Walter Angus Li – From Guyana to the United States

A forward on Walter Angus Li’s story by his son, Steven Li.

As a child of an immigrant, learning about my parent’s life when they were young is a fascinating topic. From the cultural differences to the varying lifestyle they grew up in, you get to learn that life can be harder than you think, or it can be easier than you think. Being able to travel and see where my parents grew up is an eye-opening experience that many people do not get the chance to have. Understanding that they had a different childhood and being able to see the struggles that they had growing up makes me appreciate all the hard work that they have accomplished in their life.

Walter, his wife Seerani, and his son Steven Li

Walter was born in Guyana, a small country in the Northern part of South America. He grew up in a multicultural household of ten children with his mother’s relatives coming from Portugal, and his father’s relatives coming from China. Throughout his childhood, he saw his extended family frequently, and remarked that he still considers himself and his family to be “very close.”

Throughout his childhood, he enjoyed celebrating Christmas, Boxing Day (which is the day after Christmas), Phagwah (which is a Hindu holiday), and Easter. He lived in a small community country town growing up, remarking that it was so small that it’s “not really a town, no one calls it a town.” Like his own family, his town was made up of many different races, from Portuguese, Indian, Amerindians (natives of Guyana), and African. Due to its size, “everybody knew one another.” Most of the jobs in this town were involved with government work, but others were ranchers, farmers, teachers, and airline workers.

During his life, the biggest event that he remembered was the Jim Jones event in 1978, a tragic event where cult-leader Jim Jones led hundreds of his followers into a mass murder-suicide at an agricultural commune in Guyana. Although it “didn’t affect me personally,” this event affected him indirectly as the event shuck his community and country.

Walter left Guyana in 1988 when he was only 19 years old with his brothers, sisters, and parents. They left Guyana for “a better standard of living,” leaving behind some family members and their community. Before arriving in the United States, Walter laughed when saying that he expected it to be “cold and all concrete.” However, he was pleasantly surprised by the thousands of trees lining the side of the highways, and the intense heat of August. 

Additionally, he “heard that America is all fancy candy and food, and stuff like that,” full of mainly modern buildings, businesses, and infrastructure. He remarked that coming from “a third-world country, everything was completely new.”  When he flew into the United States, he landed in New York City, and was surprised by the “amount of people, lights, and size of the city.” Growing up he hadn’t had a TV or radio, so he was amazed by how modernized New York was.

Unlike in his small town growing up, it was strange to him that one could “see so many people, yet you don’t know a single one.” He came to think of the United States as a “strange land where you don’t really know anyone.”

One of the funny culture shocks that he had was when “I walked in the store and picked up a beer and put it on the counter and didn’t even know that there was a drinking age here for buying liquor.”

Although he was born in Guyana, Walter Li most strongly identifies with America, since he has lived here for most of his life. I enjoyed the several interesting stories he shared about coming to a new country as a young adult which helped me to reflect upon how the United States is viewed by people from other countries. 

A special thank you to Steven for interviewing his father and sharing his story with me!!

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