Seasons Greetings! Here are the three 2017 personal letters: from Margaret W. Wong, Rose Wong, and Joseph Fungsang.
Margaret W. Wong, Esq.
Dear Family and Friends,
My mother and mentor, Mama Wong, passed away in January at age 97. She was her generation’s first Chinese female reporter in Shanghai, China in the civil war era of the 1930s-1940s; the first daughter of the first Chinese publisher of a Beijing newspaper for everyday people; and a 1944 graduate of Shanghai’s prestigious Fu Dan University. Her stepmother was the founder and national president of the National Women’s Association in China in the 1920s in Beijing. I am her oldest daughter. I am still trying to follow her lead and make something of myself.
2017 has been a tumultuous year for all Foreign Borns in the United States. People without immigration papers are being picked up daily from bus stops; in immigration offices while applying for work cards; when they drop off their wives and children at work and school; and outside courthouses when they report crimes or appear for traffic tickets. Some who entered the U.S. legally are afraid to leave the U.S. because they cannot come back for 3 or 10 years if they overstay their visas. Our corporate clients are forever rushing to sponsor their employees against ever-dwindling visas numbers and the current administration’s policy goal of reducing the number of annual green card approvals. Even those applicants who were lucky enough to be selected in visa lotteries are facing increased vetting and scrutiny, with questions about everything including their jobs and salaries.
Our firm’s nine offices are doing well. I travel at least three days per week. My sisters and brother give me rides to and from airports, and we have our quiet time just to talk. I feel so blessed when I hear our Foreign Borns’ stories and the hardships they have experienced on their journeys toward the American dream. I never stop reminding my mentees, young lawyers, and coworkers of their good fortune of having legal status in the U.S. and not having to fight the indignities of long visa processing lines both domestically and abroad.
I challenge you, my friend, to visit a U.S. Consulate or Embassy the next time you travel abroad. Witness the seemingly endless lines and the attitudes of the U.S. consular officers. Having worked with them for over 40 years, I don’t blame them. The conditions that our government officials work under are dangerous, with increasing anti-U.S. sentiment overseas and budget cuts from the State Department that adversely affect their protection and security.
To learn and to better serve our clients, after heavy courting (and I will tell you, I worked very hard at courting), we merged with attorneys Richard Drucker and Jonathan Bartell, two great lawyers who have decades of criminal and immigration law experience. The majority of our partners, lawyers, and paralegals have received their training in-house, and it is fascinating to learn from lateral colleagues when they bring new ideas and practice benchmarks to the table with them.
I remain active on the foundation board of my (and my daughter’s) alma mater, the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School. I continue to teach immigration law at Case Western University Law School, and my partner Scott Bratton teaches at Cleveland State University Law School. We compare notes on our students’ preparedness and compete on the quality of our classes. It’s fun. Of course, I think my students and classes are better, but Scott has been winning so many cases in federal and immigration courts around the country that I must defer to him. Our partners Francis Fungsang and Fabiola Cini, our lawyers, and our staff are just inspirational. Even when I feel down and powerless in today’s administration, they just go out there and win tough cases in courts and administrative offices all over the country. It is truly inspiring.
Earlier this year, I received an honorary degree from Cuyahoga Community College, and I felt like Cinderella for that one night, with all the college graduates and their families in attendance. My family came too.
Now that our firm has matured, I have more time to read, to write, and – most importantly – to think. I love what I do. I am forever grateful that I am in the right place and right time to be of service to our colleagues and clients. Many people search their entire lives to find their place in this world, and they keep asking, “Is this all there is?” Our firm is now uniquely positioned at the right time and place to help. My journey has progressed from me leaving Hong Kong for the U.S. with a scholarship to now helping hundreds and thousands of people to be on the path to their dreams. My journey – our journey – continues.
With warmth and full of love and gratitude,
Margaret W. Wong December 2017
Merry Christmas! This will be a bittersweet holiday in that Mom, the force that bound our family together all these years since you left, has departed our earthly realm, but the thought of your reunion with her on the other side brings immense comfort to our heavy hearts.
This year has seen some glorious celebrations: your grandchildren Stephanie’s and Allison’s weddings. Oh, were they glorious! I can only imagine the pride in your eyes had you seen the glow of love and joy on the faces of all who were there.
This year is also marked with indelible sadness: Mom’s passing has left a vacuum so deep that the hollow ring of sadness reverberated into every corner of our lives.
Dad, you remember how I, as a troublesome and rebellious teenager, learned the hard way that It was impossible to fool a mother who was a keen observer of human behavior and an on-point interpreter of their thoughts? That ability to observe, interpret, and absorb knowledge like a sponge served her well in all areas of her life. I finally realized that was how she made so many friends with ease, no matter their stations in life. She would go to the market and lament with the street vendors about prices of vegetables and the harshness of life. That afternoon she might be having high tea with some socialite friends and gossip about starlets, or music and movie trends. That evening she could be having dinner with the archbishop of Hong Kong, or millionaire business people and discuss world events and stock prices.
