Reflections: Mei-Hua

Mei-Hua Li AR 2.jpg

Mei-Hua joined A-VOYCE when she was a freshman in high school, nearly a decade ago, after learning about this program through the Boston Youth Fund. Although the history classes in school touched on immigration in the US, Mei-Hua realized that the curriculum did not include much on Asian immigrant narratives. Only through ACDC did she learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was the first law in the US implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States. She took the initiative to further research the Act, incorporated it into her school papers, and shared this part of history with Chinatown walking tour visitors.

As told by Mei-Hua Li:

“Back then, I was not an outspoken person, but A-VOYCE emphasized public speaking skills and how to advocate for ourselves. I believe this is important to teach young Asians and Asian Americans because traditionally, we tend to refrain from sharing our ideas in school or in the community. Working with A-VOYCE was a good starting point to develop my identity as a teenager, but also to understand how I can make an impact. As a result, I became more involved with the Culture Club at my high school and eventually became the President. In college, I joined the Asian Studies Initiative at Boston University (ASIABU), an academic group on campus to spread awareness about Asian culture. Eventually, I became more involved with my ethnic church, and continued to serve fellow immigrants through teaching them conversational ESL.

I am a first generation immigrant and the first in my family to graduate from college. I came to the US when I was 11 years old, and kept strong ties to my Chinese heritage after I moved here. In high school, I felt conflicted between identifying as Asian and American. Alan Ratliff and Amy Cheung, former A-VOYCE coordinators, helped me realize that I can be both. I wrote about this experience in college applications.

Amy was really helpful when I applied to college. She helped me recognize my strengths, and encouraged me to submit my story as a first-generation immigrant to the Harvard Education Review. I was so excited when it was published! That experience taught me that I could share my story and hopefully have a positive impact on those who are going through similar experiences.

I learned about gentrification from ACDC, and started to notice outside developers building luxury condos in Chinatown, driving out long-term residents. It felt like Chinatown was losing its sense of community. As a new immigrant, living in a tight-knit community helped my family transition to life in the US. It benefitted us so much. Seeing that same community starting to dissolve is devastating.

Now, as a young adult, I can reflect on my experience with ACDC and see how A-VOYCE cultivated a sense of community for me, how I want to help fellow immigrants. As a former Chinatown resident and being bilingual, I have the skills and perspective to help others. I studied speech therapy, and now I’m in graduate school studying behavioral therapy. After high school, I continued to volunteer at ACDC for various events and projects, and though I haven’t been as active in the last few years, the passion for serving the community that I developed has stayed with me. I get to combine my love of helping others with my bilingual skills to work with Chinese-speaking families with children who have special needs.

If I didn’t join A-VOYCE, my life would be very different. I might have gone to another youth program, but ACDC’s focus on community development and affordable housing—my family also lived in affordable housing—made me realize how it is so important that we continue to advocate for this. It’s amazing that there are organizations like ACDC that seek the wellness of low-income families and programs like A-VOYCE to help youth to find a place where they feel belong and contribute to the community where they live in.”