Celebrity Chef 2011: Former Little Sister Jesse Kwan on the impact of her Big Sister Jackie Church
At the 12th annual Celebrity Chef event that occurred last night at Radius, former Little Sister Jesse Kwan shared her story of emigrating to the US from Hong Kong as a little girl and the life-changing impact her relationship with her Big Sister Jackie Church had on her life. Here are her words.
Good evening. Not in a million years would I imagine that I would be standing in front of you today to talk about my journey as a Little Sister in a language that was once foreign to me, a language that my mother often referred to as chicken intestines, because that’s what written English looked like to her.
Yesterday was the 22nd anniversary of my immigrating to Boston with my mother. We came in the spring of 1989 to reunite with my father who was already here. In just shy of a year of our arrival when I was 10, my father passed away. My mother and I were devastated. We were left with virtually no family, speaking no English, and knowing little about American Culture. We were very fortunate to have been surrounded by good people and a counselor suggested that I get a mentor through Big Sister Association of Greater Boston. Little did I know then the enormous affect this organization would have on me for the rest of my life.
I still remember that hot summer day extending my neck to the window, peaking out to wait for Helen, my then social worker and Jackie, my new Big Sister, to show up. I remember practicing over and over again in my head how I had to enunciate my imperfect English in hopes that she wouldn’t laugh at me. I don’t think I uttered more than a mere hello that day. This woman who had the biggest smile had no idea the amount of headache and heartache I was about to put her through in the next 20 years, the amount of gray hair I was about to give her, the amount of love that she was going to teach me.
At first, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with Jackie or what I was going to say to her because there was oh, a slight language barrier. I started out in bilingual education in school here then, but there were still challenges in communication AND I was extremely shy. But thank goodness for dictionaries and the international language of using our hands.
In every sense of the word, Jackie broadened my horizons. She brought me to my first Halloween party, me dressing up as a robot, her as a pirate. She brought me to my first sleepover at the Museum of Science. Now that was cool for an 11 year old girl! She persuaded my mom to let her only daughter study abroad in France for 3 months while in high school. When I was 20, Jackie surprised me with a trip to Paris to celebrate the Millennium.
Navigating through the educational system with a mom who did not speak English was not easy. Jackie was phenomenal in helping my mom and I review our options of taking entrance exams to the top Boston Public Schools and applying for scholarships to private schools. She helped me with practice tests, especially vocabulary and comprehension, my constant struggle. When I got my acceptance into Boston Latin I remember picking up that phone and calling Jackie at work. “I got in! I got in!” I screamed. “As if I didn’t know that already” was her response.
Jackie encouraged me to try so many different things. She challenged me to challenge myself, to be my own person, to grow out of my shell. When I found one of my true passions in high school, volleyball, she challenged me to look at colleges with volleyball programs that I could compete in. I ended up being recruited to play NCAA Division 3 Volleyball.
To the woman who taught me the importance of wearing socks and gloves in the Boston winter time, who taught me how to slurp my first oyster in Paris, who showed me to stand up for myself, who taught me to take smart risks, who taught me everything good that is in me, that if I work hard enough in life, that I might just accomplish my feats and defeat my innermost insecurities. If it weren’t for her, I would never summon enough courage to talk to you today.
I want you to know what a special place Big Sister holds in my heart, the good that it does for young girls for now and generations. Your donation is not just a small gesture but a profound one that impacts and shapes little girls’ lives, as it had mine, that it gives us the mentoring a little girl needs, so that we can acquire the skills to take on the world on our own, one bite at a time.