Mom was also blessed with that rare talent of being able to look into the future and see boundless opportunities for everyone. Better yet, she had the ability to make you believe that all those opportunities were within reach, like low-hanging fruit from a bountiful tree. All one needed to do was raise one’s hand and pluck one. Any one.
Unlike you, Mom dismissed the notion of worrying. Worries, she used to say, are invisible fences we built to stop us from venturing forward. It took me years to understand it was not that she lacked empathy, it was just her way of dealing with the folly of wasted time. (Or her way of arming us with the tools to confront the harsh realities similar to the ones she experienced through the war-torn years of her youth.)
Dad, remember that time at the horse racing track, when you got angry at the $50 ticket I bought after you specifically told me no more than betting $2 on any given horse? Guess where I got that risk-taking/gambling gene from? Mom’s love of the game Baccarat is legendary. At her funeral service, Father Tom even commented that she was often more comfortable at the Baccarat table than in the church pews. That brought a chuckle to the hundreds of people who attended Mom’s service.
It’s been 10 months since Mom’s passing. The family has found some semblance of peace by revisiting our past at our weekly Wednesday family dinner. We pull strength from the depth of our bond with each other, your children and grandchildren alike, both near and far.
This month we will celebrate her birthday with many of her close friends in Cleveland. I know without a doubt that both of you will be there with us. Mom will be there because she would never miss a good party. You, who avoided crowds like a plague, won’t have a choice now that you’re together. Right?
Dad, this will be the 21st year that you will not be here with us to celebrate Christmas, but I take some comfort in knowing that you are in good company. Nonetheless, I still miss you as much as the day you left.
Your third daughter,
Joseph Fungsang, Esq.
In Search of Lost Memories
This summer, my wife Sunghee [Curator at Art Space Pool, Seoul] and I traveled to Germany for 10 days to visit the international art exhibitions Documenta 14 in Kassel (held every five years, starting in the 1950s) and Skulptur Projekte Münster in Münster (held every 10 years, starting in the 1970s). We decided to take the trip in order to experience the “Grand Tour,” which is the coincidence of these large-scale exhibitions that happens only every ten years. Since the exhibitions are spread out at various sites throughout their respective cities, most people will take at least more than one day to properly view them.
This was actually Sunghee’s second Grand Tour. In 2007—before we met—she was an editor at a Korean monthly art magazine who had been assigned to cover that summer’s major European exhibitions. This was an era before Google Maps on smartphones, and yet (as she tells it) using only English and printed city maps, she successfully navigated her trip despite traveling alone to Germany for the first time. In a sense, this summer’s trip was retracing the steps she had taken ten years prior.
I was also retracing steps in Germany. I had not been since 2005, when I was a college junior studying abroad in Berlin. One of my majors in college was German, so spending a semester abroad was natural. But Germany this time was both familiar and jarring. I recalled the comforting smell of baking bread in the clean and orderly train stations and the simple pleasure of a German hard roll with butter, cheese, and salami. Yet it was sobering to realize how seldom I had used the language in the decade-plus after college; my awkwardness was evident on our trip when ordering food and asking for directions. I will admit that I often resorted to English.
More than anything else, our trip to Germany made me realize how quickly time goes by. Not so much how time flies when you are having fun, but more so just “real life”—in my case law school, work, relocation, marriage, career changes, etc. In 2005 Berlin I was a junior in college, uncertain of my future direction but confident that I would somehow find the right path for myself. I would finish attending lectures in the morning and wander the streets of Berlin, exploring new neighborhoods as I went along. In 2017 I went back to some of those streets (we saved the last three days for Berlin), and I tried to recall what they were like during my student days. It was hard to recollect exact details from 2005, but what I could distinctly remember from those meandering strolls was a certain excitement, a sense of unlimited possibilities one feels when exploring a new place without much of a set plan. It’s certainly possible that this memory is nothing more than youthful naiveté that was necessarily forgotten in the process of becoming an adult and professional. But I can’t deny that returning to my old stomping grounds made me yearn to have that same feeling once more.
The next Grand Tour will take place in 2027, and on the last day of our trip Sunghee and I half-jokingly made a pact to attend again. Perhaps there is value in revisiting places that are connected to formative experiences. Kind of like bookmarks or timestamps along one’s life trajectory. I am telling myself that until then, I need to make the time count, to not just work hard but also to search for the original inspiration that can easily become buried amid the haste of daily life.
Looking back on this trip, we indeed saw many inspiring artworks, but perhaps the most valuable thing I encountered was a reminder to never let go of, and to fight for, the memories that drive us.
Joseph Fungsang, October 22, 2017
 Technically, the third and arguably most famous exhibition of the Grand Tour that happens every ten years is the Venice Biennale, now in its 57th installment—but we did not have time to go to Venice.