In this morning’s Sense of Community installment, you met Veronica Palit from the former Soviet republic of Moldova. Veronica officially became a United States citizen two months ago at a naturalization ceremony held at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. As it happens, the woman we’re profiling this afternoon was the keynote speaker at that ceremony.
Lisa Sun is a programmer-analyst in the Computer Technology Services Department at American National Insurance headquarters here in Springfield. Her husband, Dr. Wenping Qiu, is a research professor in the Environmental Plant Science and Natural Resources Department at Missouri State University-Mountain Grove, where he directs the Center for Grapevine Biotechnology.
“I was born in Wuhan, China,” said Lisa Sun. “It’s a transportation hub, and it is a very big city.”
She spent her first 26 years living in Wuhan.
“We lived in an apartment, [a] four-story [apartment building]. And we went to elementary school, middle school, high school. It was just…normal, I think,” she said.
Up to the end of 1978, there were no diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Lisa Sun describes it as “a closed door. We didn’t have any view, or know anything about, outside of China.”
For a decade, things in China seemed to be opening up a bit, says Lisa Sun. “Everything looked really good at that time, and (it) seemed everything worked well. The economy was booming before ’89. And then suddenly…” (She pauses) “…this crackdown happened.”
June 4, 1989. We, of course, just marked the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, when the Chinese Communist government declared martial law in order to brutally suppress student protests that had been going on since April.
“We were so shocked,” says Sun. “Basically we were desperate, and felt helpless. We were hoping to have a really good country, and that we had a good future in front of us we can see. And then it seems like, cannot trust anybody.”
Lisa and Wenping knew a missionary English teacher. They discussed their feelings of hopelessness with him, and he introduced them to Christianity—which they embraced wholeheartedly. Within five years, they were both in the United States. “My husband and I actually had an ‘American dream’ early on, even before our marriage in 1988. He studied English all the time, and tried to apply for an American university, to come here to get higher education.”
But in 1989 the Chinese government imposed a rule that students had to serve the country for five years before they could get permission to travel abroad.
In 1993, five years after graduation, Wenping was offered a scholarship to complete his Ph.D. in plant pathology at North Carolina State University. Lisa and the couple’s three-year-old son came over about six months later. In the late 1990s they went to Texas A&M University, where Wenping did his post-doctoral research, and Lisa earned a Master’s in computer science.
“Then in 2000, he was offered a job at Missouri State University, on the Mountain Grove campus.” They now live in Springfield; Dr. Qiu commutes to Mountain Grove twice a week.
The couple joined Second Baptist Church soon after they moved to Springfield in about 2004, and one of their biggest projects here has been the establishment of a campus Chinese Baptist church for students here on the Springfield MSU campus. Lisa Sun remarks on the significance of the date: “October the 10th, 2010—that’s 10/10/10; in Chinese, that’s three crosses—we started our first service.”
When Lisa acted as keynote speaker at the naturalization ceremony at Wilson’s Creek Battlefield two months ago, she told the story of how she and her husband became citizens. She read part of her address for us.
“To us, America represents freedom. My husband and I worked really hard to come to the States. In 1997 Wenping graduated from N.C. State. He received his Ph.D. there… at the same time I earned my ‘Ph.T.’ meaning ‘Push Husband Through!’
“In the spring of 2004, after ten years of effort, expectation, and anticipation, we joyfully received our green cards. And we knew at that time, for sure, we can stay here in the States. And then we immediately applied for citizenship after we got the green cards—we wanted to be a part of our ‘dream country.’ Here we can vote, and we have the right to speak freely. Also, we can seek happiness without fear. But it took us five more years to get there.”
When Lisa and Wenping Qiu became U.S. citizens in 2009, one of their friends at church, Sam Bradley, wrote to Congressman Roy Blunt to request an American flag to commemorate the occasion. The certificate that came with it read, “This flag was flown in honor of their receiving their United States citizenship.” Lisa Sun concludes, “That was the most joyful and proudest time of our lives in the United States of America.”