flying. But, I said, “when is it going to be Corvallis?” I noticed a whole bunch were all students, college kids, and I say, when they got ready to go, I will go. [Laughing.] But everybody fell asleep. I was the only one awake. So, by the time I got there, all of a sudden everyone (stood) up. It’s gotta be it. I asked the driver, “Corvallis?” He said, “Corvallis.” That is how I got there.
5:45 Mackie: Wow… So, after you flew from Taiwan to the States, did you land in Oregon?
5:50 Henry: Yes, Portland. Direct here to Portland. And then took the bus to Corvallis.
5:56 Mackie: How was that seeing a huge airport? Do you have huge airports in Taiwan?
6:00 Henry: But, the thing is, Corvallis is so small compared to where I am from… Taipei. Taipei is a big city, a capital. We have millions of people. By the time I got off the bus at Corvallis. Before I even noticed, everybody was gone. Summertime, college town, Oregon State, there was nobody. I always thought you can ask someone.
6:32 Mackie: Oh gosh. Did you spend the summer in Corvallis?
6:37 Henry: The next day school started. I did not have (any) time breaking in or anything like that. The next day I started because when I got admission, it was late.So, I barely
managed to make it.
6:55 Mackie: Wow, that must have been really stressful. Trying to get in your admissions and stuff.
7:00 Henry: That’s right, yes, all of those things.
7:01 Mackie: I know how that goes. So, what do you like most about Oregon?
7:07 Henry: About Oregon?
7:09 Mackie: Or have you traveled to other places?
7:11 Henry: Yeah, business-wise, (I) traveled quite a bit - to the east coast and things like that. But, Oregon to me, it is very friendly; (a) nice place. It’s a good place to raise children. So, we decided instead of my family mov(ing) around with me (for my) job, I would rather have the family here and then I travel. So, that’s why we stayed (in Oregon). We wanted the children (to) have their sense of hometown rather than (what) I noticed (when) I run into some people while they are in high school or junior (high) school, because the(ir) parent’s job/profession. They move around (and) it’s hard.
8:10 Mackie: There is a lot of kids here like that. It’s hard…it’s hard without friends and stuff and moving.
8:16 Henry: Correct. We realized that this was a good place - the people are good (and) we like the environment.
8:25 Mackie: And Sunset?
8:26 Henry: That’s right, the whole thing. So, all my three boys were from Sunset High School.
8:33 Mackie: What other places around have you been that you also like?
8:37 Henry: I think I most like the Northwest. I don’t like big cities (that are) too fast moving. I always say I use the term like a mountain – city mountain. Some of my friends they live in the city like Los Angeles. They are just a mountain. They have very few small areas that they move around. The city is so big, but they got no place to go. You understand what I am saying? They actually live in an area that is very confined. When the city is that big, you are basically lost. It is not like over here; you have friends all over the place. I was never really interested. We have lots of friends in Southern California, and the San Diego area, but we just didn’t (like it).
9:32 Mackie: You are like – I couldn’t stay there.
9:33 Henry: That’s right. I wouldn’t stay there.
9:36 Mackie: I have family in San Diego and I would just never be able to live there. So, when you graduated OSU, what kind of degree did you get?
9:44 Henry: I got a masters in Industrial Engineering.
9:49 Mackie: Wow, you must be pretty smart.
9:51 Henry: No.
9:56 Mackie: So, what kinds of things did you do at Tektronix? Or do you do?
I was in manufacturing. Actually, the big blue warehouse, I was involved in that.
10:06 Mackie: Oh wow. Right off of like, I don’t know my streets.
Millikan Way and Murray.
10:12 Mackie: Yeah, yeah, that is where I would have my science fairs.
10:15 Henry: That’s right.
10:18 Mackie: So, where did you meet your wife?
10:23 Henry: We actually met at Oregon State. Because at that time, the foreign student community was very, very small. We had probably no more than 15 or 20 people.
10:38 Mackie: Wow, that is really small at Oregon State.
10:40 Henry: Exactly, total is not that much. You would only have about 10 or 15 people at the most that we would usually associate with. Other than that, we d(id)n’t know anybody else. Very confined.
10:56 Mackie: So, what does she do?
