Immigrant Teachers: Mr. Fung

Immigrant Teachers: Mr. Fung

I came from Hong Kong when I was 11 years old and I had just finished 5th grade. It was right before the switchover of Hong Kong from the UK to China. One of the main reasons we were able to come over was that my mom’s family was already here in the US. My mom’s parents came here first and they were able to take their kids, but the only thing was my mom got married in Hong Kong. Once she was married, she became independent and not dependent on her parents anymore so my mom’s brother and sister were able to come a long time ago, but my mom wasn’t able to do so and got stuck in Hong Kong. Then, I was born and then my brothers were born. Once my grandparents and my uncles became citizens, they were able to apply for us to come over to join them. 

One of the main things we worried about was what would happen after the UK-China switchover, because you have probably heard about all the unrest happening in Hong Kong right now. They said that they were going to keep Hong Kong the same for 50 years after the switchover. That really isn’t happening so we already had fears of what may happen back then. But the main thing is really just for my mom and my family to be able to reunite with her family. 

When I got off the airport, seeing the freeway system was pretty amazing because there wasn’t one in Hong Kong. My grandparents were living in San Francisco’s Chinatown at the time. When we stepped off the car, I’m like, “Are we still in Hong Kong, because it looks exactly like Hong Kong?” Everything in there looked exactly like it so it was really nice at least for a couple months. For those couple months we were adjusting, and my parents, especially my dad, were trying to figure out what kind of work they wanted to do and then my uncle had a place in Fremont. He told us how great the schools are, so we decided to go over and live in Fremont. I finished up to sixth grade over there at Mattos Elementary. Then my parents started working and they found a house really close to my uncle’s house. We have been living in Fremont ever since. 

I went to Walters Junior High, because that’s the only school that had the English Learner program and I was still learning English at that time. I was supposed to go to Horner, but they didn’t have an EL program over there, so I had to go to Walters. It’s definitely not easy learning a new language. I had a really good teacher so I was able to learn a lot. At school, the hard part was that I was the only Cantonese speaking student in the class, whereas everyone else knew how to speak Mandarin. The only way to communicate with them was English, whereas my other friends who could speak Mandarin were able to speak Mandarin with each other. For them, it’s a little harder to learn English. But for me, I was kind of forced to learn English. 

Later on, when I went to the Peace Corps, I had to speak nothing but French the first couple of months. I just kind of thought back to my experience with learning English at the time. That really helped, just reminding myself, “Well, if you want to learn a language, you just have to keep speaking.”

I eventually got out of the EL program and was able to go back to Irvington. I had friends who were able to help me, but definitely, the English classes and history classes were always more difficult for me. Math and science, those were a little easier because in Hong Kong, their math level is much higher. All fifth grade students have already learned Algebra. 

I think the first time I realized that I adapted was when I started dreaming in English. I’m like, “Oh, I guess I don’t have to translate things into Chinese first.” That’s when I felt like I fully adjusted but that took a while; it wasn’t until I was well into high school before that happened. Same thing when I was in Guinea; it took until the second year I was there that I started dreaming in French. 

We’re lucky because my grandparents were here already. It was easier because we were reuniting with my family, basically. But I feel really bad; if it wasn’t my case, it would be much harder. For example, I have several relatives and friends who are in Hong Kong and are not able to come. Seeing what’s happening at the border with Mexico, I feel bad. A lot of them just want to be able to come and work to support their family. It would be so great if they were able to come here just as easy as I was able to. It’s no easy solution, because the more people they bring in, then well, who’s going to be able to pay for them and help them out. And even though it was really easy for me and my parents to come over, it’s not like my grandparents were supporting us. The moment we came over here, my dad had to make sure to find a job, find a house to be able to support themselves and support us growing up. I feel like if they can have that system where immigrants coming here are able to start supporting themselves as soon as possible, then I would say, yeah, let them come. Because then it’s not like our tax laws are all going toward supporting immigrants. If there’s a support system where they can come over, maybe support them for a little bit, but then right after they need to find their own jobs or find their own housing and not use our tax dollars, I’d say, yeah, let’s let more people in. That’s how I feel. But I know it’s not easy. Like I said, I felt really lucky about the fact that at least my grandparents were already here.

Deciding to become a teacher

When I was in college, my dormmates kept asking me to help tutor them in their math and science classes. I was helping them out, and they said, “You’re so great at explaining all these concepts, you should try to become a teacher.” Also at that time, I was running an AmeriCorps after school program at Berkeley High School. I knew a lot of students needed help. That’s also when I start seeing there are a lot of teachers, especially this one particular teacher who wasn’t doing his job. He wasn’t really teaching, just sitting at his desk the entire time. I didn’t realize there were teachers out there who shouldn’t be teaching, and I could do a better job. In my second semester, instead of just doing an after school program, I was actually teaching for that teacher to give me some experience in front of a couple of students who were asking for help during class time. I could just step up there to the whiteboard and start teaching. And I liked that. 

After I graduated from UC Berkeley, I went to a credential program in Oakland, and they had me teach in Oakland for two years. At that time, I decided that before I step into this career, I want to really make sure, so I went to the Peace Corps. When I came back, my school in Oakland still wanted me back. So I came back and did two more years over there. During a staff development workshop one day, I ran into Ms. Lin, who happens to be my Precalc Honors teacher when I was a student at Irvington. I learned so much from Ms. Lin. That was the hardest class ever by the way. She said that Irvington needed a math teacher. And that’s how I got started teaching here.