Emily, a hotel housekeeper and mother of one in San Francisco


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Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m working in a small hotel as a housekeeper. I’ve been living in the U.S. for a year. I came here in October 2015 with my husband and daughter.


How old is your daughter? What does your husband do?

My daughter is 7 years old. My husband works at a seafood store in Chinatown.


Why did you family decide to come over to the U.S.?

Because my mother-in-law is here by herself. She has two sons. Her other son is still waiting for his green card application to be processed. Our application went faster. Since she’s older and alone, we wanted to come over, live together, and take care of her. My brother-in-law is still in China waiting — it will maybe take several years.


What would you say are the differences of life here versus life in China?

In China, it was all Chinese people. I felt more safe, but I also wanted to leave China and go to another country to know more people and learn more. As for my daughter, here she is more free, while in China she had too much homework every day. It’s more relaxing here.


Tell us about where you live and how you got your home?

My mother-in-law used to live there. Last year when we came, the previous tenant happened to be moving out of the state. We moved in in November. It’s a studio and about 150 square feet. It’s not bad, compared to other people’s small rooms. I’m easy to satisfy. I believe life needs to be built up step-by-step. It’ll get better.


How did you get your job?

Once I moved here, I went to do volunteer work. My diploma is not recognized here. Unless you go to a really good school in China like Tsing Hua, it’s not recognized.

So when I first heard there was a cleaning class, I immediately enrolled. I enrolled in December, but the class wouldn’t start until January. So during that gap time I went to participate in volunteer work. I went to help in a nonprofit organization.


Where are you getting the volunteer work from?

YMCA, Chinese Newcomers Service Center, Chinatown Community Development Center, Here Local 2.


Is that also how you got your cleaning job?

No. On Jackson Street, there’s a nonprofit organization called One Stop—Chinatown One Stop Career Link Center — they offer free career training. So I took their class from January until April. They also introduce you to jobs.

There happened to be a small hotel that was looking for people, so I went to the interview and got the job. I also went to the airport for another job, which was to pack utensils. They only chose me and one of my classmates. But I didn’t take it because it’s too far, it would take me one hour to get there, even though it’s a good job.


Have you had other jobs since you moved here?

Before my current cleaning job, my job was to take care of an older man of about 90 years old. I worked two hours a day, and the schedule was pretty flexible, so I went to take classes when I was not working.

Then I joined the Keep Chinatown Clean program, which is run by the Newcomers Service Center. So I worked for several month cleaning streets in Chinatown as part-time work. It’s a government-funded program to make Chinatown cleaner and better.

Another job I had was to clean hospitals, school labs, and sometimes apartments. It was in June. But since I had too many jobs, my income became too high, so I might lose our family’s white card (Medi-Cal). The hospital work was from 3 to 11 pm, but my mother-in-law and my daughter needed to be taken care of, so I had to stop working there — even though I enjoyed it. I haven’t quit the UC hospital job, and they still have me on their list, but I just don’t work hours there right now.

Compared to taking care of seniors, housekeeping is what I prefer to do, and since the Keep Chinatown Clean program ended in June, right now I’m only keeping the UC hospital job and the small hotel job.


What’s your dream for the future?

Being able to apply for low-income housing. At least that our living situation will get better. Then I hope my daughter will be able to learn more arts, as she studied piano and drawing back in China. I hope that she will keep developing her art talent, because going to art classes is really expensive here.

Compared to China, some living expenses here are very high, like classes for my daughter. Back in China, my daughter joined summer art classes. She was also elected into the elementary school swimming team. Here, she goes to some government funded classes like YMCA swimming class and drawing class.


In the future, what kind of work do you want to do?

I wish to have just one job that can offer health insurance coverage for our whole family. I used to work as a graphic designer in China, and I feel so tired from being a designer in my 10-year career. So after moving here, I had to start out with a job that’s entry-level, because my degree isn’t recognized and I don’t speak English. I just need to work with care and do the best as I can. Other than that, I’d like to do more volunteer work in my free time.


How do you get your voice out there in your community?

I hope there’s more opportunities where people from different places and of different races can come sit together and talk with each other and listen to each other.


Why do think it’ll be important for folks to come together?

Because when I worked in UC, I worked with people of different races. After talking to them I found that actually most of them were very nice. Since we were coworkers and my English is not very good, they tried to accommodate me.

For example, they wrote down some words on notes for me. It’s a good way to learn and I usually would have a deeper understanding of those words. It also helped me practice my oral English. Sometimes they changed to easier words for me to understand. So I think the most important thing is to talk and communicate, otherwise people will be wary of each other.


What do you want people from other communities to know about you and family?

I want them to know that we are kind. If you have troubles, I'd like to help you, regardless of who you are.