10:57 Henry: She is a registered dietician. She specializes in kidney dialysis.
11:07 Mackie: Oh, that is so cool.
11:08 Henry: She works for the dialysis unit. Used to be (at) Good Sam. Later on, independently. She is very specialized dialysis/nutritionist.
11:25 Mackie: That must be really interesting.
11:27 Henry: Yes, she needs to know a lot about chemistry and things like that. So, we talk a lot about it. It is fun to hear from their point of view, professionally. Dietician’s point of view how your body works.
11:49 Mackie: What are your kids doing? Or what did they do?
11:53 Henry: I got three boys. They all graduated from here (in the United States). One is working as a patent lawyer. He is an engineer from Harvey Mudd. Have you ever heard of it?
12:09 Mackie: I haven’t heard of it.
12:11 Henry: That is a college in Claremont. He was an engineer; he was a good engineer, but he decided to get into law.
12:21 Mackie: Oh wow, that is weird; two totally separate things.
12:25 Henry: Yes, that’s right. So, he actually works for a law firm right now, as an agent, not a full lawyer yet. He has to go to school. Then he wants to be a patent lawyer. And something really interesting is that out of the iPod, those things, he actually wrote over one hundred patents for Apple. Can you believe that? He loves it! So, he’s doing very well.
13:00 Mackie: Oh good! Sounds like a very smart guy.
13:03 Henry: Yeah, yeah. My second son, Scottie, your teacher, you all know him, used to play soccer every year. He went to MIT. And now, he works for Nike in the marketing, soccer field. And my little one, Justin, like I said, graduated from college four years ago. He went to UW as an EE also, like my oldest son, Mark. So, Justin did the EE and he works for a specialized automation tool company making special tools – you see on the automotive (line for) Toyota and they are making those robots holding tools (used to make) cars.
14:07 Mackie: Oh yeah, my mom works for Toyota.
14:09 Henry: He works for a company designing tools for that type of thing – automated power tools.
14:19 Mackie: Wow, that is really cool. So, they are all really successful, I see.
14:23 Henry: I have nothing to complain (about). They are doing very good. The good thing is they have all their friends still. They used to play soccer for the day. Both Scottie and Justin used to play soccer for Sunset. One time, one of the very few times – both of them (were) on the same team, they are only two years apart.
14:45 Mackie: I am surprised they didn’t fight a lot.
14:48 Henry: And then, they played with the whole bunch of friends and after college – everybody left to go to college and now they all come back. And then they still form a team and they still play soccer right here.
15:06 Mackie: Oh, that is so fun. Maybe I have seen them because I always see groups of people playing soccer, and I’m like, hmmm, that’s cool.
15:14 Henry: They’ve been playing together for a long time.
15:17 Mackie: That’s good that they get along. My sister and I fight too much. So, are you happy now that you look back, that you ended up coming and taking your mom’s advice?
15:28 Henry: Yes, I’m (a) very, very lucky person - that I had this opportunity to come to the States.
15:41 Mackie: Because if you had stayed there, what would you have done?
15:43 Henry: I have no idea what would’ve happened. But, the thing is, don’t get me wrong though. Not, everyone is the same, Everybody is different. Some of the people, they enjoy differences, enjoy diversities and things like that. I am that type of person, therefore, for the United States to me, it is very enjoyable. I like to see different people. I like to talk to different people, try different foods, see different clothes and different cultures. Everything. Because the United States, that is what it is. But, I also know some of the people that are just the opposite. They cannot enjoy differences, they do not enjoy diversity and so they have to have certain ways, they only listen to this kind of music, and only read this kind of book. So, to them, the United States is too big and too diverse. They are lost. You see, I have seen both. I guess that is an individual thing. Some of the people, enjoy the small type culture and environment. I enjoy it tremendously. Yet, I know some people are frustrated after they finish school. The first thing they want to do is go back to China. The food, they don’t like. To them, cheese steak that’s not Chinese food. They can’t stand it. But, to me, I love it, so it is different. That is an individual thing. Some of the people they have
a very fixed life or whatever you want to call it. So, don’t get me wrong, not everyone enjoys it. A lot of people don’t and I run into quite a few of them.
17:30 Mackie: Did you have siblings when you were at the time moving?
