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Oral history interview conducted by April Reynosa
November 12, 2011
Call number: 2011.019.002
APRIL REYNOSA: OK. Today is November 19th, 2011. Um this is April Reynosa,and I am conducting a life history interview with Teresa Ish. And we are in Brooklyn, New York and this is part of the Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations Project. Um conducted by the Brooklyn Historical Society. And Teresa, we're just going to start out with you telling me when you were born, um and where you were born. And then let's hear a little bit about your early life.
TERESA ISH: OK. Um I was born in Fresno, California in [date redacted forprivacy]. Um almost in Clovis, um right on the border of Clovis, which if you know the Central Valley is quite a bit different than Fresno. It's a little more rural, a little more kind of quaint, and a little I guess fancier in a way. Um to Jack and Jenny Ish. Um my parents met when my dad was in the Peace Corps in Malaysia. He had served two years in Borneo, and then the next two years in 1:00Kuala Lumpur, teaching English. And-- and lived either next to or underneath um my mom's family's apartment. Um so I-- I-- the home I came to-- home to after the hospital was the home I left when I graduated from high school.
We lived in the same house my whole life. My parents didn't move until far--pretty far after I graduated from college. Um and then they just moved still within-- within Fresno. Um so same house my whole life, there is-- there are people I went to kindergarten with that I graduated high school with. And I don't know, I guess um my family is so kind of normal that we're atypical. They're still married-- or actually everyone in my family is-- who had gotten married is still married. Um everyone's pretty happy, and there's no like (pause) no real crazy. (laughter)
APRIL REYNOSA: (laughter)
TERESA ISH: Um there's a little bit of crazy. There's always crazy. Andthere's chaos, but-- but not like a lot of drama, I guess. Um I have one 2:00younger sister, she's uh five and a half years younger than me, and she lives in San Francisco. And then there-- I had a brother who was between us, and he passed away at about a month old. He had a congenital heart defect. So um my mom-- my parents had three kids. Um (pause) let's see. Um I went to the neighborhood elementary school. I was obsessed with Strawberry Shortcake like a lot of kids in the '70s. I had Strawberry Shortcake wallpaper, like very overwhelmingly pink bedroom, which is so not (pause) with my personality. Strawberry Shortcake tennis shoes, I mean just completely over the top. Um but not really. I-- it sometimes seems like that little kid is not at all where I am now. But there probably-- there probably is some of that still. (laughter) Not the pink part at least. Um (pause) I-- I don't know, I had a pretty normal childhood. 3:00
Um we went camping every summer at Shafer Lake, and as my parents got-- gotolder we went from te-- a tent or back-- and backpacking to a tent at a campground, to a camper van in a campground, to a trailer in a campground, and then my parents now have a timeshare on a cabin. (laughter) So it got increasingly wimpy as the time went on, but it was fine. So it was on a lake, we grew up water skiing, and my dad fished, and so moderately outdoorsy, but not you know, like really, really intense. I definitely enjoy kind of hiking and that sort of stuff that came out of that.
Um (pause) I-- yeah, I-- I-- I feel like growing up, it was just kind of so4:00(pause) like idyllically normal that it's hard to kind of go into a lot of detail going through cause there's-- there's nothing I feel like it was kind of particularly um (pause) I mean there's lots of little things that stand out, but there's no kind of like life defining event that I think people with maybe more challenging childhoods have.
Um I-- I did really well in school, I um took a bunch of AP classes, I wasCaptain of the Swim Team, and in student council, and um (pause) was like a couple of Bs away from valedictorian. So I mean I kind of had a really-- I had a really set up. My parents were really supportive. They were at every swim meet with-- with um timing. They would-- they would sit and they would time the races at the end of the lane. And um and um they were both teachers. My dad taught severely handicapped adults. And my mom started out in a bank, and then when my sister and I were really young, she went back and got her college 5:00degree. And um ended up teaching high school and teaching business in high school. So you know, again, like very standard middle class. They were both teachers, they-- my mom was an immigrant, so clearly she's-- you know, there's not like a ton of family financial support coming from there.
