She is taking five honors classes this year. She also spends many hours on debate and speech, sings in an a cappella group, referees soccer in spring and fall, volunteers as a teaching assistant at the Chinese school’s debate club, and studies drawing.
Carolyn’s passion for debate — she has won some trophies this year — has led her to consider training as a lawyer. But Jianlin worries that it might be a difficult career for the daughter of Chinese immigrants.
“I think that profession, you need more connections,” Jianlin says, “or some family influence. . . I’m not sure as second-generation immigrants, Asian.”
Jianlin would like her daughter to find a job that allows her to contribute something useful to society, that gives her flexibility for a family, in a field that is stable. She and David have seen their career fields wax and wane.
David and Jianlin met when they were graduate students at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and married while Jianlin was getting her doctorate at UMass Amherst. Now they are both American citizens. They speak Chinese to each other but their daughters prefer English.
“They speak Chinese to us,” Carolyn says. “We respond in English — Chinglish. We understand it pretty well, I would say.”
The sisters studied Mandarin at the Chinese school for years, but eventually rebelled. (“The only bonus is Chinese New Year,” Megan says. “You get the $2 in a little bag.”)
Jianlin tells them about a family she knows where the mother pretended she spoke no English, so the children learned to speak Chinese fluently.
“But now their Chinese is perfect?” Carolyn asks, a bit wistfully.
As they eat dinner, Jianlin remembers back to when she was in college in China, looking through a guide to American grad schools, applying, almost blindly, to physics programs. Her family was unable to afford even the application fees.
“At that time, the living standard is quite different between US and China,” she says. “So it’s a good thing if you can get a chance to come to the US.”
Underneath the table, Carolyn takes her mother’s hand.