We first met Ms. Jie (Jay) Yao at the Chinese Women Association of Cleveland’s Summer Potluck on Sunday, August 18, 2019, in Lakewood Park. We conversed with her and learned that she immigrated to the United States with her family in 2000 after living for five years in New Zealand. A realtor by profession who works with Re/Max Haven Realty, Jay impressed us as being charming and knowledgeable so we asked her if she would consent to an interview for “I, Foreign Born” which ultimately took place on the terrace of Starbucks Coffee (i.e. we have been interviewing quite a few people lately at various Starbucks) in Hudson not far from where she lives.
As far as her roots, Jay was born in Beijing in 1962 to parents who were both engineers in the textile industry; her mother’s focus was sock productions while her father concentrated on t-shirts and sport coats although he later moved up to a managerial position. Jay has a brother named Chun who, as a boy, was very into martial arts while Jay, herself, liked dancing and writing essays in school. In 1981, Jay started nursing school and completed it three years later and went on to work in ICU and then EKG and cardio (Cardiac tests). She later earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology.
In 1988, she married her husband, Yanhai Du, who worked as a researcher in energy-related fields with the goal of becoming a professor. Not long afterwards, in 1989 Jay and Yanhai had their first child, a daughter named Yanxi. Although their lives were comfortable, Jay and Yanhai wanted to explore the rest of the world so they decided to leave China and re-settle in New Zealand where Yanhai could further his studies. Thus, they moved to New Zealand in 1995 where Yanhai developed an excellent reputation for his work with fuel cells; so much so that his findings attracted the attention of Acumetrics, Inc., a company homed in Walpole, Massachusetts who offered Yanhai and his family a chance to once again immigrate, this time to the United States. At this time, Yanhai and Jay had just had their second child, a boy named Kevin and welcomed the opportunity to move to Walpole via an H-1 visa for Yanhai and H-2 visas for Jay and the children.
However, 9/11 occurred and its aftermath caused Acumetrics, Inc. to undergo several transitions motivating Yanhai to accept a position at the University of Connecticut where he was proud to finally earn his doctorate in 2004, a year later both he and Jay acquired their green cards. Over the next few years, due to varying circumstances, the family moved two more times, initially to Buffalo, New York where Yanhai worked as an Engineering Director for Nanodynamics, and then to Columbia where he served as a Research Professor at University of South Carolina. During this time period, Jay made a conscientious decision to mostly devote herself to raising/nurturing Yanxi and Kevin although she did worked as a registered Cardiovascular Sonographer, in Buffalo, Research laboratory in Ohio and taught science at a charter school in South Carolina.
Then in 2012-2013 two important things happened: Jay, Yanhai and Kevin became United States citizens (Yanxi was over 18 and acquired her citizenship two years later) and they permanently established themselves in Northeast Ohio where Yanhai now holds a position at Kent State University (KSU) as an Associate Professor at the College of Aeronautics and Engineering as well as Team Leader and Principal Investigator of the KSU Fuel Cell Program.
As for Jay, her decision to focus on the welfare of their children paid off beautifully because Yanxi earned a BA in Business from Boston University and is now a successful Sr Account Manager for a marketing service company in New York City and Kevin is on the way to earning his BA in engineering at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU).
When we asked her what she really likes about living in the United States, she thoughtfully replied that although not all things are perfect here, but the governing systems assure basic human rights are protected by the U.S. Constitution so there is not the abuse of power that she often witnessed in her homeland although she frequently still travels to China to visit her parents who are elderly now. Since 2016, Jay has been selling real estate and loves it because she enjoys working with people and has a penchant for refurbishing/renovating homes. At this time, most of her clientele is Asian but she enthusiastically welcomes the chance to work with people of all cultures because it is a wonderful learning experience and she just loves to learn.