And my dad's parents um his dad was also a teacher, he was a music teacher. Umand his mom was a piano teacher, so on the side. Very musical family from-- from my dad's side. My dad has such bad rhythm that your eyes are supposed to kind of like pulsate on rhythm, and his don't. I mean um-- absolutely appalling, cannot carry a tune, can't s-- can't dance, can't play any musical instruments. And I'm sure his-- his parents tried every possible instrument for him to play, and not a thing. Um my sister and I were both subjected to piano 6:00lessons when we were little. And you know what? I think if I had stuck with it, it would have been fine. I mean I'm definitely would never have been like some you know, musical prodigy. But I can still read music very slowly, and can pluck things out. I don't really have a good ear, but at least the rhythm part is nowhere near bad as my dad's was. (laughter)
Um and he has a twin brother and an older brother, and all three of them arehorrible, musically. I mean it just totally skipped. And a couple months ago I was talking to him about it kind of asking him like not trying to straight up ask him if he thought his parents were disappointed, (laughter) but kind of trying to figure out how they must have felt that you know, music was such a huge part of their lives. And they end up with three kids who appreciate it. I mean they-- they all like listen to and enjoy music. But can't-- can't play at all. I mean I'm sure when one musician marries another, you have kind of these grand dreams of like the family band, and playing music around the house, and 7:00that (laughter) totally did not happen at all.
Um (pause) so-- my um-- my grandmother grew up in Kingsburg, California, whichis a small town-- uh a small Swedish village outside of Fresno, like 40 miles outside. Her last-- her maiden name was [Swenson], and her relatives are [Johnsons], and [Bergstroms], and [Ingstroms]. So there's fully Swedish. And um even her family there's tons of musicians on that side that have all come out of that. And um my dad's family is very close knit. I remember probably until I was five or six, we would do Christmas and Thanksgiving with his-- all of his cousins. And so um my grandmother's youngest sister had I think five kids and um they would all get together-- her older sister's two-- three kids, and their families, and then my dad and his two brothers. So there were easily like 65 8:00people at Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. And they would turn the garage into like a-- like two, giant, big long rows of tables with small kids tables. And I was pretty young, so there weren't that many kids. But it got to the point where uh for my-- my dad's cousin, so my grandmother's youngest sister's grandkids-- or kids, most of those families had four to five kids each. So we continued to get together just for 4th of July, cause Christmas and everything got too chaotic. And there-- I think there was one point where there were like 20 kids under 12 there. It was-- it was insanity. And um you know, we still see them, and I-- I'm-- I'm surprising-- surprisingly close considering how kind of far removed the family is.
On my mom's side, uh so I mentioned she was born in Malaysia. She moved overhere when-- when she and my dad got married. And um once she moved over, she 9:00started the sponsorship process to bring over her siblings. Um it got a bit easier because um my grandmother was married to an Australian. And-- and also because they were in Malaysia, they could go to Britain very easily because it was-- it was a colony. And so um it rather than having people coming directly from Malaysia, they would-- they would come via England cause it was easier to get sponsorship there. So first her-- her next younger (pause) her-- the third sister, the third-- the third daughter came over; um my Aunt Joan. And she was a nurse in England, and so she came over here, and she was a nurse, and worked at the Children's Hospital. Which I think for my mom and dad, ended up being something really appreciated. Especially when my brother was in the hospital, that she was there and she would check up on them and stuff like that.
Um and then my mom's second youngest sister came in when I was really young umand lived with them for a while. And the-- they have all kinds of crazy-- she-- 10:00she's always been an-- not odd, but-- but kind of a bit more high strung than the rest of the-- well, my other aunt is also high strung, but in a very intense way. She visited, and she's actually-- she would have been a perfect New Yorker, right? She-- instead, she lives in Nebraska now where it totally doesn't fit. But she would have been a perfect New Yorker. She like power walks down the street. If someone next to her is smoking a cigarette, she like is very kind of passive aggressive loud about like coughing, and looking over at them. Like she's got the crowd management handled. Like she can deal with a big city. So she's high strung in that way. This other one is just um-- who's great. I grew up with them, they were-- I probably-- they were probably the family members I would-- the aunts and stuff I was closest to because they lived in Fresno with us. They were all really close, we saw them really frequently. Um they always bought me the good clothes for my birthday, Christmas too.
