United States Heartland China Association


News, Analysis & Insights

Ailing and Kinfat Lai: One Chinese Family’s Heartland Immigration Story


Interview and translation by USHCA Intern Wendy Xu Edited by Tony Tang, Hunan Normal University

Ling and her husband are government contractors who do alterations for the troops at Grand Forks Air Force Base in Grand Forks, North Dakota. They have been doing this together for more than 10 years.


Q: First, please introduce yourself. When did you move to the US?
A: I moved to the US in 2003.

Q: What motivated you to come work in the US?
A: At the time, we had a relative in California, and we applied to immigrate together. Then after one year, we moved to Grand Forks.

Q: Could you briefly introduce your company and what you do?
A: We are government contractors. We sew on insignias and do alternations of military uniforms. We also do alternations of civilian clothes. We provide drop off services for uniform dry cleaning. We don't make uniforms.

Q: Why are you interested in this field?
A: I have been interested in handcrafts since I was young.

Q: How long have you been working in this company?
A: About 15 years.


Q: Before working here, have you ever taken any other jobs in the US?
A: I used to work part time in a restaurant. At that time, our daughters were still very young, so I needed to take them to school, pick them up, and cook dinner every day. I had no time for a full-time job.

Q: When you first came to the US, what challenges did you encounter due to cultural differences?
A: I had some problems in understanding the culture, language and environment. Fortunately, I am a very adaptable person. My daughters could speak some English, but I didn’t know English at all. So, I used my free time to take English classes. Every morning we took the early class and picked up our daughters at noon. It was a hard time when we first came here.

Q: Being an immigrant for these years, will you consider yourself to be culturally more Chinese or more American?
A: Culturally more American. After all, we have been here for a long time and have gotten used to everything here.


Q: Could you give me an example of how you interact with American employers, colleagues and/or clients?

A: We rarely meet with our headquarters. We only correspond through email. We just do what we can to do a great job for our customers. Unlike other companies that negotiate many aspects of their business, as government contractors, we just follow the stipulations of our contracts.

Q: Compared to your previous work in China, are there any differences with your work here? (tasks, responsibilities, networking etc.) A: We did something similar in Hong Kong. When we were in Hong Kong, my husband was a pattern maker and I made sample clothing based on the designs.


Q: What is your biggest accomplishment in your current job?
A: Our customers are satisfied with our work. We think our greatest accomplishment is giving customers satisfaction. We received a great honor from the military, too. We were are proud to be recognized for the contributions we made to the men and women who preserve the American Dream.
答:顾客对我们的工作成果很满意, 我觉得让顾客满意是很大的成就。 军队也给予了我们很大的荣誉。他们对我们做出的贡献感到自豪,觉得我们成就了大家的美国梦。

Ling and her husband were also covered in a story on Grand Forks Air Force Base website in 2015: https://www.grandforks.af.mil/News/Features/Display/Article/763939/sewing-happiness-into-uniforms/

Pat McAloon