Chinese Satellite Babies Write Their Own Story

Displaying copies of the new book about satellite babies. (Photo via World Journal)

Eleven 5th grade Chinese students from the Queens School-Age Child Care Center at P.S. 20 have jointly written and published a novel called “Satellite Baby.” The story, based on their own experiences, focuses on the phenomenon in the Chinese community of immigrant parents sending their babies back to China where the children stay until they are brought back to the U.S. at school age. At a book launching event on May 22 at P.S. 20, the authors said the writing process helped them face their own struggles and understand their parents better.

Lois Lee, the director of the Center, said the project was initiated by the Department of Youth and Community Development. The authors spent six weeks last summer writing the book. The process was to have a professional writer write the first chapter, then the students went on to finish the rest of the chapters. After editing, students voted for their favorite chapters to be collected in the book. Some of the 11 authors were satellite babies themselves. Writing this book helps them to know their parents and themselves better.

Wenqi Ren, 11, was born to an immigrant family from Fuzhou. She was sent back to the hometown of her parents to be taken care of by her grandparents when she was two months old. Growing up in China, she didn’t have many interactions with her parents other than via the once-a-week long-distance phone call. The first time she remembers seeing her parents was when they brought her back from China to the U.S. when she was 5.

An outgoing and understanding child, Ren didn’t resist the idea of living with her parents from the beginning. But growing up with everyone around her speaking only the Chinese language, it was hard for her to adapt to the English language environment in the U.S. It took her two years to gain fluency in English. Later, her sister, who is five years younger, was also sent back to China to her grandparents. Now, the family has finally reunited in New York. And the grandparents, living together with them now, are still helping to take care of her younger sister. Ren said her parents work in restaurants. They are busy, and they had no choice other than to rely on her grandparents to take care of the children. And it is great that the whole family live together now.

Jingyi Zhou had a similar experience. She was sent back to Fuzhou right after she was born and only came back to the U.S. when she was 3. She doesn’t remember much of the time she spent in China. But the memory of her crying and looking for her parents is still very clear. When she had just returned to the U.S., she didn’t feel close to her parents, and was afraid of being at their side. It took her a long time to adapt. She said she learned to objectively assess her experience via writing.

Zilian Yang, another author of the book, was not a satellite baby. But she remembers once she and her parents flew back to China, a passenger on the flight was helping to bring a satellite baby of a friend’s back to China. The baby kept crying and the passenger, who seemed to have little experience of taking care of a baby, didn’t know what to do. Yang’s parents helped the passenger to change diapers and soothe the baby. This prompted Yang to think deeply about the phrase “satellite baby” from a young age.

The book has won at least one fan. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz bought 600 copies and gave them to the Center as gifts. Flushing Council member Peter Koo and former City Comptroller John Liu, who is an alumnus of P.S. 20, also presented at the event.

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