Hi, my name is Lily Li. I was born in Beijing, China. When I was six, my family came to the United States on a temporary student visa, which granted us three years in the United States. In 1989, shortly after I arrived in the U.S., large scale demonstrations broke out in Tianamen Square. As a result, the Chinese government ordered a military crackdown that killed thousands of protestors, most of them university students. The 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, in turn, prompted the U.S. government to enact measures to protect Chinese students residing abroad. Fearing persecution by the Chinese government, the U.S. passed the Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992, effectively granting permanent residency to nearly 30,000 Chinese nationals. I was one of them.
Growing up, money was scarce. My immigrant parents worked hard to make ends meet and never accepted a penny from welfare. They provided me with a simple foundation of food, clothing, shelter, and education. However, if I wanted "non-essentials" such as LA Gear sneakers or a neon pink Motorola pager, I had to work for it. I quickly appreciated the value of work. In fact, work was so important to me that when I was in second grade, my teacher asked, "What is your biggest fear?" My classmates answered, "Snakes and monsters!" When the teacher turned to me, I said, "My biggest fear is not having a job when I grow up." Though my teacher assured me I would have a job later in life, my life experience, even at the age of 7, conditioned me to think like an entrepreneur.
When I was eight, I came up with my first business idea: providing household services to my parents. I noticed that after working all day, my parents were very tired and would rather relax than do chores. Instead of playing outside or watching television, I took on household work at very low prices, a family discount, for my parents: 25 cents for washing dishes, $1 for a car wash, 50 cents for laundry, the list went on! I created the "Lily Li household services and pricing matrix" to track my work. At the end of each week, I totaled everything, gave my parents an itemized bill, and got paid. With that money, I was able to buy toys and my first pair of LA Gear sneakers!
When I was 10, my fourth grade teacher gave out "Banana Bucks" for classroom participation and good behavior. Banana Bucks could be used to purchase candy and various knickknacks during the class fair every Friday. I realized I couldn't get enough Banana Bucks to buy all the stuff I wanted purely by traditional methods. Thus, I dabbled in my first supply and demand experiment. I had a box full of magazine cut-outs of models who wore trendy and beautiful outfits. I gathered a few girls from class and sold them on the idea of having a magazine cut-out collection. This was long before Pinterest. The idea went viral. Since I had a head start on the collection, my supply was abundant. We traded our cut-outs, but often I sold them for Banana Bucks. Within a few months, I was rich and had more Banana Bucks than I could handle. I bought candy and all the knickknacks I wanted, even sharing them with my fellow cut-out girls whose Banana Bucks' stash I had depleted.
My parents placed great importance on education. Given my parents' limited ability to help, I knew I needed to figure out a way to pay for college myself. During the summer of 2001, my father inherited a library of over 5,000 books from a friend. While my family regarded these books as useless and a burden, I saw them as a great opportunity. Computers, and specifically online shopping, were becoming more popular during this time. Consequently, I decided to start my first e-commerce business, the LiCubed Book Store. Not only did I sell books offline to my friends and people in the community, I scaled my business online through Amazon Marketplace, eBay, and Craigslist. I learned how to set pricing so that it was competitive for buyers but still profitable for myself (even after fees, packaging and shipping). Over time, I learned to be even more cost-effective. For example: Instead of using expensive bubble pack envelopes, I used free grocery store paper bags as packaging. I even negotiated a special discounted rate for my business at the post office. Business was booming, I was going to college full-time, working part-time at a bank, and running an online book store. Instead of begging for money at the financial aid office as I was accustomed to doing, I paid for college myself!
When I was 20, I naturalized and became a U.S. citizen. Soon after, I received my degree from UC Berkeley. With my American passport in hand, I had the freedom to travel around the world and embark on many adventures. I went diving with sea turtles and dolphins in Southeast Asia, climbed the highest mountain in Africa, and even won a reality TV show, "The Amazing Race." I secured a great job with Google from 2008 to 2013, and today, I am a Developer and Platform Marketing Manager at Microsoft. I started working at 16 years old and I haven't stopped since. Last year, I saved enough money to buy my own home in Silicon Valley. I really am living out my American Dream.
Immigration reform has definitely changed my life. However, the Chinese Student Protection Act not only benefited those admitted under the act, but also the U.S. Most of the Chinese students were driven and well-educated. Many also possessed scientific and technological expertise that was much needed in the U.S. This law has shown a largely positive effect on the U.S. labor market and economy. The Institute for International Integration Studies wrote, “The Chinese Student Protection Act appears to have raised the employment rate by 7 percentage points among college-graduate PRC immigrants relative to those from Hong Kong, controlling for other factors, and to have boosted relative hourly earnings growth by 17 to 24 percent.”
Immigrants come from across the globe, and they bring a variety of cultural practices to the U.S. While they may appear different on the outside, they often share a common thread of hard work, embrace opportunity, and are extraordinarily grateful. Immigration reform gave me the chance to live a life the way I wanted to live. I continue to work hard and look for opportunities that utilize my entrepreneurial spirit. I hope, one day, to run my own successful business and forge ahead, living out my "ultimate" American Dream.