Family moved around opening Chinese restaurants
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Diana Kaufman was born Jang Wen Shan in Taiwan. Diana immigrated with her family to Rochester, N.Y. From Rochester they moved to Irvine, Calif., and eventually to Aspen.
Kaufman: My father came to the United States a year before we did. He was working in a Chinese restaurant in Rochester, New York. But before that he worked as a chef on merchant ships and we wouldn’t see him very often. When we came to the United States, I was 6 years old but, according to Chinese tradition, I was 7. I was a little confused and upset that I was now a year younger.
I was very excited to see my father. My older sister had a harder time adjusting to the new country. I remember noticing that the air was clear here. There was a lot of pollution in Taiwan at that time. I had a chronic cough and my sister had a constant cold and when we moved to Rochester that all cleared up.
Gallacher: Do you have many memories of Taiwan?
Kaufman: I remember the schools in Taiwan being much more difficult. I think it was because Mandarin Chinese was my second language and Taiwanese was my first. Trying to learn Mandarin was hard for me.
Starting second grade in Rochester was actually pretty easy for me. They were just starting to teach reading and I was able to get the phonetics and start reading English very quickly. School in the states was really fun for me because the schools in Taiwan were much more strict at the time.
All of the Taiwanese students had to keep their hair cut just under the ear. We were required to wear uniforms. If you didn’t keep your fingernails trimmed, the teacher would slap you on the back of your hands with a ruler.
We had to learn math very early on in Taiwan, so I was able to recite the multiplication tables for my teacher when I came here. My teacher thought I was very intelligent and that was a great boost to my self-esteem.
When we moved to Rochester, there were a number of Chinese and Taiwanese people already settled in the community. In fact, some of my father’s friends lived there. It was very diverse and we had a very easy time fitting in.
From Rochester, we moved to Irvine, California and eventually to other towns in Colorado. My parents partnered with another couple and opened the Eastern Winds in Aspen. I remember the move from California to Aspen as being more difficult than the move from Taiwan to Rochester.
I think it was because I started middle school in Aspen. I think that is a difficult age and Aspen, back then, wasn’t as diverse as Irvine so I found it harder to fit in. When we were driving from California to Aspen, I saw cows for the first time. I remember thinking, “Wow, this might be like ‘Little House on the Prairie.'” I was hoping we would be living on a farm but, unfortunately, it was a townhouse.
Gallacher: How was your parent’s adjustment from Taiwan to the United States?
Kaufman: My parents were very liberal and open to the change, so it wasn’t a problem for them. I know it was a problem for some of my friends whose parents really struggled with the new culture. We were really lucky.
It was a very difficult time in Taiwan. There was a lot of competition and people just weren’t making very much money. My parents had a Chinese restaurant and it was very busy but it was hard to make a profit. My father was able to make a lot more money working in Rochester.
Gallacher: Your family moved a lot.
Kaufman: Yes, my parents would buy a Chinese restaurant, fix it up and build the business and sell it for twice as much as they paid for it. The whole family had to work. Many of the people who started working for my parents, years ago, now own their own restaurants here in the valley.
My dad was a great chef and Mom was a very good businesswoman. Dad made such great food that the restaurants were successful wherever we went. So we built the business, sold and moved on to another town.
Gallacher: And you would complain about having to move after just making friends.
Kaufman: (laughs) You know, I only complained when we moved from Glenwood. I loved Glenwood. I was really happy to be able to move back here.
Gallacher: So you started with the Eastern Winds restaurant in Aspen.
Kaufman: And then we opened May Palace in Glenwood. May is my mother’s name. From there we opened a May Palace in Vail and one in Breckenridge. We sold the one in Breckenridge and opened one called the Red Orchid.
My father was in the restaurant business all his life. His dad died early in life. So when my dad was a teenager, he and his older sister moved to Taipei to work to support the family. They would send all of their money home. My dad worked with friends who eventually came to the United States with him. In the evenings, after the restaurant closed, they would push the tables together and that is where they slept. They lived and worked in the restaurant. They had to have a very strong work ethic in order to survive the economic conditions in Taiwan.
That work ethic helped my parents be successful when they came here. They had only planned to work for a few years and then go back to Taiwan. But we have lived here 33 years. It’s hard for me to separate my Chinese from my American side. It’s all mixed in together now. I would miss the beauty, the open space and the friendliness of Coloradoans. People are friendly in Taiwan but it is not very pretty anymore.
Immigrant Stories runs every Monday in the Post Independent.
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