Um she's just-- she's just very like nervous about a lot of things. And so they11:00have this story where I think it was before I was born in-- in the house that-- that I grew up in. Um my parents had locked themselves out, and she was still living there, and she was asleep. They had gone to church or something in the morning, and basically kind of broke in the house to-- to let themselves back in. And she got scared because she thought there was an intruder, so she jumped out the window. It's a one story house, it's not that bad. But she like you know, broke-- opened the window, broke the screen, and jumped out the window. But you know, in those 1970s tract homes, the window is-- was probably like four and a half feet off the ground. And so (laughter) I don't know how she did it, but um she jumped out the window and ran to the neighbor's house. (laughter) Um cause she, you know, she wasn't going to check or anything.
Um (pause) so then after she came over, my um-- my uncle, my oldest uncle umwho's (pause) who's-- so there are three daughters, and then my uncle um Peter. 12:00So he came over next from England, and then um right after he came over, my grandmother came over from England. But my-- my grandfather and my grandmother's son stayed in England or the-- the youngest son. Um my uncle Johnny is five years older than me. My-- there are pictures of my grandmother pregnant at my mom's wedding. Um (pause) so and then yeah, and then-- then she-- then he and my grandfather-- step grandfather came over, and then um my aunt, who still lived in Malaysia cause she married a Chinese Malay-- well, my family's all Chinese, but-- but lived in Malaysia. Um uh-- they came over later with their two daughters when they were in elementary school. And one of them's the same age as my sister, so they went to school together.
Although we-- um I mean-- I'm actually not that close to those cousins, I'm muchcloser to the cousins on the other side. Um (pause) so yeah, my grandmother was 13:00pregnant when my mom got married. That was her third husband. Um she had a pretty like traumatic marriage experiences I guess. Um so she-- my-- she was pregnant with my mom when she was 18, and she was married to um a guy-- a Chinese man. Um and I don't-- you know, it's-- it's all kind of like family rumor, and I haven't-- not family rumor. We talk about it openly, but it's never some-- it hasn't been something where I've kind of sat down and really asked her about. But she um (pause) her husband was-- her husband and her mother in law were essentially shot when the communists were invading Malaysia. And she was pregnant with my mom. Um (pause) so my mom never-- has never met her father. Uh apparently, the-- his-- his mother, so my grandmother's mother 14:00in law was literate, and at that's really rare for-- for a Chinese woman of that age. And so I don't know exactly what it was, but somehow they had gone to Malaysia cause they had the left the-- the Chinese court. Um when they were fleeing during-- during the rebellions and revolutions that took over.
APRIL REYNOSA: Wow.
TERESA ISH: Um I have no idea what his first name is, what her family name is.Um whenever I've tried to do genealogy stuff, it always stops right there. Um and you know, I have nothing to go on. Um and then so she-- she remarried. I don't know how old my mom was; I think fairly young. She remarried um a guy who was half Scottish, half-- half Chinese. Um he-- he apparently was a bodyguard for um (pause) uh Chiang Kai Shek.
APRIL REYNOSA: Wow.
TERESA ISH: Um so (pause) I-- he-- I don't know exactly what he was doing orwhere he, you know, fit into that either but um he ended up in Malaysia I'm 15:00guessing because of the Maoist regime.
APRIL REYNOSA: Mmhmm.
TERESA ISH: Um and-- and he-- that's most-- the majority of my mom's siblings.So three sisters and one brother are from that dad. Um he ended up working in the tin mines. I don't know what he exactly did, but he worked in the tin mines in Malaysia, and his mine collapsed, and he was killed. Um but it turned out that he had another family in (pause) in the UK. And so when he died, them being the like legitimate family, got kind of all of the survivor's benefit.
So here's my grandmother, she (pause) she was I think fairly well off when shewas really young. I can-- I'll go back to that. But she basically had like a six grade education with um five kids, you know, living in Malaysia without really kind of any-- any resources. Um but she made it work. I mean all the 16:00kids, they-- they went to a missionary school, they went to a Methodist Missionary School; British Methodist Missionary School. Um and she just like soldiered on, and they all-- you know, they're all fine. They're all great, they're all college educ-- well, all-- all but two are college educated. Um they're all living in the US now, they're all doing very well for themselves. You know, have-- a lot of them have families.
