I grew up in a very loving family in Taipei. I never felt like I lacked anything. I didn’t realize until I got older that we were poor.
But my parents couldn’t afford to care for me. When I was a newborn, my father threatened to drop me off at the orphanage. My mother wouldn’t let him. He left when I was 3. We moved in with my mom’s parents, and she and I shared a bunk bed. Eventually, I moved into the basement, which everyone used for storage— we blocked off a corner with some thin boards. I slept on a mattress on top of some boxes. There were mice. But I had my own bathroom.
In elementary school, I had a side hustle collecting cans and bottles to recycle. I could make $5 to $8 a day. It was like a game—everyday, I’d try to collect more than the day before. I wanted to help put more meat and vegetables on the table.
I knew very early on that there was a world much bigger than the one I lived in, and that education was the only way out. I got into the best high school in the country, but I really wanted to make something of myself. At 13, I asked my mom if I could move to America.
It never occurred to me that this was a big, scary decision. My dad—whom I’d met only a few times—came to t