Asian woman walking on street with backpack asian woman smiling with pink backpack on streetOnce upon time there was a little girl from Chinatown, New York City. She was always curious and loved to daydream. All she ever known was what her immigrant parents taught her and all that was around her. She never knew the world was so much bigger than just the neighborhood she grew up in. That little girl is me.

On my last visits to New York City, I had a photo shoot right at home. Walking the busy streets and seeing how it has changed, made me a bit nostalgic. I remembered where I used to play wiffle ball down at the apartment courtyard; or where I used to take folk dancing lessons; or the grocery stands that line up on Mott street, where my mom still shops.

My first language was Cantonese. I didn’t speak English until I entered kindergarten. The school put me in ESL (English as a Second Language) class, because my English was not the same level as other kids. My mom was pissed and asked Mrs. Wong, “Why is my daughter in ESL? She’s a U.S. Citizen!” Mrs. Wong replies, “Yes, but it doesn’t matter. She speaks too much Chinese.” By the following year, I was out of that class. My mom made sure of that!

All I ever ate were different types of Chinese food. Maybe a slice of pizza at times, since Little Italy was right next door. I played Chinese jump rope. Yes, that’s a thing! And I was really good at it. I didn’t have any real non-Chinese friends until I went to college. My parents never pressured me to become a doctor or a lawyer, but was encouraged to marry a man from my dad’s village in China. Yep, that’s all I knew!

It was all very weird and hard to understand. I was stuck between two worlds, my Chinese heritage and what I saw on television. The two didn’t match-up. My curiosity went wild. I  would wonder: How come I didn’t have my own room? Why do other kids have such nice clothes? Why do my older brother and sister and I have to share one pair of clip on roller skates? You can see why I needed to get out of this place to find some answers.

Growing up there wasn’t all that easy. I’m talking about the 80′ and 90’s. There were gangs and everything illegal in between. Luckily, I had a strict father and older siblings that kept me in line. Things could’ve turned out really bad for me, if I had made just one mistake. I’ve seen it happen with some kids I grew up with. But I was too much of a goody two-shoes and a “daddy’s girl” to ever get in trouble.

As much as I didn’t want to be associated with the “bad” in Chinatown, I still feel a deep gratification to my family and the community, on how they’ve influenced me to become who I am today. In the past, people made fun of me, when they learned that I was from Chinatown, like if it was a negative upbringing or it’s “ghetto”. I used to feel embarrassed, but not anymore. I embrace it all and loved every part of my childhood. It was a humbling upbringing and I wouldn’t change one thing.

That’s the end of “my” Chinatown story and I’m sticking to it! Although I don’t live there anymore, my family still does and has been for the last 50 years. I will always have heavy ties to this town, no matter where I reside. It is home and home is where the heart is! asian woman standing in street

There’s a saying, “You can take a girl out of Chinatown, but you can’t take the Chinatown out of the girl.”  


XO, E.


All photos by Jack Davidson

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Lana Pierce January 10, 2018 at 9:09 PM

Lovely stories.

elisa January 11, 2018 at 10:09 PM

Thank you Lana! There’s so much more to stories to tell and I hope to share more on the blog!

Cortney Bigelow January 10, 2018 at 11:05 PM

Such a good post, E! It’s so funny how different our outlook on life changes as we get older. We get so much wiser and more appreciative of everything about our upbringing — I can relate there! xo

elisa January 11, 2018 at 10:08 PM

Thanks Cort! Hope to hear your story soon love!

Ava January 11, 2018 at 4:06 PM

Your story was so sincere and nice!! I never knew any of the things you said in your blog! Reading your blog makes me learn more about you even though I am family! Lol!!! Love you!

elisa January 11, 2018 at 10:08 PM

There’s so many more stories to share with you my sweet Ava! And I hope you get a chance to hear all of it…

Ellen Ng January 11, 2018 at 6:36 PM

OMG! I was talking to a girl at a friends gathering who also like you grew up in Chinatown during the same time frame (i am guessing). She did mention the chinese jump rope which i thought was just a fabrication to make thing authentic (and that her all friends mom’s all had some type of factory type job). Although she didn’t speak Chinese really well, she has said she had mostly asian friends as it was the population when she grew up and knew the store fronts that use to be Chinatown. Sharing your story made me appreciate all the little things I grew up with and not be jealous of what everyone else’s beginnings were better than mine. Thank you for putting it out there and being proud of who you are. A great role model you are.

elisa January 11, 2018 at 10:07 PM

You just made my day! Your comments encourage me to want to share more of my personal story. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Means so much to me!


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