And you know, it's-- it's really amazing. She's-- she's a very kind of quietand obviously, she's a Chinese-- old, Chinese woman, so she's small. (laughter) This very kind of quiet, small woman. And the fact that she had the strength to do that is just completely amazing. Um and then her last husband, um the only grandfather that I know from that side, he's Australia. He was working in the-- on the oil-- in oil rigs out in Australia and in the oil industry. And um I say the oil industry, and I know you think-- it sounds like you know, Dynasty 17:00or something like that. He was like a rig operator, not fancy oil industry. Um but he worked in the oil industry. And so um my-- my youngest uncle is-- is his son, so and half Chinese like 6'2", it's-- it's quite um-- it's not really always expected. (laughter) British accent, grew up in the UK. Um he apparently named me; my youngest uncle.
APRIL REYNOSA: Oh wow.
TERESA ISH: Um he was-- he and my grandmother went over-- or right around thetime I was born. There were pictures of him holding me like as a newborn. And um he named me. So he--.
APRIL REYNOSA: And-- and what's the significance of the name?
TERESA ISH: I-- I think he just liked it.
APRIL REYNOSA: Mmhmm.
TERESA ISH: And then um I have a-- my Chinese-- my middle name is Chinese name.My sister though has no Chinese name (laughter) at all. So I don't know if they just kind of lost incentive once they were-- and neither did my brother. Um so I don't know what like why didn't that carry through, but. 18:00
APRIL REYNOSA: And what's that like to have the dual kind of hybrid name?
TERESA ISH: Um it's-- it's [Lin]. It's a very easy--.
APRIL REYNOSA: OK.
TERESA ISH: But it's just-- it's spelled in kind of the pinyin, like Chinese way.
APRIL REYNOSA: Mmhmm.
TERESA ISH: Um my mom actually-- she speaks Cantonese, but she can't write. Mygrandmother because of her little bit of education speaks Mandarin, and Cantonese, and then can write you know, as well as some of the kind of sixth or seventh grade education can. But um so she's the only one who's kind of-- who-- none-- none of my mom's siblings can-- can write Chinese. And actually, my-- my cousins who grew up in Malaysia, they obviously speak Chinese, they also speak Malay, and then they-- they speak English. Just because that's how the education system works out there.
APRIL REYNOSA: Oh, wow.
TERESA ISH: Um no one over there speaks-- speaks Hindi though except for theIndians. It's-- it's-- I don't know, it's a very-- a strange-- it's a strange country for how-- there are-- there are three major ethnic groups. There's-- 19:00there's Malays, there's um (pause) Indians, and there's Chinese. And they all dislike each other, and they're all, all very separate. And the Chin-- the Chinese, you know, you have to learn Malay in school, but the Chinese also speak Malay. And most of them are Christians, so they also speak English. And then the Malays pretty much just speak Malay, all the upper class Malays also learn English and Chinese. And old Malays speak Chinese-- or English because it was a British colony and switched it over later. Um and the Indians obviously speak English as well as Hindi, but no one else speaks Hindi but them. No one else, you know, bothers cause they're kind of the poor laborer class, um and they speak Malay too and probably some of them speak Chinese too because that's kind of how it goes.
APRIL REYNOSA: Adapting, mm hmm.
TERESA ISH: Yeah. Um (pause) I don't speak Chinese. Apparently, I told my momwhen I was two that I was American and not Chinese, and therefore did not have to learn it. There's um there's video of me singing songs in Chinese when I was really little. I don't really know what they are, what they-- um mean or 20:00anything. And I still pressed her to this day like why did you listen to me when I said that? When I insisted-- I mean you could have just continued to speak to me in Chinese. (laughter) Like-- I mean I could have had no choice in the matter. But I feel like um it was-- there was just kind of this thing in the '70s where I feel like people thought that raising bilingual kids was not helpful. And cause my um my dad's cousin married a-- a-- a Latina woman, and they also didn't speak-- teach their kids Spanish. And living in the Central Valley, that's even more appalling where there's so many Spanish speakers. So it-- I mean I think that just-- people just didn't do that. Whereas now, I feel like everyone's kind of making this whole, big effort to make sure their kids grow up bilingual. And it just was never even an option for me.
