Do not afraid to make mistakes: I used work for a Student Accounting Office of a University. One day, the Student Billing Manager came to me. He said that his office was short staffed and asked me to type a letter for him. I agreed. I typed it up and gave it to him. He quickly checked what I typed and started laughing.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Junko Geddes.
Junko Geddes was born in Manchuria (now China) toward the end of the war. Her father was the founder and the leader of Japan’s first counter espionage activity. He captured Russian spies, converted them, then sent them back to Russia to obtain valuable military information. When she was four months old, by a fate of act, her father was summoned to Japan to become an instructor at Nakano Military Academy in Tokyo. Soon after, US air raid began.
The city was transformed into an inferno. Following the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan surrendered. The mass population migrated within the country, her family of eight moved to Osaka. Since Japan had lost the war, the entire society repented the military actions and shunned military officers. Her father with a family of eight became unemployable. The family’s fortune steadily dwindled. She witnessed how her parents struggled and how close they had come to give in. She loved studying, she aimed high, and nothing else — all her dreams stemmed from achieving her college education. However, when she was a high school senior, she suffered a rheumatic fever that sharply changed the course of her future. Instead of going to college, she went to work as an English typist. Still, she pursued her love of learning the English language. She joined a private English conversation group where she met her future husband, a Fulbright student from Canada. After she obtained Canadian Visa in 1966, she moved to Canada then married in Vancouver, an entirely different planet from Japan. She had no English skills but a dream.
She followed her husband to St. Louis, to Montreal, then to Canton, New York. By then, she was a mother of 16 years old daughter and 14 years old son, a breast cancer survivor, and her husband, now a stranger. She refused to be trapped in a loveless marriage. She graduated from a college with a computer science degree, found a computer programming position, purchased a house for herself and for her two children, then left her husband of twenty-eight years. Her life was a young immigrant woman’s search for her identity, her human dignity, and her freedom.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up watching homeless men in soiled military uniforms in the city. They were forgotten and were curled up on the side-walks and on the park benches.
The entire Japanese nation repented the war effort. The government passed a law that prohibited hiring ex- military officers like my father. My family of eight fell into the quicksand, sinking fast toward poverty.
Though there was no prospect of employment, every day, my father left home on a bicycle to find a job. I witnessed his strong athletic frame steadily get smaller, and his eyes turn dark in the sunken sockets. Yet he was determined to support his family, refusing to give in. The image of my father came back to me when I was going through my divorce and struggling financially. He had demonstrated to me that if I believed in myself, stayed close to my conscience, and just live on one day at a time, I would find my safe path.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
I always loved studying, particularly English. I was a good student and studied hard for college entrance exams. However, when I was a high school senior, I suffered from rheumatic fever, and my dream of going to college abruptly ended. Instead of college, I enrolled in the vocational training course, took English concentrated programs, English typing, Business letter writing in English, and English conversation. The English conversation was taught by a professor, Miss Inagaki, who was teaching Japanese to foreign students at Osaka Foreign Language
University. I received a certificate in English typing and found English typist position and was hired at major trading company as an English typist. Before leaving the vocational school, Miss Inagaki invited me join her private English conversation group at her house. While working as an English typist, I went to Miss Inagaki’s once a week to practice English. Then a while later, Miss Inagaki introduced our group one of her over-sea students, a Fulbright student from Canada. I learned later that he was much older than other students, did not have any friends, lonely, disliked Japan, and could not wait to go back home. I was sad to hear this. I tried to convert him from dislike to like Japan before he went home. I wanted him to bring back good memories of Japan. When I look back, I realized how naive I was. He mistook my action as my love, and he proposed to me. The matter was too huge for an inexperienced head-strong young woman of nine-teen. I did not know how to handle the situation without hurting anybody.
It was a harsh lesson of ‘sympathy is not love’.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I was married in Vancouver 1966. My husband made an application to Washington University in St. Louise to become a graduate student in Japanese language. He was accepted, and we moved to St. Louis, Missouri.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
Upon meeting, my husband’s mother, father, and sister immediately liked me. Their unprovoked love toward me gave me a tremendous strength when I faced prejudice.
So how are things going today?
Now, I am divorced and retired. I have shed the weight off my shoulders. I have entered into a brand-new beginning. I would like to live passionately.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
When I look back, I was stunned to realize how much had I grown from a wide-eyed fresh high school graduate to a mother of two children, a cancer survivor, a divorcee, and a professional retiree. I wrote my memoir to reach out to all the women who are struggling to trust in themselves, find their goals, and stay focused. Then one day, they will become the women they could love.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
The US immigration system is one of the most open and democratic system in the world. The immigrants who come into the US through the immigration system are the lucky ones. However, so called illegal immigrants are not. I believe that a majority of illegal immigrant in the US work to support their families back home, they work twice harder for a pittance. Most are honest and hard-working people, poor but not criminals. Their economical contribution to the US society is significant, but hardly recognized. The US government should grant a work visa to those who have the references and have lived in the US without any criminal record for more than three years.
After the 911 incident, the people with middle eastern origin became subjected to discrimination and harassment in the US and Canada. It is the reflection on the society’s ignorance about the foreign culture and society, and their will to learn. Add foreign culture subjects in school curriculum.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
I was a good student. I loved almost all the subjects, particularly English and math. To me, learning was a rewarding and exciting experience. Learning English planted a curiosity toward the world outside Japan.
Learning Math taught me how to apply the rules to come up with correct answers.
1) Your attitude — no matter how insignificant the working that you are doing, do it at your best you could. Work for your satisfaction not for other’s.
2) When you know that you are right, speak up.
