A Flushing resident, who has lived in the United States for 15 years, was named as one of the first recipients of the Emigrant Savings Bank Awards for outstanding immigrants.
Hong Wu, associate director of the Asian American Center at Queens College, was one of five new New Yorkers to receive the award at a ceremony on Tuesday at City Hall.
City Council Speaker Peter Vallone presented each recipient with an award and a $5,000 donation from the bank to an organ-ization important to the winner.
Wu was the only winner from Queens, although one of the other recipients has a connection to Queens. Mae O’Driscoll of Brooklyn, who emigrated from Ireland in 1958, is a founding member of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in Woodside. She asked that her cash prize go to the immigration center.
Wu asked that her prize money go to the Asian American Center on the Flushing campus.
She came to the United States in 1985 as a professor from Beijing, China to participate in a program on teaching English as a second language. Two years later the Asian American Center was founded and Wu joined the faculty.
Nominated for the award by Weiguang Wang, Wu was cited for her generous and sensitive ability to help people bridge cultures. Wang is active in the Staten Island Asian community.
According to Wu, even when immigrants can pass general classroom work and language tests, adjusting to a new culture is difficult. So she helped organize and operates the Translation Program, funded by the Queens Borough President’s Office, serving people who speak Chinese, Spanish, Korean and Hindi. Russian will be added soon.
The free program helps schools, hospitals, government offices, senior centers and non-profit community groups deal with language problems in translating documents.
“We do a lot of translations for the Fire Department, Board of Education, Health Department, and youth service groups,” she said.
Wu credits her staff with being particularly sensitive to the culture they are serving.
“I am proud of their language skills and that they are sensitive to the culture,” she said. “They are so committed.”
Her other community service includes serving as a consultant to the Police Department’s Streetwise Project, providing language and cultural sensitivity training to officers, and as a member of the Department of Health’s advisory board.
In addition, Wu serves on the board of the New York Chapter of the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association, works with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund on its annual voter survey project and this year served on a task force to assure that Asian Americans were accurately counted in the U.S. Census.
Wu also finds time to teach Mandarin Chinese and travel courses to American students planning to study in China, at the China Institute.
As an immigrant herself, Wu remembers what is was like the first day in New York City on her own.
“It was such a culture shock,” she said. “Even though I spoke English, I had no idea that things were done differently here.”
She recalls attempting to get to Queens Çollege from Manhattan and assumed everyone in the city would be able to give her directions. She asked several pedestrians who didn’t know.
“At first I thought they were being rude but then I realized they really didn’t know,” she said. “In big cities in China, everyone knows how to get around.”
Eventually she found a man who took the time to call and get her directions by subway and bus to the Flushing campus.
“He was very kind and even took me to the subway,” Wu said. “But I remember noticing all the public phones, which are not common in China and that everyone was in such a rush.”
All these experiences, she said, made her realize how difficult it is for the average immigrant to exist in a new country.
Wu is married to a banker and the couple has a 16-year-old son, and like a typical American parent, bragged about his academic accomplishments.
“That is not the way a Chinese parent talks,” she said. “They don’t praise, expecting even more from their children.”
In her spare time, Wu enjoys fishing with her family, especially for bass at lakes in New York City and upstate.
The Emigrant Awards Program was instituted to celebrate the bank’s 150th anniversary.