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A Bill Moyers Special - Becoming American: The Chinese Experience

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Dr. David Ho
Dr. David Ho. Photo Credit: Kelly Campbell

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Video: Immigration Reform Act -
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David Ho Arrives In America

"I was 12 when I came, and I remember thinking it's truly a different world."

By David Ho

The 1965 Immigration act had a profound impact on the makeup of the U.S. population. Our citizenry became far more diverse and the law opened up opportunities for non-white immigrants that had been off-limits prior to its passage. Below, 1996's TIME Magazine Man of the Year, Dr. David Ho, talks about his own arrival.

BILL MOYERS: The year you and your mother and your family came to join your father was 1965, the year the new immigration law removed the old quotas for non-European immigrants. Was your family aware of the law?

DR. DAVID HO: I knew absolutely nothing about it at that time, and even after arrival I did not know very much. I just knew that the conditions were better to allow us to come. I didn't know what that meant. To this day, my father worships JFK and LBJ for what they did to have the laws changed so that his family could come. Certainly for a lot of Chinese Americans I know it's crucial, myself included.

I was 12 when I came, and I remember thinking it's truly a different world. You know, you go from bicycles to cars, from shopping in the village market to supermarkets and from Chinese to English. I was a six grader and my brother was a fourth grader, and in Taiwan one does not learn English until you get to middle school so we had absolutely no exposure to the language. We did not know the alphabet. So we started from step one, and it was a culture shock on top of a language barrier. Looking back, I would say after one semester we were communicative in English and after a year or two I think we were pretty fluent. And I'm glad I don't have to go through that process as an adult. I think the brains of youngsters are wired in such a way that they can really adjust very quickly. And we did.

We were each given an English name, hence — I'm David. And my father did it very simply, Dae He is D-A-E, and he just thought David was the closest thing. So that's how he chose it. And my brother is Hung Yee, and he picked Philip as something that's close to that.

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