17:34 Henry: Yes, I have a sister and a brother. But, my brother passed away already. My sister is living in Los Angeles. And she is the same way as I (am). I think it has something to do with our family. My mother encouraged us to enjoy, not only just tolerate, but you enjoy the differences.
17:53 Mackie: So, when you came over, I know you came over by yourself, but did you want to bring your siblings with you?
18:00 Henry: No, they came by themselves. My sister came by herself, too. She is five years younger than me. Same thing, after college, she decided to give it a try, so she came over here. Went to the University of New York. She was on the east coast.
18:19 Mackie: So, when you came over, what was the process you
had to go through in order to become a US citizen? I know it was
probably different back then, than it is now.
18:33 Henry: Very difficult. We were just about pure, pure luck. By pure, pure luck. We were helping someone to interview for immigration and then we asked the director, “do we have a chance?” He asked us about our background. He said, “sure”. So, we applied. That was it. At the time, it was getting very, very difficult. Nobody believed that we did not spend any money, didn’t go through lawyers or anything like that. Just fill(ed) out a form, that was it.
19:06 Mackie: So, how young were you when you moved from North China to South China and South China?
19:11 Henry: Actually, our family moved to China when I was two years old, so I don’t know anything about China in those days. It was after I came here, finished school, started working, and then after a while, I decided that I wanted to get involved to the international business with China. That is the first time, I actually went back. I remember that the first time that I went back, that was in the early 80’s. China just open(ed) up and they were not used to people com(ing) from other side. The country was just right after the cultural revolution. I told my mother I (was) heading back to China and also to the town, the city that I was born. So, she told me the hospital where I was born, the name, everything, so I went back and the people hosted me over there said that the hospital was next to a park. The park is a city park – the name changed after the Communists took over. But, next to it, there is a hospital. I went over there and took a picture of the front door, the gate. I took it back and showed it to my mother. She said, after 40 years, it hasn’t been changed at all. That was right after the opening up from the cultural revolution – you know China just opened up. Now it is completely changed in the last 30 years. But, the year I visited, I would say was 1981.
21:09 Mackie: So, then after you when and visited China, did you go to Taiwan to see your family?
21:13 Henry: Yes, I traveled over there in that area. I go back
and forth. Sometimes, I would fly into Taiwan and then go to China.
Sometimes, I go to China on the way back to Taiwan. So, I go to
21:27 Mackie: So, how come China has changed so much since?
21:30 Henry: China is an old, old, civilization. Communists only came in for a short time. Because after China suffered quite a bit because of the drug problem, the opium problems, all of that. Afterwards, the war lords, the revolutions, then World War II… so the whole country went bankrupt because it completely collapsed. That is why the Communists took over and they closed door, iron curtain, so they c(ould) stabilize everything. But, Chinese (are) Chinese, Chinese (are) not necessarily Communist. So, after they have the opening up, it gave them the opportunity and people say strike.
22:26 Mackie: So, how is China’s government set up?
22:31 Henry: Strictly, single priority. One priority – Communist. They dominated everything. The party is above the government. It is the party chief that controls everything. It is not the President.
22:43 Mackie: So, there is still a Communist government there?
22:45 Henry: Oh, absolutely. It is only.
22:50 Mackie: I am surprised they are opening up to things.
22:53 Henry: Because the people will not tolerate that anymore. There is no Chairman Mao anymore. Chairman Mao (was) a person of charisma. And people followed him. But at that time, that’s not totally true. Because at that time, like I said, China was totally broke. So, when somebody came up and says, “I will take care of you, at least I will feed you, at least you won’t go hungry.” So, people followed him. But, afterwards, you realize, he needs to have that control or otherwise, your country will fall apart. So that is why the iron curtain for 40 years closed everything. But, now, you don’t have Chairman Mao anymore, so people want to have their own freedom, their own ability to pursue their own happiness. So, all of a sudden, it was opening up.
23:51 Mackie: Do you think this might be the case with North Korea as well; do you think they might someday open up? Because they will have to, right?
