I know, for some people, August 9, 2001 was just a normal day, but that was a date that I’ll never forget. Because that was my first day in the US soil.
Someone may ask why I came to the US. Well, honestly, I don’t know how to answer this question, but I think everything has the positive and negative sides. For the past 10 and 1/2 years, I have gained something, but I also have lost a lot of things. When I think it again, I can only — sigh.
What happened on my first day in the US? I’ve already said it’s the day I’ll never forget, so I still remember any piece of memory of that day. On August9, 2001, my parents, my younger brother and I took the flight from Macau International Airport to the San Francisco International Airport. When the plane landed at the SFO, I asked myself,"Is that San Francisco?" Indeed, besides the in-flight announcements and the interactive map shown on the TV screen inside the plane, you couldn’t find an obvious sign to tell that you’re in San Francisco. Our flight arrived at SFO around 7:30 pm, about 20 minutes later, we off boarded the plane and proceeded to the path connected to the USCIS / US Customs and Border Protection counter. (These two federal agencies were then called INS and US Customs Service respectively) It’s also a path that changed my life. What happened inside the terminal building?
Around 8:00pm, all of us arrived at the checkpoint for entry inside the SFO restricted area. We all had our Macau passports and four sealed Manila envelopes with some important documents inside. I should mention that those Manila envelopes were issued by the then INS, and the official from the US Consulate in Hong Kong also reminded us not to open those documents, so we had never known what those were. Whatever, there’s nothing we want to know, at that moment I just want to know how long it could be finished! It took quite long time to process our first time entry to the United States. The INS official (I don’t know if she was the Customs or INS, I can’t even distinguish between an USCIS official and a CBP official) finished processing our initial documents for the first entry to the US, then she asked each of us to sign our names on those documents and passport-style photos. Then the INS official stamped on our Macau Passport, indicated that we’re legal permanent residents, and we’re authorized to work. The stamp also indicated that it should be the legal document to prove the immigration status before Green Cards were issued. Almost an hour later, we were all allowed to enter the US soil. My first time in my life, how’s my feeling? I can tell you, nothing but uncomfortable. I had never felt that stress before I came, but something made me not feeling good.
After we were all cleared at the immigration checkpoint and were issued visas, we approached to the US Customs checkpoint, before we went to the check point, we’d all claimed our checked baggages. We had almost ten baggages, most of them were checked. Almost everything in my house in Macau were in those baggages, crazy! It’s the time for the Lei’s family to be checked by the US Customs, because we’re a family, only one customs declaration form was needed. We got so many huge baggages, so the officer near the screener gestured us to pass the checkpoint, and we were cleared. All we had to do was to turn the customs declaration form to another US Customs official.
“Thank (Sank) you," my mother was speaking broken English. Something funny and embarrassing happened then: when the US Customs officer asked my mother about the declaration form, my mother spoke out a single word, “husband". Of course, the officer didn’t understand what my mother said, then she responded, “Who is husband?" My mother actually wanted to tell the officer that the declaration form was on her husband’s hand, but she didn’t know how to say it in English. It was an obvious case of language barrier, but I was shocked the first language barrier was happened at the airport. Anyway, we officially entered The United States of America new immigrants. We exited from the restricted area, my aunt and uncle were waiting at the arrival lobby in SFO and ready to take us to our new home…
The first night as an immigrant ended with tiredness and stress. But there were even more challenges to come!