From a Chinese latchkey kid to an American entrepreneur in Bellevue | My Turn

  • Thursday, February 9, 2017 5:04pm
  • Opinion

Helen Wang is CEO and cofounder of in Bellevue.

“I am a little wolf from the North,

walking on the infinite wilderness,

sharp and cold wind blows,

along with the yellow sands.

I can only clench my cold cold teeth,

and give my two long howls.

It is not for anything, but

for that legendary, beautiful pasture.”

For so many times in 1989, I was that crazy teenage girl riding on my green bike cruising through the Hu Tongs (small alleys) of Beijing between home and school, emotionally singing this song out loud and out of my heart. I felt like that little wolf because I am from Beijing, which is in the north of China. That beautiful, legendary pasture is the United States where my parents were and where I dreamed to be. I felt trapped in the infinite wilderness as I had tried to get a visa from the U.S. embassy perhaps a dozen times and was rejected every time.

Each time I went to get my visa, my aunt and I got up at 3 a.m. to wait in a long line outside the U.S. embassy. After hours of waiting in line and paperwork, I typically had a less-than-five-minute conversation with an American officer saying, “I am sorry that I cannot grant you a visa because you have immigration tendency.”

One time, after I biked home in despair, I was so tired from the early rising that I took a long nap. I woke up in complete darkness and I was all alone. I cried. That was the loneliest and the most helpless moment in my life, which is still so vivid in my memory and gives me tears on my face as I am writing this today.

In my last trip to the U.S. embassy in December 1989, I told myself that it was my last try, and if I still couldn’t get my visa, then I would stop trying and it was just not meant to be. That morning, I really heard a magpie (the bird that Chinese believe brings good luck) sing on a tree outside the embassy where we waited in line. I got my visa that day.

My parents told me to not to tell my friends, classmates or school, but just pack my bags to fly to the U.S. as soon as possible, because they were so afraid that my visa would be taken away by anyone, especially in a China that just had the Tiananmen Square massacre in June. On Dec. 15, 1989, I landed in Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and reunited with my father after not seeing him for three years and reunited with my mother after not seeing her for one year. That was the longest year in my life.

What I experienced in 1989 China is probably similar to what many people from Muslim countries experience today — it takes years of efforts and heartaches to immigrate to the U.S. and for families to reunite because of various hurdles including the long visa process due to both the rigorous background check and maintaining the quota for U.S. entry.

What re-ignited that old pain in my heart is that the Muslim ban is trying to take that hard-earned visa back. If there were such a China ban on Dec. 15, 1989, I’d be denied entry at the Dallas airport with my parents being just on the other side of the gate; we’d be so close and yet so far from each other. This is what many have painfully experienced since the Muslim ban. My heart goes to them. May American people help them and protect them!

America is truly a “beautiful country,” as in its name in Chinese (Mei Guo). It is a place where hard work and aspiration can earn you opportunities and success no matter who you are, where you are from and how humble your beginning was.

My family certainly had a humble beginning. My father had just $40 when he first came to the U.S. One week after my arrival in the U.S., he was diagnosed with cancer.

Despite such a tough beginning, I could still aspire, work hard and flourish. I got my Ph.D. in computer science from UC Berkeley, became a renowned computer scientist and made fundamental contributions to people’s daily computing, and now I am the CEO and cofounder of, working to change the world of children’s enrichment education.

I am just one of the many motivated, passionate and hardworking immigrants who has helped make our nation America. I hope America will always be the dream land for these immigrants and warmly welcome them to realize their full potential and to greatly contribute to this world.

Helen Wang is CEO and cofounder of in Bellevue.

More in Opinion

Time to focus on school choice in Bellevue and across America | Guest Column

by Andrew R. Campanella National School Choice Week Next week, schools, homeschool… Continue reading

Viewers in the gallery applaud as Gov. Jay Inslee makes his annual state-of-the state address before a joint legislative session Tuesday in Olympia. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
Inslee: ‘It’s our state’s destiny … to fight climate change’

In his State-of-the-State address, the governor made the case for an ambitious carbon tax.

Inslee: ‘It’s our state’s destiny … to fight climate change’

In his State-of-the-State address, the governor made the case for an ambitious carbon tax.

Reflecting on the ‘old’ and ringing in the “New” Year | Book Nook

The final column of KCLS’s interim director, Stephen A. Smith.

Displaced by a hurricane: Disaster relocation lessons

Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series by Bellevue… Continue reading

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks with Sound Publishing staff during a meeting on Jan. 20 at the Bellevue Reporter office. Photo by Matt Phelps/Kirkland Reporter
Judge delivers crushing blow to Inslee’s Clean Air Rule

It was the centerpiece of the governor’s crusade against climate change. Now it’s gone.

KCLS unveils its Best Books of 2017

And the envelope, please. Continuing an end-of-year tradition that dates back more… Continue reading

Displaced by a hurricane: The quest for housing | Guest Column

Woman describes challenges of helping family move from Puerto Rico to Bellevue

Firearms banned from state Senate gallery during sessions | The Petri Dish

Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib calls for prohibiting overcoats, large bags

Is someone you love experiencing memory loss? There’s a road map to help | Guest Column

By Shirley Newell Aegis Living At first, it might seem inconsequential, misplaced… Continue reading

What tax reform means here at home | Guest Column

Tax reform proposals swirling around Washington, D.C. right now make some sweeping… Continue reading

Global warming impacts | Letter

10-year-old writes about climate change concerns