BORN IN CHINA, IMMIGRANT’S LIFE
BEGAN IN AMERICA
SOLOMON YUE JR’S AMERICAN DREAM takes concrete form in his 8,500-square-foot
custom-built home overlooking the Willamette Valley, a marble and mahogany-lined
palace with a sweeping spiral staircase and an acoustically engineered
performance space for chamber music.
When his father first saw the house several years ago, he said, “Holy cow, the
Communists could have fit 20 families in here.”
Yue, 47, was only 7 when China’s Cultural Revolution started, but his voice
grows tight with anger when he recalls the day the Communists forced his parents
to give up two rooms of their Shanghai house for poor families. He’s since lived
in defiance of communism – a life that turned around when he set foot on U.S.
“Oct. 23, 1980: I consider that my freedom day,” Yue says. “I understand the
desire to come to this country for freedom or economic opportunity.”
As Congress wrestles with the first significant immigration reform in a decade,
Yue has become a uniquely qualified spokesman on the issue. He’s serving his
second term as the Oregon Republican Party’s national committeeman, but more
important, he’s a model immigrant who has followed the rules – and expects the
same of others.
Yue’s position: He worked hard and waited for a green card and citizenship. It’s
not fair that others be rewarded for what he sees as skirting that process.
Whether it’s his house, his two businesses or his political views, Yue has lived
in America with a single-minded goal: “To turn Karl Marx over in his grave.”
Yue’s ticket out of Communist China started with a plea from his grandfather.
John Yue escaped to Hong Kong in 1949, but the government punished his
descendants in Shanghai because he was active in the Methodist Church and owned
his own tailoring business.
Solomon Yue says his grandfather met Glenn Olds, then president of Alaska
Pacific University, at an international Methodist conference, and asked him to
assist his 16-year-old grandson in Shanghai.
“He is in a lot of trouble,” John Yue told Olds. “He can’t keep his mouth shut.”
More specifically, young Solomon made a habit of resisting the daily lessons of
Mao’s Little Red Book and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. He argued with
teachers, pointing out the flaws of communism. They, in turn, made him write
“self-criticism” and sent him to a farm for re-education, where he says he was
forced to spread cow dung on rice fields with his bare hands.
Party members told his parents, he says, that if they couldn’t silence their
son, one day he would disappear into the night, they’d be charged 6 cents for
the bullet to execute him and his organs would be sold all over Asia.
Olds helped Yue get an international student visa to attend Alaska Pacific, and
later that year he boarded a plane for Anchorage.
At this point in telling his story, Yue relaxes, his voice softens, as if his
memories themselves crossed over to freedom. Seated in an overstuffed leather
chair in his home’s formal office, he’s as comfortable in his black tailored
suit and multi-colored tie as others are in pajamas. All his suits are
custom-made in Hong Kong, at a tailor shop similar to his late grandfather’s.
“I started over literally from A-B-C. I only knew two words in English: ‘Thank
you’ and ‘Coca-Cola,’” he says. He waited tables at a Chinese restaurant and
worked as a night janitor at a supermarket to support himself through school.
He knew the student visa allowed him to be in the United States while in school
but that he must prove himself employable if he wanted to stay
He earned his MBA and worked for the Alaska World Trade Corp. When the company
needed an international trade specialist to help with joint ventures with China,
Yue applied immediately. The job would mean a green card.
The company chose Yue from about 100 candidates, he says. When he got the IRS
form indicating his visa petition was accepted, the company had it framed. He
still displays it in his home office, along with autographed pictures of
“I’m from China”
Dr. Ourania Otey was filling in at a clinic in Anchorage when an Asian man came
in, insisting on a physical.
“It’s an emergency, because if I don’t get my green card, I will be shipped back
to where I came from and disappear into the night,” he recalls telling her.
An immigrant from Greece, Ourania was curious. She asked if he was Korean. No.
Japanese? No. Taiwanese? No.
“I’m from China,” Yue recalls saying.
“I didn’t know they let Commies in here,” he recalls Ourania flippantly saying.
Here was someone who hated communism as much as he did. That, he says, captured
She mentioned that she liked classical music, and he invited her to the dress
rehearsal of a chamber music show he was performing in. He had studied violin as
a snub to the Communist government, which considered the instrument decadent and
At the rehearsal, they talked about their experiences as immigrants and their
“We hit it off well,” Yue says. “We shared things, like our belief in the Second
Amendment. She had experienced a right-wing military coup in Athens. We both
know the first thing a tyrannical government makes you do is turn in your guns.”
They married in Anchorage a year later, in 1990, and looked for a place where
Ourania could have her own practice. They heard that there was a need for
doctors in Salem, so they moved to Oregon to start a medical clinic in Salem.
Ourania Yue became the sole practitioner, and Solomon ran the business side.
When Ourania complained that her medical gloves left white powder on her
clothes, Yue called one of his factory contacts in Malaysia. He asked a glove
factory whether it could make a glove that was powdered only on the inside. The
factory developed a “wet powder” process that coated the outside, and the
Ultra+Seal Glove was born. He runs the company from his home office.
He and Ourania also own and manage several rental properties in Salem. Since the
day Communists violated his family’s private property rights, ownership has
meant everything to Yue.
Owning property, a home and two businesses, he says, “is a triumph over
communism and a triumph over what they tried to brainwash me with. I wanted to
show them they failed.”
To Yue, immigration to the United States and the benefits of residency and
citizenship are like that childhood home in Shanghai. His father worked hard for
it. It wasn’t fair that he was forced to give up what was rightfully his.
Likewise, when he thinks about illegal immigrants getting amnesty, he thinks
about the seven years he waited to sponsor his parents to come to the United
States (five to get his citizenship and two to petition for their visa).
“If we grant amnesty, what happens to the people on the waiting list?” he says.
“What happens to all those people who’ve applied to bring their relatives here?”
Nevertheless, the immigration debate has become too polarized, he says. Yue
favors increasing border security, and enforcing existing immigration laws while
implementing a work visa program for farmworkers and other fields in which there
are shortages. Participants would be required to return to their home countries
after three or six years.
“We have to do something without resorting to ugly name-calling. I’m not a Lars
Larson person,” he says, referring to the conservative radio talk-show host
known for pitched rhetoric.
“But I’m not an open-borders person either. I’m a common-sense person.”
Uniquely American couple
Sociologists say that the greatest long-term impact of immigration will be
neither economic nor political – it will be the intermarrying of people from
disparate cultures and nationalities who would have never mingled in a
less-mobile era. These unions, they say, will literally change the face of
Solomon and Ourania Yue see themselves as a uniquely and consummately American
Ourania remembers as an 8-year-old in Athens, she had a teacher who talked about
Plato’s “Symposium,” which said that humans once had two of everything: heads,
sets of arms and legs, hearts. The gods, threatened by their strength, split
them into halves.
“Our teacher said if you find your other half it’s very powerful,” Ourania
recalls. “I thought to myself, “With my luck, my other half is in China.’”
Back then, she had no idea where China was, only that it was far away. She
emigrated from Greece for her first husband, a U.S. citizen. They divorced. And
then Yue walked into her exam room. “I found my other half,” she says.
Yue says he and Ourania’s support of legal immigration amounts to an
appreciation for the country that gave them priceless opportunities – including
the chance to find one another.
“I say she is my soul mate because we both know what it is to come to this
country and find safe haven,” Yue says. Then, he can’t resist adding with a
“Plus, she hates Karl Marx as much as I do.”
Monday, July 24, 2006
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