Even before An Mei Lin decided to leave Taiwan and move to the United States four years ago, her friends were telling her to settle in Monterey Park.
"My one friend told me not to worry," recalled the widow and mother of three. "She said I could shop in Chinese markets in Monterey Park, open up an account at a Chinese bank in Monterey Park and visit friends there.
"She said if I did everything in Monterey Park, I could put English in my back pocket."
Lin promptly rejected the advice. She rented an apartment in South Pasadena surrounded by white families, enrolled in English-language classes at Pasadena Community College and, after three months of practice, walked into a local branch of Bank of America and opened an account using only English.
Today, after two years of full-time courses at PCC, the former Taiwan piano teacher speaks excellent English and feels secure outside the Chinese community.
Lin, who wants to land a government job, has taken and passed civil service examinations for both Los Angeles County and the state of California.
"My children are growing and learning things every day. I wanted to keep up with them," said Lin, who is in her mid-40s. "If I kept within Monterey Park and didn't learn
English, I could not be independent. I would have to ask my children to do everything for me. I didn't want to be crippled."
Her two sons, James, 17, and Chris, 16, and her daughter, Linda, 15, say their mother has even learned to make pizza and hamburgers at their insistence. But no matter how hard she tries, they complain, the hamburgers somehow end up tasting "Chinese."
"It just doesn't taste like the hamburgers you get at McDonald's or Burger King," James said. "She puts MSG (monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer frequently used in Chinese cooking) in them and fries them up Chinese-style."
Despite her openness to America, Lin still prefers Chinese food. Two weeks ago, she and James visited the Univesity of California at Santa Barbara where he has been accepted for college next year and could not find a Chinese restaurant in town.
"I ate American food for two days. By the third day, my stomach didn't feel right," Lin said. "We looked and looked for Chinese food. We finally decided to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken because it tastes the closest to Chinese."
Lin also makes it clear that she wants her children to "think American but feel Chinese." Toward that end, she rents Chinese-language movies every weekend and translates the Chinese idiom that her children do not understand.
"My children prefer American movies but I like them to see Chinese so they remember the language and Chinese character," she said. "My daughter speaks Chinese but her sentences are structured in English. So I use the movies to correct her."
Lin hopes that her children will date and one day marry Chinese. "I think the way for me and my children is to adopt some of the good in America but to keep some of the good in our culture. I tell them the best way to do that is for them to marry a Chinese."