In a place some have called the naked city, where tall buildings seem to rule, there was a world of opportunity for many. It was a place that my family would soon call home. This was where my story begins, in a low-income housing project tucked away in the crowded streets of Manhattan, where the harsh reality of life often outshined aspirations. It was a place of despair for many and hope for some.
It was a hot summer morning in mid-June 1957 when Anthony entered the world at 8:05 AM in a Brooklyn, NY hospital. His mom had been in labor for over 10 hours, and medical officials were relieved when the ordeal ended. It was a difficult delivery that required Anthony to remain in the hospital for several days because he was born with unstable vital signs. It was never explained to his parents, but everyone suspected his breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate worried his doctors. While the ordeal caused his parents to prepare for the worst, they were elated when doctors gave the all-clear signal a week after his birth and allowed Anthony to come home with his parents.
It was a new beginning that generated great joy for our family. Anthony’s arrival marked the culmination of dreams, sacrifices, and the enduring spirit of his parents, Patricia and Yiu-Hon. Although their journeys differed, they had to go across oceans and continents to start a new life. It would be a place where they would produce a son and try to create an environment that gave him a chance at a life they could only dream of in their homelands.
Patricia, a resilient woman with large, expressive eyes, hailed from the vibrant island of Puerto Rico. She was born on an island where the sun was a familiar friend, and Caribbean music filled the air daily. However, beneath the island's beauty, Patricia faced the harsh realities of a life filled with economic hardship and limited opportunities. This harsh reality encouraged her to dream big and work towards leaving all her sparse belongings behind, including family and friends, to come to the United States. It was a place everyone around her heralded as the land of opportunity! While many felt it was a difficult choice for her, she often would say that the choices she faced made her decision easy. She could stay and never achieve her dreams or risk it all for a better opportunity for herself and any future children she could nurture into something she could never succeed in her native homeland.
On the other hand, Yiu-Hon was born in the city of Guangzhou in southern China. His life starkly contrasted with Patricia's, as he had grown up amidst the constant struggle of an economy during the early days of communism. It was a period of confusion and transition. He understood that while China had great potential, it would not be something that would materialize during his lifetime. Why stay behind and watch a slow-moving train on the local track when he could take a chance and jump on an express train that would travel to a better destination at a faster speed? While he understood that the risk of a derailment was real, he felt that the reward of reaching a better goal at a quicker pace was well worth the risk. And so, the promise of prosperity and the allure of the American dream beckoned him to the shores of the United States, where he believed the prospect of a brighter future awaited. It was a strange land for him, but the lure of a better life was too tempting to ignore.
The future couple’s paths converged in the urban maze of New York City’s Chinatown, where they met on a blind date, fell in love, and began a journey filled with hope and uncertainty. Together, they navigated the intricate web of language barriers, cultural differences, and the excitement of starting a new life. Their union was the foundation upon which Anthony's life of hope was built.
Patricia cradled her newborn son in their humble apartment in her arms, her heart brimming with love and joy. She whispered soft words of encouragement in Spanish, the language of her heart, and vowed to give him the world she had so often yearned for. Patricia knew that her journey had just begun, and there would be daunting challenges ahead, but she was ready to face them head-on. The birth of her son offered a sign of a brighter future with a chance to create opportunities for her son that she could never achieve for herself.
Yiu-Hon marveled at the tiny, fragile life they had brought into this world with his slightly furrowed brows and spectacles perched precariously on the bridge of his nose. Though his command of English was limited, his mathematical prowess was unmatched. He believed that numbers held the key to success, and he dreamed of imparting this knowledge to his son. In his mind, the path to a better life lay in becoming proficient in mathematics, and he was determined to pass this legacy down.
The family's tiny apartment became a sanctuary of dreams and aspirations as the years passed. Despite her English language struggles, Patricia became a fervent advocate for education. She believed spelling and grammar were the keys to unlocking the doors of opportunity. Her faith in the power of language was unwavering, and she tirelessly coached Anthony, encouraging him to become a master speller, hoping that one day, her son would become an orator who could charm the world. However, urging him to learn new words took work for her, given that she could barely speak the language herself.
On the other hand, Yiu-Hon immersed Anthony in numbers from a young age. He taught his son to solve mathematical puzzles, often scribbling numbers on old envelopes and napkins. Yiu-Hon's belief in the importance of mathematics was unshakable, and he envisioned Anthony as a future mathematician who would achieve greatness someday.
