"Generation Connie": A News Anchor and Her First-Generation NamesakesBreaking News
tags: immigration, Chinese Americans, television, Asian American History
IT WAS ON MY FIRST DAY OF COLLEGE at the University of California, Berkeley, when I started to realize there were more of us out there.
Suddenly, I was among a student body that was almost 50 percent Asian. While I was standing in line to order a sandwich at the campus cafe, I heard a voice from across the room: “Connie Wang!”
I swiveled to see who it could be — I didn’t know anyone yet. But the person wasn’t shouting at me. Instead, a girl standing nearby waved in response.
Afterward, I went back to my dorm room and typed “Connie” into the campus Facebook. I found the girl from the sandwich line — and I also found many, many more. In my freshman class alone, there was a Connie Zheng, a Connie Guo, a Connie Xu, a few Connie Chengs, and multiple Connie Wangs. No wonder the university email address I’d wanted had been taken.
All this time, I’d thought the story of my name was special; little did I know it was the story of a generation.
UNLIKE MOST PEOPLE, I was able to pick my own name.
I already had one, of course — Xiaokang, my Chinese name, given to me by my maternal grandfather, which referred to the Communist Party’s commitment to achieving “a moderately prosperous society.” But in 1990, my parents decided to raise me in the United States, and we all had a chance to choose a new identity. They asked for my 3-year-old’s opinion: What would I like to be called in this new place? I answered, the story goes, with Connie, after that pretty “ayi,” or auntie, we watched on TV.
That ayi was Constance Yu-Hwa Chung, or, as the world knows her, Connie Chung. Ms. Chung had rejoined CBS News a year earlier; she would eventually become the first Asian and second woman to be an anchor of a major weekday news program, appearing nightly alongside Dan Rather to deliver the world’s biggest news events to Americans at home, my family included.
At the time, my mother, Qing Li, was recalibrating her expectations for what her life would look like. She’d been an editor of nonfiction books back in China, but found the prospect of attempting to climb the professional ladder in the United States without mastery of the language deeply intimidating. Some friends told her that other Chinese immigrants had found employment at restaurants, so she tried that for a while, but the job was boring, and she quit. So much of her early years in America felt both formidable and dull, isolating and overwhelming.
What gave her some comfort, though, was seeing Ms. Chung on TV. Here was a woman with a face like hers, with great taste in clothes, who wore beautiful makeup and had stylish hair, yet asked aggressive questions of powerful people, most of whom did not seem to treat Ms. Chung any differently because of her appearance.
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