Chinese American recounts how her family fought ghetto poverty the old fashioned way

Special to

Ying Ma, Daily Caller

The streets of Ferguson, Missouri, have finally calmed after two weeks of often violent protests against the deadly shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a police officer. Now is a good time to examine the claim made by a number of politicians and pundits that “root causes,” like poverty, poor education and racism, were the real culprits for Ferguson’s rioting.

Ying Ma, author of ‘Chinese girl in the ghetto’
Ying Ma, author of ‘Chinese girl in the ghetto’

Unlike many talking heads who sympathized with the rage of the protestors in Ferguson, I grew up in the inner city. I was outraged each day by the injustices I encountered, but I did not riot, loot, vandalize or commit arson. I went to troubled public schools and lived in poverty, but I ultimately prevailed. Perhaps those who gripe about social and racial injustice and pleaded for understanding for the mayhem in Ferguson should try to see the world from the perspective of law-abiding citizens who are the real victims when poor neighborhoods turn into zones of anarchy.

When I was ten, my family and I immigrated to inner-city Oakland, California, from post-Mao Communist China. We found ourselves in a city plagued by unchecked crime, abject poverty and rampant racism. I remember the lawlessness well. In our city, drug dealing seemed more prevalent than employment; gunshots rang at night outside my windows; and muggings took place in plain sight….

But my family did not blame American society for holding us back or stacking the odds against the poor. We fought poverty the old-fashioned way — we worked. My parents worked at menial jobs, for long hours, at first earning less than minimum wage. My mother, who was once a schoolteacher in China, became a seamstress in a sweatshop in America. My father, who was once a respected senior mechanic trailed by apprentices, worked as a kitchen help on whom his employer heaped generous doses of gratuitous verbal abuse. My brother and I studied day and night instead of skipping school or hanging out “on the streets.” My family saved for home ownership rather than splurging on fancier clothing, better snacks or long vacations.


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