As Anthony entered school, he realized that the world was much larger and more complex than the four walls of their public housing apartment. The school was a microcosm of the city, a melting pot of cultures, languages, and backgrounds. Anthony was surrounded by children whose parents were more successful than his parents and who seemed to grasp subjects beyond spelling and mathematics effortlessly. They spoke fluently in English, a language Anthony struggled to master. Therefore, his early days took a lot of work. It took him almost a month to learn the language. There were no classes for whom English was a second language. He immersed himself in English and did everything he could to master his communication skills. It was the biggest challenge of his life, and he gave it everything he had to master the language.
He felt a sense of inadequacy creeping in as if he was fighting an uphill battle in a race where others had a head start. Learning to speak English was one of his primary goals despite being confined to the confines of his small apartment with parents who were not proficient in the language.
The parents watched their son's struggles with a heavy heart. They knew that the odds were stacked against him, that the path to success was fraught with obstacles they could scarcely imagine. Yet, they refused to give in to despair. They had come too far and sacrificed too much to let their dreams for Anthony crumble.
Anthony, however, was acutely aware of the limitations of his environment and the resources available to him. While he understood that his parents loved him deeply and did their utmost to support him, he also recognized that their ability to guide him to success was limited. He grew up frustrated, believing he was never doing enough to succeed.
The good news is that after 30 days of struggle, Anthony finally could grasp what the teacher was saying in class. He had finally gained command of the English language to keep up with his teacher’s instruction.
During these formative years, Anthony realized he would have to rely on his instincts, learn from his mistakes through trial and error, and seek other role models to guide him toward success. He understood that despite their unwavering love, his parents could not create an environment that would allow him to keep up with the backgrounds of other children competing for success.
Driven by a burning determination, Anthony began a relentless quest for knowledge. He taught himself everything he could, from reading books on diverse subjects at the local library to doing everything he could do to upgrade his skills. He competed not against others but against himself, constantly pushing the boundaries of his abilities.
Anthony recognized that success wasn't solely defined by the destination one reached; it was also measured by the distance between a person's starting point and their ultimate goal. It was a lesson that that his father had ingrained in him from an early age. He knew that to escape the confines of his deprived surroundings, he would have to dig deep within himself, forging his path to success through sheer determination and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Sadly, as Anthony had finally gained control over his command of the language and his classes, tragedy struck. His father suddenly died of a brain aneurysm just before Anthony was 10. After coming home from school, Anthony found his deceased father dead, lying on the floor after his medical attack. It took him several months to recover emotionally. This episode represented another blow to his upbringing as Anthony now had to deal with his father’s loss and console his mom, who became suicidal after suddenly losing her husband. It took him several months to recover from this tragedy.
He also hated that every person who learned he was growing up without a father automatically assumed that he came from a “broken home.” He would have to correct them and say that his dad had passed away and had not abandoned his family. In most cases, they didn’t even believe that his dad had passed away and felt he would say his father had died to avoid the embarrassment. So, after a while, he let it go, focused on surviving, and let others think what they wanted.
As he reached high school, Anthony faced a critical juncture. The pressure to succeed was relentless, and he understood his fierce competition. Many of his competitors were already fast-tracked to prestigious universities and promising careers. It was daunting, but Anthony struggled to overcome the challenges before him.
He channeled his mother's love for language into becoming an effective communicator. His essays and speeches resonated with emotion and insight, leaving his teachers in awe. But Anthony needed to be more content with simply excelling academically. He understood that the world demanded more than technical skills; it required connecting with people, understanding their perspectives, and bridging divides. He joined clubs dedicated to improving his communication skills, where he met peers from diverse backgrounds who shared his passion for success.
Despite his successes, the challenges of his upbringing continued to shape his journey. The financial burden of college loomed large, and the thought of failing often kept him awake at night. On top of these challenges, Anthony had a daughter named Patty at the age of 19, whom he had to take care of and support.
While many assumed that having a child at an early age would torpedo his opportunity for success, Anthony took that the responsibility of bringing a child into this world made his desire for success even more urgent. He felt a deep sense of responsibility to care for his daughter Patty and help her attain a better life without some of the early obstacles he faced during his formative years. It would not be easy, but he was ready for the challenge!
About the Creator
Chan Economics LLC, Public Speaker
Chief Global Economist & Public Speaker JPM Chase ('94-'19).
Senior Economist Barclays ('91-'94)
Economist, NY Federal Reserve ('89-'91)
Econ. Prof. (Univ. of Dayton, '86-'89)