APRIL REYNOSA: Does your mom ever tell you why, or does she ever share--?
TERESA ISH: She-- no, she's just kind of like well, you didn't want to.21:00(laughter) I probably also didn't want to take a bath, and you still made me do that. (laughter) I mean it doesn't-- just because a little kid doesn't want to do something doesn't always mean you go with it. And I would hope that if I had learned, that I would be teaching [Jun]. Um I took Chinese in college. They only had-- they only ever offer Mandarin, so it's kind of a-- I've thought about taking Chinese a number of times. But it's like well, you know, I'm really taking it to learn about my family and connect to them, but none of them speak Mandarin. So you know, I might as well not bother. But I did take it in college; it was one of the worst classes I ever took. (laughter) And I mean it was just a bad class all around. The teacher was not Chinese, people in the class who were native speakers were like he's totally pronouncing that wrong, that's not right. Um (pause) he wasn't you know, all that friendly. (laughter) It-- I struggled with it. I mean it's a hard language to learn as an adult. And even though I was used to hearing tonal languages, it still, it never really 22:00caught on. And the stuff we learned was ridiculous, like the lobster jumped out of my hands into my girlfriend's purse. That was in our phrase book. Did you have that same phrase book?
APRIL REYNOSA: (laughter) Wow. Yes, I did. (laughter)
TERESA ISH: Yeah. Yeah. And-- and a dog's my friend, and my friends are dogs,but you are not my friend. Or you are my friend, but you are not a dog.
APRIL REYNOSA: That's great you remember. (laughter)
TERESA ISH: Real-- I remember the English translation, and I could-- I couldwith some thinking, probably do the Chinese one. Although I wouldn't be saying the right thing. But it was such an appalling-- I-- I couldn't have found a bathroom. I mean there was nothing useful that came out of that. Which made it a lot harder cause that also was not a conversation I was going to have with my grandmother. So (laughter) yeah. So the two-- two quarters of that, and that was over.
Um and I just, I haven't gone back. Um I do-- I do really want Jun to learnChinese. Um (pause) you know, I've asked my mom a few times to try just like just talk to her in Chinese. Don't even bother with the English, she'll pick it 23:00up. Even though they don't see each other that often. But you know, she's just-- she's not committed to it, and I don't know if that's really enough to make her-- to make-- to let Jun really pick up on it. Um there-- it's-- Eric-- Eric um has two co-- three cousins in San Francisco. And there's a Chinese public school, and it-- so all three of those cousins speak fluent Cantonese and Mandarin. So his um little, blonde cousins have a leg up on (laughter)-- on me.
APRIL REYNOSA: Wow.
TERESA ISH: So that-- I mean that's actually been one of the things that if wemoved to San Francisco, I would really like to try to get her in there. But I think we'd be competing with a lot of other folks who are probably in the same situation as me. Although I-- you know, I don't-- I don't (pause) meet as many-- well, I guess most of the first generation kids who are Asian-- both of their parents are Asian-- and so I don't-- a lot of them speak Chinese. And I-- 24:00I don't know a lot of kids my age-- at least where I was growing up-- that were-- that were mixed race. So it--.
APRIL REYNOSA: Do you-- so do you ki-- consider those kids your peers or do youfeel like you had a real-- could you relate to them?
TERESA ISH: The-- the Asian kids?
APRIL REYNOSA: Uh huh.
TERESA ISH: I mean I had Asian friends, but they-- you know, how schools kind ofdivide up into ethnic cliques. And there was like the Asian group.
APRIL REYNOSA: Mmhmm.
TERESA ISH: But my Asian friends were not in the Asian group. They were in thelike I guess it was a white group, although it wasn't really white. It was-- it was pretty mixed. But it was like the-- there was like the traditional, high school American group. And then there were the kind of other ethnic groups around. And so my Asian friends were in the-- you know, they were athletes, and (pause) kind of more--.
