Abe Wong – IE Production Designer – Chinese influence that’s uniquely American.
Like many Americans, Abe Wong’s cultural background extends beyond the borders of the United States.
“My dad is from Hong Kong and my mom was born in Canton, China,” said Wong, 31. “Her family moved to Hong Kong before coming to the U.S.”
Chinese have a long history of immigrating to the Pacific Northwest, dating back to the mid 1800s, when many arrived and worked on the railroad. Seattle, California and Vancouver, B.C., have traditionally been locations Chinese have settled to start a new life in the states.
Wong’s maternal grandmother moved to Canada with her siblings before moving back to China in the 1940s where she married Abe’s grandfather, Wayne Mui. He passed away last year while Wong’s grandmother currently lives in Portland.
Wong’s mother, Linda Mui, left Hong Kong in 1968 with her family to finish high school in the U.S. before attending the University of Oregon where she met Wong’s dad.
Wong’s father left Hong Kong in 1971 to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Tennessee and Oregon. He worked as a software engineer for Intel, and was recently ordained as a pastor of an Evangelical Chinese church in Redmond.
“I was brought up pretty American,” said Wong. “My parents would speak to us in both Cantonese and English. But my grandparents, my dad’s parents, lived with us for about eight years so living with them (and their Chinese cooking) helped develop my Chinese language skills and learn more of the culture. There was a time when my parents only wanted us to speak Cantonese but that quickly passed,” he said.
Wong grew up in Portland until 1996, when his father relocated the family to Olympia, where Wong finished high school and then attended the University of Washington.
“I remember going to my dad’s office one day when I was younger,” Wong said. “He had two computers that he worked on. I asked him what games he had to play and he said he didn’t have any. I just thought, how boring, I don’t want to work here.”
Going another direction than his father, Wong graduated from the UW with a Bachelor’s in Visual Communication Design and has since done freelance work for a number of companies.
He works with the International Examiner as a production designer, and also worked on an exhibit at the Wing Luke Museum about Roger Shimomura, a Japanese American artist.
“My grandma is still very Chinese,” said Wong. “While her siblings long ago adapted to Canadian culture, she retained her Chinese heritage because she had to return to her homeland.
“My grandmother taught me the value of hard work,” said Wong. “She still works to this day! I remember her advice to me when I first started dating was to look for a girl that was hard-working and smart. She taught me to value these characteristics above superficial things.”
In 2006, Wong married his dream girl, Heidi, 30 — who is also of Chinese descent and was born in Seattle. Heidi moved to Hong Kong when she was 2 years-old until she was 11. Heidi’s grandmother was born in Taishan in southeast China but currently lives in Bellevue near the couple where she helps care for their daughter Makayla, 17 months.
Heidi said it was a tough transition returning to the U.S.
“I didn’t speak English [in Hong Kong],” she said. “There was a large culture shock. Everything is bigger in America. Even going to Safeway is like going to a warehouse in China.”
For Abe, his up-bringing was a smoother transition.
”I was around the culture enough living with my grandparents that I felt I got to experience it,” said Wong.
He believes his American life has been touched with the right amount of Chinese influence and hopes to continue that by passing along the traditions to his daughter.
“We want our daughter to learn Cantonese also,” he said. “We are making it a point to raise our daughter in a way to preserve our heritage and embrace both her Chinese and American identities.”
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