23:58 Henry: Eventually, when the communications and everything… I think it is knowledge. As long as with the Internet, the communications, telephones, you know all of those things. They aren’t going to go back. You know, right now, even right now…with North Korea. They have 250 of those hard labor camps with thousands and thousands of people, but that is not going to last long. Eventually people will say, “hey, why are we living in this kind of environment?”
24:34 Mackie: They don’t know better.
24:35 Henry: Yes, exactly, they don’t know better. The communications, those things will make a difference. 24:46 Mackie: You also see on the news, and the news isn’t always right, how China is controlling what the people see now, in regards, I know I saw Facebook, and online things, so in regards to that, do you think that will ever change?
25:07 Henry: It will. Recently, there was some really major political thing going on in China; they cut off all of the email, in terms of the attachments of the email. Like gmail or whatever, you attach something to it; they just cut it off. And then people were very mad. They were saying, “you can’t do this.” So, they were opening it up again. I think that the communications (are) the key thing.
25:40 Mackie: Does China do that with all types of communication? Or is it mainly just Internet? Or is it mail if you send something to China?
25:47 Henry: Right now, everyone is using Internet. Internet is 100 times more powerful than regular mail. The Internet just spreads it all over the place, so they are controlling the Internet. They hate Google. Google, at one time, was saying, “you cannot censor all of these things.” The government says, “No, we are China, why can’t we?” You know, so they have some kind (of power). They did not completely shut down the Google communications or whatever. But, it is the second level, the attachment level. Usually when you have a gmail, you have an attachment file, so whenever there is an attachment file - Nope. It won’t go through. Only the first level. So, they do that. I actually just got back about three weeks ago and during it was like I said, a major political thing going on right now. During that time, I couldn’t get anything. It is happening. But, that is going to change. Think about ten years ago - there was no email.
27:07 Mackie: Oh yeah. No TV.
27:09 Henry: True, true, you are right. When I first started, TV (was) nothing but government propaganda. All the shows, the miniseries, you can almost fit it in some kind of formula. These people did this and the government helped them, and created their lives. Every one of them was the same. It is not like here. It is completely different.
27:39 Mackie: What kind of things do you do for your job – between China and the US?
27:47 Henry: I am an engineer, so I solve lots of engineering type of problems.
27:52 Mackie: So, you would go there to solve things?
27:54 Henry: Yes, I have to go there on a regular basis, but on a daily basis, I just depend on email (and I) depend on drawings. Email is so, so, so powerful. All the drawings. That is what I was saying, the attachments. We got into problems because all the drawings all got cut off. I cannot send drawings.
28:16 Mackie: So, how do you send the drawings then?
28:19 Henry: That is only in the last 3-4 years, because recently all the things going into this. Eventually, they are going to open up again. We did not have that problem for a while. For several years, it has been great. But, recently, because one of the major things happen(ed) in China, politically, so they want(ed) to stop all of the rumors, all of the people, so they completely cut (it) off, you c(ouldn)’t read any of the news. On the news,
nothing about this. There is a serious, very, very top there are some shake ups there.
28:57 Mackie: What are the most important lessons that you have learned while being here?
29:02 Henry: I would say, enjoy the small-time culture of society because the United States for me…
29:11 Mackie: And like (the) people who grew up here… I think we take it for granted because… we are used to it. When people come here, they are like “Oh gosh, diversity”.
29:21 Henry: Exactly, when you get into some of those areas and some of those people and the way that their thinking is -- if you are not like me, then you are no good. When you get into that kind of thing, it is very difficult. Sometimes it can be very bad. The thing is, the beauty of society is that everyone is different. Why does everyone have to be the same?
29:53 Mackie: It is better when they are not the same.
29:54 Henry: Exactly, and then just enjoy that. And we are talking about tolerance of culture or whatever. I want to push it further; you need to enjoy that. Instead of just tolerating let’s say Japanese culture, but I really think everyone should learn to enjoy that. Every culture has good and bad parts.
30:28 Mackie: That is actually good advice because I think our culture builds off of all the other cultures. Because we have such a diverse group, our culture is what it is because of all the new people that came and brought ideas.
30:41 Henry: It is a brand new culture and everything is wonderful.
30:45 Mackie: Thank you for the lovely interview. I really enjoyed talking to you.
30:49 Henry: OK, I enjoyed it. It was so fun.