APRIL REYNOSA: So there was other--.25:00
TERESA ISH: More mainstream like traditional, high school track of kids. Umbecause where I grew up, so-- where I grew up, most of the Asians were Hmong and southeast Asian. And so they clearly had a very different experience than I did, you know. They were still-- yeah, they were both you know, first or second generation. But their parents were refugees, and a lot of times their parents didn't speak English. And I came from a house with two, college educated folk. I mean it was just-- it was different. It was, I think, more stratified along those lines. So um although my-- one of my good friends, [Hahn], she's Vietnamese. Or one of my good friends in high school is Vietnamese, and she-- her family was also um a refugee from family. She came up without her family. But-- or without her dad. It was just her, and her mom, and some siblings. But she somehow also managed to kind of fall into the (pause) less of the like Southeast Asian clique, and more of the mainstream, America side. 26:00
Um (pause) so yeah, I mean it was-- it-- there was (pause) one) I don't lookparticularly Chinese. Um I-- I actually have a much-- I have a very easy time in Hawaii cause people think I'm mixed Hawaiian instead. And people often think my mom is Filipino or something like that instead cause she's kind of darker complexion, taller, um rounder eyes. That's just wherever they were from in China that was the look. And so between my dad's blonde hair and blue eyes, and I have green eyes, and I-- most people would not even guess that I was half Chinese.
It's really nice for traveling. I can-- if I keep my mouth shut, I can kind offake it almost anywhere. Um (pause) and-- and-- but, you know, obviously once I speak (laughter) everyone knows I'm American. But I can go to Hawaii, and it's-- it's really--. I surf, and so surfing in Hawaii, when you look Hawaiian, a lot easier. I can travel through Latin American and people usually don't 27:00think I'm you know, Latina, but they kind of wonder if I'm like mixed with some Indian blood-- you know, native blood. It's-- it makes it-- I could be Mediterranean in the right. So that-- and that makes that sort of nice and easy. But um (pause) yeah, so I-- I wouldn't have said that I grew up with any kind of particular um (pause) like Asian experience.
We celebrate Chinese New Year. But again, since my mom's whole family went toum Methodist boarding schools, it was-- they-- they all grew up Christian. Um (pause)--.
APRIL REYNOSA: Describe Chinese New Year, how you celebrate it.
TERESA ISH: Uh we eat a lot. We don't do like the full ritual. There's nocleaning of the house, there's no really going around visiting neighbors. Unmarried folks get [foreign term], you get money, which is-- I mean basically, 28:00I did it for the money and food, right? (laughter) I mean that-- that was--.
APRIL REYNOSA: In the red envelope? Mmhmm.
TERESA ISH: Yeah. Yeah, the little, red envelope. Um and yeah, and we just eatand get together. But honestly, my-- since everyone except for my aunt, who's living in Nebraska, lived pretty near my parents when they immigrated. It-- we-- we got together every Sunday night for dinner anyway. Basically, Chinese food. So Chinese new year was like five extra dishes and money. Like it wasn't hugely, hugely different. Um (pause) so yeah, that-- I mean that was nice. My-- having my grandmother there, and I grew up with like home cooked I guess Malays-- Malaysian style Chinese food. Um my mom-- when I was little though, I hated Chinese food. I wouldn't eat it. And they would go out to eat, and my mom would stop and get me McDonald's.
Um and she says it's because when she was pregnant with me, she ate Chinese foodonce and got just like awfully ill. Like totally sick, and couldn't eat it 29:00while she was pregnant. She was like even then, even then you didn't want it. But she would sit in the garden and eat strawberries straight from the patch, and that's kind of all I wanted when I was little. So I don't know which way it is. If-- if (laughter) somehow, something in like fetal me rejecting it early on, or-- or just the fact that she didn't eat it, and I never kind of developed the flavor. Um but again, having someone to home cook it means that you can get very Americanized version. And once my grandmother moved to the US, she would make um bao, which are the-- the s-- everyone just calls them steam buns here. And you know, most people get the pork buns, but I got peanut butter with a little bit of sugar and sesame in them. It was like I don't know how much w-- I don't know if there is a better food symbol for me growing up as that. I mean how much more American can you get than peanut butter? And then all kind of toasted up in this nice, little steamed bun. And so that-- those were always 30:00what I got growing up. And when I go home now, I-- she sends like a big bag full home with me.
APRIL REYNOSA: Wow. That's a great example of like a hybrid you know, meal. (laughter)
TERESA ISH: Yeah. Yeah. (laughter)
APRIL REYNOSA: That's really great.
