Xinhui Li: From Fuzhou to North Attleboro
By Gionna Nourse, BRIDGE Communications Intern (MCLA) ,Special to the Eagle
This column is a collaboration between the Berkshire Eagle and Multicultural BRIDGE to highlight the diverse heritage in our community.
Eager to double major in business and engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) this fall, Xinhui Li begins to reflect on her journey to America, and how her struggles and triumphs have ignited her passion for helping others.
As a young adult at 18 years old and an immigrant in the Berkshires, Xinhui feels an overwhelming need to help others going through the same struggles she and her family once faced. One of the first jobs Xinhui had was at BRIDGE as a teaching assistant for JV-Hampton VanSant during one of BRIDGE’s summer education programs. “The program was for children of all ages, kindergarten to twelfth grade,” she said. “I helped the kids decorate the hula hoops JV showed them how to make, and we also made journals for them to write in.” Participants in this five week program and their families were ethnically and racially diverse.
Their job was to support language and cultural acquisition through diversity leadership training, spoken word, current events, and storytelling theater. Each student's family recently emigrated to the United States from different countries, including European countries such as Spain, China, Italy, France, some West African countries as well as several Central and South American countries. “We got really close with the kids and they actually trusted us,” she said. “All of the children came up to me and hugged me at the end of the program, it was great.”
Xinhui has most recently worked as an intern translator for BRIDGE, taking documents written in English, and translating them into Chinese for those in the Chinese community of the Berkshires. She would love to continue to translate for BRIDGE throughout her college career. As one might glean, Xinhui has never been the type to “take the easy way out”. She has worked hard her entire life, and is always seen with a smile on her face, embodying a “can do” attitude, even throughout family hardships.
Looking back, in 2003 the economy took an unexpected toll on her family’s life, and it had suddenly become almost impossible for her parents to find a job in their hometown of Fuzhou, China. This had forced her father to move to the United States when she was just seven years old, in the hopes of establishing financial stability for his family. He found employment at a local Chinese restaurant in North Attleboro, MA, where he worked tirelessly to save money to fly Xinhui and her mother here from China. Eventually he saved enough, applied for their immigration papers and waited for their approval to move to the US and then Xinhui and her mother moved in February of 2010, reuniting with him after a lengthy seven years.
Xinhui and her family had a rough start in North Attleboro; it took a lot of hard work and effort for them to begin to “find their place”, or “fit in”, because they didn’t understand the language and much of the culture there. With little to no known English, and a job that the three couldn’t see themselves at for much longer, they decided to relocate to Pittsfield, MA, where the space for a restaurant at the Berkshire Mall had just opened up. Her family ultimately used that space to create a Chinese restaurant named “Little Tokyo”, which has become a successful family run business.
The first year here was very tough,” she said. “When I moved here, it was very hard for me to find friends. I was the only Chinese person in my grade, and I didn’t know anyone else.” Xinhui had only known basic English at the time, and was placed in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class as a freshman at PHS. As time went on, Xinhui became fluent in English, and eventually found a passion within herself to teach it to others of different cultural backgrounds. During the summer of 2012, she came into contact with BRIDGE through her ESL teacher, Mrs.Celebi, at PHS. She told Xinhui about a one day training BRIDGE was offering that summer for ESL students. Xinhui went to the training, and proceeded to complete another program BRIDGE was offering, entitled “Real Talk” in the Fall of 2012 and the Spring of 2013. This program included open discussions of cultural issues within students’ school, community, and society. The students watched movies about the evolution of race as a social construct, and talked about the way immigrants have been treated historically in our country. “We each told our own stories,” she said.
Xinhui has demonstrated leadership in more ways than one and plans on pursuing her passion while she attends RPI. Xinhui is a proud recipient of the Pittsfield Rotary Club’s “Service Above Self Award” and the “John and Abigail Adams Scholarship”. She had participated in a multitude of clubs throughout her high school years, including “The Capital Gains Club/School Store”, where she was responsible for ordering, managing, marketing, and accounting, and the “Finance Academy Career Exploration Program”, where she worked with a mentor from the marketing field. Xinhui also participated in the “Youth Leadership Program” during her junior grade year, where she and twenty-nine other students from high schools across the country were selected to complete a group community project to promote healthy eating among elementary school students. She has also received several academic awards in subjects such as Math, English and Business, as well as the “AP Scholar Award”, among many others.
Her journey has truly come “full circle”, in the sense that she once struggled with the English language, and she is now helping others to begin to understand it through translating and interpreting for them. She has helped families in more ways than one can imagine throughout her mentorship as well as her position as a teaching assistant for youth in the community. “I am a hardworking person, and an optimist,” she said. “I always believe that I can do things, and if I put the effort in, I can [always] make it.”