One day, my boss, Pat, put an electric adding machine on my desk and asked me to check the figures on the book of papers with familiar column titles, debit, credit, and balance. I immediately knew what to do and went into motion. My typing skill helped. I needed not to look at the numeric keys at all and fired my fingers away writing in the corrections with a pencil. I was quick and accurate.
I was surprised by the number of errors I found. Almost every page has some errors in writing down figures and, or miscalculation. The incorrect balance was carried over to the next, which compounded errors.
At first, I thought that Pat was testing my ability to analyze the balance sheet. I double checked what I wrote and went to see her. I explained to her each entry I made.
She listened, and said, “Right.” She looked serious.
Later, she asked me to type up pages and pages of journals.
According to what I learned in the evening Accounting course; the journal entries are for account corrections.
Soon, I wasn’t filing documents nor typing up letters, at all. All I did was to balance ledgers and type up the journals. Pat was dropping arms-full of budget books on my desk for me to balance, some dated way back, which was followed by my typing up pages and pages of journal entries.
Weeks went by when it became clear to me that my job function had changed. To be fair, I wanted my salary to reflect the work that I did. I went to see Pat.
“I was, at first, hired to do filing papers and typing letters. But, as you know, I’m not doing any of those anymore. Instead, every day, I’m analyzing ledgers and typing up journals.”
“And?” She looked at me square in the face.
“Even though my work assignment had changed, my salary hadn’t. I am still paid for filing papers and typing letters.”
“So? What do you want?”
“I believe that I deserve a pay raise.”
“Really?” Then, she said, “Tell you what. Show me in writing the percentages of your time you had been spending on filing papers and on typing up letters before. And how much time you spend on balancing books and on typing up journals, now.”
Was she trying to dodge my request? I felt strongly about it.
But, how should I solve this riddle? How should I reflect my activities at work in numbers?
I thought about it long and hard which I enjoyed doing. It was like doing math homework, solving the logic problem.
I finally came up with the idea of giving the time I spend working at my office, excluding lunch and break, the maximum value, 100. After that, it was easy to come up with the percentage of performing each task.
I typed up the letter that showed the percentage, and went to see Pat.
She quickly read my letter then left to speak with someone else. From her surprised reaction, I knew that
Pat was not expecting me to meet her challenge.
I received the first of three pay raises that I received within the thirteen months of my employment at Washington University. I received the other two raises without my asking.
3. Do not afraid to make mistakes:
I used work for a Student Accounting Office of a University. One day, the Student Billing Manager came to me. He said that his office was short staffed and asked me to type a letter for him. I agreed. I typed it up and gave it to him. He quickly checked what I typed and started laughing.
I asked, “Is there anything wrong?”
He said, “The letter is supposed to be from me, and you should have typed my name, Bill Houser, in the signature section.”
I took the typed letter from Bill and compared against the one Bill gave me. “But in the original letter you gave me, the signature was ‘John Hancock’.”
“It is a synonym for signature.”
Embarrassed about my ignorance, I retyped the letter, resolved never to repeat the error.
Soon, the chance to exercise my new knowledge came. The first floor was for the Student Accounting Service offices. The second-floor offices were for the college finance offices, more heavy-duty big shots. People from the second floor seldom came to the first floor.
However, one day, an executive on the second floor whom everybody knew except me, walked into our office and asked me to type a letter for him.
Here you go, I thought. I was ready to do it right this time.
“Yes, sir. Can you please, tell me your name?”
How many synonyms were there for signature, I thought?
“But I know that it is not your real name. Please, give me your name so that I could type it in your letter.
What is your name, sir?”
“No, you are not.” I was determined to not to be tricked, be humiliated and waste my time again.
“Please, tell me your real name.”
Exasperated, he turned around to Ron, an accountant, whose desk was the across from mine. Ron’s face was beet red. He was laughing so hard that his upper body was shaking violently and was about to slip off his chair, his head was below the desk.
“Ron, can you tell this young lady who I am?”
Ron, was choking with laughter and could not speak.
“Right,” he said and walked off.
Soon after that, my boss came into the office. She looked at me amusingly, and said, “Janko, you refused to type up a letter for Mr. Greenspoon?”
It really was Mr. Paul Greenspoon!
I learned from a secretary in the office that Mr. Greenspoon was the Vice President of Finance. Shocked at what I had done to him, was ready to be severely reprimanded by someone from upstairs and worse, yet, be fired. I resigned to accept the consequences of what I did, how arrogantly I spoke to Mr. Greenspoon. I was very sorry for what I had done.
To my great relief, nothing happened. Not only that, the people from other offices whom I did not know started to greet me friendly. Even, Mr. Greenspoon, when I bumped into him, he smiled and winked at me.
4. Look into your strength:
As soon as I received the US permanent resident status, I looked for a job. I did not know where to begin the search. Since my husband was a graduate student at a university, I visited their personnel office.
They gave me the language and math aptitude tests. The interviewer saw my test results, and she said,
“Your language skill is very poor, but your math result is perfect.” I was hired in the school’s accounting office.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
1. Freedom of speech
2. The Constitution
3. The people’s willingness to listen and help others
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Oprah Winfrey. A long time ago, I watched a documentary about her giving the brand-new pairs of shoes to the children in Africa. After the show, someone asked her why shoes? How could the children benefit from receiving the shoes? Oprah replied, “Those children live in such impoverished conditions, they have nothing, nothing to even dream about. I wanted those children to have dreams. I was very moved by what she said. I understood exactly what she meant. When I was young, my family was very poor, and we hardly ate. But we were happy because we had our dreams.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Unfortunately, I don’t do Facebook nor twitter. The only way is to send me an-email, [email protected]
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
It was my pleasure. Thank you for this great opportunity.