TERESA ISH: Yeah. And they're really good. (laughter) It's a goodcombination, the sesame and peanut butter. It's really nice.
APRIL REYNOSA: That sounds good.
TERESA ISH: Um so you know, I've (pause) opened up a little bit to eat Chinesefood. I'm a little better about it now, but I don't really cook it, and I'll leave that to my-- my mom and grandmother. I did learn how to make bao though, and [Jun] and I made it for the first time together a couple weeks ago. And she mostly just ate the raw dough, and I gave her one piece to you know, smash a lot. There's not a lot of cooking going on with the one and a half year old. But yeah, I think she had fun, and she liked it. So I stuffed it with kaya, which is this um it's southeast Asian, it's um like a sweetened coconut paste. Um very creamy, really sweet; really, really sweet. So it was a big hit.
Um (pause) yeah, and then my parents came-- came out to visit. We-- there's--31:00there are a couple of Malaysian restaurants in Sunset Park, and most of the Malaysian restaurants out here are run by Chinese. Um Chinese Malaysian food is-- I mean there's general Malaysian food, but Chinese Malaysian food is slightly different. And then there's straight Malaysian, which is actually very different. They're the Chinese that came over on the first wave. So their food is even different than the kind of food that my-- my family um (pause) is used to. Um but it was-- it was great.
So because of the work that I do, um I get to travel a fair bit. And so um Iwent to Malaysia for a meeting four years ago. And I had been once, when I was a baby. Um my-- when I was like two, my parents went back. It was the only time they had been back since my mom left in '72. So this was '80. It had been a long time. Um and it was really surprising how familiar everything was, even though I hadn't been there. I mean the food is very familiar, the-- the accents 32:00of the um-- of the Chinese people was-- it was like listening to my aunts. Um and it's not like they have an accent because English is their second language. It's just the (pause) the you know, the local dialect, the local accent for English. And they're just like-- it's just like listening to my aunts. It's kind of a weird mix of like British, Chinglish, I-- I don't know. It-- it was funny.
Um and then later, I came back-- I went back a coup-- couple years later cause Ihad a meeting in Bangkok. And my-- my grandaunt, who still lives in Malaysia, who's very sick. So my grandmother went over, my parents went over, and I met up with them. And it was great getting to travel around. Cause you know, even my dad spent four years there. So it's still-- he still has very clear memories of it. And traveling around KL with them, and then talking about all the changes in the country was really, really interesting. And-- and how much it had grown.
And you know, Chinese eat a lot of pork. But now since a lot of the malls are33:00owned by Malay families who are Muslim, there's no more pork in-- in the restaurants in the malls, and a lot of the restaurants are in malls because they won't let them cook pork. And so we had to like go out of the way to like the old, Chinese neighborhood where there was just like pork galore everywhere. I mean I'm vegetarian, so that was not so useful. (laughter) But it-- it was funny that my-- the-- my parents' friends used to live there were like ushering them out. They were like you can eat pork now, we'll go to this place so you can eat as much pork as you want. Um and I don't know, just their-- their kind of outlook on how much has changed, and what they're happy with, and what they're not. And I still have some extended family there.
