For our 10th birthday (our first issue premiered June 2006!), we profiled 10 local women who, against odds or in the face of uncertainty, raised the bar, achieved success, and continue to inspire those around them every day. We celebrate these women and their accomplishments because they encourage us to put one foot in front of the other, even when our strength is running low. They are a reminder that failure does not mean you will never meet your goals. Failure means you are one step closer to success.
We will begin with Pearl Fu, Roanoke’s Ambassador of Goodwill and the founder of Roanoke’s premiere multicultural year round program, Local Colors. Her strength and compassion remind us to open our hearts and our ears to the stories of those around us—because every day is a chance to learn something new.
Outside of Roanoke, where is your favorite place to be?
I have to be careful, because I have three daughters who are in different parts, and I love being with them. We all get together for Christmas in Boston. That’s where the oldest one lives. We call her number one daughter. Some people think it’s because I like number one most, but that’s not the reason. It’s by age. Number one, Penny, was born first. She works for New England Biolab. They recruited her from MIT.
My number two daughter, Wendy, majored in art and filming. She’s won awards ever since she was little. Her building was right across from the Twin Towers on 9/11. Afterwards she decided she wanted to do something to help our country. Today, she works for the government.
Number three, Colette, is an artist. After college, she had no idea what she wanted to be. I took her to my hometown in China to show her our heritage and she fell in love with it. She went there to teach English and every free moment she had she went to the villages to study her heritage. We are a Chinese minority, which is different from regular Chinese. There are 55 types of Chinese minorities, and each one has their own clothing, culture, and music. Colette travelled by herself and took pictures of the minorities in the mountainside. Art galleries in Roanoke exhibited her art, and from there she went on to get her masters degree and travel around the world. Today, she is a world-renowned artist.
All three of my children are very easy-going, hardworking, bright, and intelligent. People have said, “Don’t brag about your family.” I am proud to tell people about them. They are very kind. They care about people, and are very compassionate.
What is the most important thing you have learned while working with multiple ethnicities in our valley?
I had never heard of Roanoke before we came here (in the 1980s). There was another family that worked with my husband that came before us and said that Roanoke was very unfriendly. They told us we would not be welcomed. When I heard that, I’m not one to sit there and wait. If they don’t come to me, I’ll go to them. I made Chinese bread and knocked on the doors of my neighbors. I introduced myself and they were really friendly. You really need to give people an opportunity. Don’t just block yourself.
You learn so much from each culture and there seems to be a fear of people that are different from you. There is a tendency to stay away from them. I notice people seem to gravitate towards others that are from their culture. There is so much to learn from each one’s background and culture, and if you learn from that then you can respect and understand the behavior of people. The more we approach people that are different and get to know them, the less we fear them.
People don’t realize that the American way of looking at things is so different from other countries. In China, many of our customs are opposite from America. If you didn’t know that, you would wonder why people behave the way they do. Once you learn that you can wipe that out and the world will be a much friendly place.
For example, in China, our lucky color is red, and so our wedding gowns are red. The unlucky color is white. If you give a gift to a Chinese person, and you wrap it up in white, they would be so upset. It’s like you are wishing them bad luck.
Tell us about one person who has inspired you over the years.
Of all the countries that I wanted to go to, the most important one was America. It goes back to my grandfather. He always thought that America and China should be working together. He was the governor of Yunnan, and a very popular leader. At that time, if you said something like that, you could be executed. But deep down inside they knew what he said was true so he couldn’t be harmed. However, his position was taken away from him.
When President Nixon opened the door, my grandfather was reinstated as a hero in Chinese history. I feel like I am following in his legacy to not be afraid to say what you believe in. Money or power do not impress me, but people that care about others are so important.
It is Pearl’s sincere desire to help immigrants, new citizens, visitors, and ethnic nationals to acclimate themselves to their communities. If you or someone you know could benefit from her knowledge of that process, do not hesitate to reach out. She can also point you in the right direction if you are looking for more information on the many different cultures represented throughout Roanoke. So, stop her if you see her out in town, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions. Also, visit www.localcolors.org for more information on upcoming events like Taste of Culture, where participants can experience the music, culture, and food from different countries.
Stay tuned to our website for more interviews from extraordinary women throughout the month and pick up this month’s issue to read all 10!