And (pause) there's like a lot of political stuff too that-- that I think haschanged that they don't necessarily feel like is-- is for-- it's for the better. And it-- it was hard sometimes because you know, before I went over there when 34:00I was younger, my aunt-- my aunt and uncle particularly, who had just immigrated from Malaysia, they-- I don't want to say that they are blatantly racist, because that's not necessarily the case. I mean (pause) it-- they would be the equivalent I think of-- of someone white in America saying oh yeah, but some of my best friends are black. Lik 35:00 36:00 37:00 38:00 39:00 40:00 41:00 42:00 43:00 44:00 45:00 46:00 47:00 48:00 49:00 50:00 51:00 52:00 53:00 54:00 55:00 56:00 57:00 58:00 59:00 60:00 61:00 62:00 63:00 64:00 65:00 66:00 67:00 68:00 69:00 70:00 71:00 72:00 73:00 74:00 75:00 76:00 77:00 78:00 79:00 80:00 81:00 82:00 83:00 84:00 85:00 86:00 87:00 88:00 89:00 90:00 91:00 92:00 93:00 94:00 95:00 96:00 97:00 98:00 99:00 100:00 101:00 102:00 103:00 104:00 105:00 106:00 107:00 108:00 109:00 110:00 111:00 112:00 113:00 114:00 115:00 116:00 117:00 118:00 119:00 120:00 121:00 122:00 123:00 124:00 125:00 126:00 127:00 128:00 129:00 130:00 131:00 132:00 133:00 134:00 135:00 136:00 137:00 138:00 139:00 140:00 141:00 142:00 143:00 144:00 145:00 146:00 147:00 148:00 149:00 150:00 151:00 152:00 153:00 154:00 155:00 156:00 157:00 158:00 159:00 160:00 161:00
Oral History Interview with Teresa Ish
Teresa Ish is a 33-year-old woman of mixed-heritage. Her father is Caucasian, of Swedish descent and her mother is Chinese-Malaysian. Her parents met while her father was serving in the Peace Corps in Malaysia for two years. They were married in Malaysia and her mother immigrated to the United States at the end of her father's volunteer stay. Her mother was welcomed by her father's family and has a good relationship with them. Her maternal grandmother immigrated to the United States as well as most her aunts and cousins.
Teresa was born and raised in Fresno, CA. She did well in high school and was involved in extracurricular activities and sports. She had a good group of girl friends in high school, all of whom she is still very close. She has always had a strong relationship with her parents and younger sister.
Teresa attended UC Santa Cruz for both her undergraduate and graduate studies. She studied Marine Biology and co-founded FishWise, a nonprofit consultancy that promotes seafood sustainability.
Teresa met her Husband Eric as a freshman in college. The two were close friends for eight years before marrying. The couple now lives in Brooklyn, NY with their one-year-old daughter, Jun. Teresa works for the Walton Family Foundation as a grants officer.
Teresa was a fantastic memorist. Her narration offers a detailed account of what it was like to be raised by an interracial couple and how her life has been influenced by her mixed-heritage.
When Teresa was 2 years old, her mother discontinued using Chinese to communicate with her. According to her mother, Teresa refused to speak Chinese any longer and said she wanted to solely speak English. Later in life, disappointed that she did not speak Chinese, Teresa began studying Mandarin in college. She stopped after two semesters because her family spoke Cantonese, thus ending any pursuit of familial language acquisition. She plans to enroll her daughter in a Chinese language immersion program in an effort to facilitate an understanding of her heritage.
She recalls celebrating Chinese New Year and feels that one of the strongest cultural signifiers was traditional Chinese food. She recalls her Grandmother creating hybrid Chinese-American versions of traditional Chinese dishes, such as peanut butter bao.
Teresa retells transmitted family memories and stories of her Grandmother's and even Great Grandmother's life in Malaysia. She has a strong sense of her heritage and genealogy. The past is something that was discussed openly in her home. As an elementary school student, Teresa conducted an interview with her grandmother. She has the cassette tape of the interview in her Brooklyn apartment.
In the interview she reflects on what it was like to physically appear culturally ambiguous and how, as an avid traveler, this has given her an advantage. She feels she fits in almost anywhere in the world. She elaborates on these types of positive aspects of having a mixed-heritage, but also voices frustrations, specifically racial prejudices towards Chinese culture in America.
Teresa retells the story of her parents buying a home in Santa Cruz. On the original deed it states that, "No Chinese shall own this property." Her father is very proud and has framed it. She is unaware of what her mother thinks of this, as she did not personally experience prejudices such as these that predated her immigration.
Teresa explains the significance of her daughter's name and the importance of giving her a Chinese name. She describes her daughter's appearance and contemplates what her life will be like and how she will be perceived.
Teresa describes her daughter's relationship with her parents. Her daughter calls them by Chinese familial names.
CitationIsh, Teresa, Oral history interview conducted by April Reynosa, November 12, 2011, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection, 2011.019.002; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Ish, Teresa
- Chinese Americans
- Marine Sciences
- Racially mixed families
- Racially mixed people
- Swedish Americans
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)
- Park Slope (New York, N.Y.)
- Santa Cruz (Calif.)
Finding AidCrossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection