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If you like David Ho's story, you might also like:
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David Ho also appears in the video:
Frontiers of Medicine

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David Ho
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David Ho Interview

AIDS Research Pioneer

May 23, 1998
Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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  David Ho

Dr. Ho, you were born in Taiwan. Perhaps you could tell us a little about your childhood. What was life like in your home town?

David Ho: Tai Chung at that time was a pretty small city. We lived at the edge of the city, sort of bordering on the rice fields. I remember that my father had left Taiwan to come to the United States and pursue graduate studies in engineering. And so, my brother and I were left in my mother's care, in essence grew up in Taiwan without my father being present. But, he was pursuing something that we all viewed as very important, very scholarly type of work.

In Taiwan you had to take these entrance examinations for junior high school, and everybody wanted to go to the best school. So as little kids we were already subjected to a fair amount of pressure. I remember having to study a lot. Because of what my father did, there was a great deal of emphasis on scholarly endeavors.

It must have been difficult without your father there, even though you knew he was still part of the family. What effect do you think it had on you as a child?

David Ho: In many ways served as a role model from a distance. It was rare for people to get this unique opportunity, pursuing a new life in this land of opportunities. Since others around me emphasized that as important and valuable, I came to appreciate the fact that what he was doing was important. Obviously, one misses out on a lot of the interactions with the father. I'm not sure what would have happened if he had stayed and we had stayed there.

It must have been a great sacrifice for him.

David Ho: It was a sacrifice for all involved. To have my mother in Taiwan away from my father, that had to be very difficult, coming here all by himself to pursue a new education, and working on the side to make enough money to cover the expenses and send some pocket change back.

Did he already speak English?

David Ho: He knew some English prior to coming, but a new culture and a new environment must be extremely difficult. We experienced some of that upon coming to the States some years later, although it's easier for a child.

Were you ever afraid that he would just find a new life in America and never come back for you?

David Ho: It was never a consideration. Even though he was thousands of miles away, we got a letter every week and we wrote a letter back every week. My brother and I had to report what happened over the preceding week on a regular basis like clockwork. Our conversation was always based on when we would be able to join him, so we never considered other options.

Do you remember how you felt when he was ready to have you come?

David Ho: Excitement, at the same time some level of concern. This is something that we had looked forward to for a long time, so it was great to know it was finally upon us. I was only 12 years old at the time, but I realized it was going to be dramatically different for me, my mother and my brother. We were going to a country that is completely different from Taiwan culturally, linguistically, and in many other aspects as well. There was this anxiety that brewed and brewed, and it certainly came true when we landed. It's an entirely different culture, and culture shock is a good description of the initial phase. I had done fairly well in school in Taiwan. I came here and all of a sudden I couldn't communicate. It was a devastating period.

School was nearly impossible even though I went every day, not being able to comprehend what the teacher and the classmates are saying and not being able to express any thoughts because at that stage we hadn't even learned the ABC's. And so, it was very, very difficult for a period of about three months.

Is it true that your father didn't want you to learn English until you got to America?

David Ho: He wanted to be sure that we learned English appropriately. Of course, the English taught in Taiwan would be accented, but it might also be not completely correct, and he didn't see much point to it. One would be learning extremely slowly and it might make a difference of a week or two, but I think in the end he was correct. We were immersed in this new world, and you had to pick it up. As a child, one is flexible enough to do that quickly. It went fast, and by the end of the first six months or so, both my brother and I were picking up enough to get along in school.

Did the school system make any extra effort to teach you English?

David Ho: We had extra English classes to attend in addition to some of the regular classes, but there was no bilingual program at the time.

Where did you live when you first came to America? What was it like?

David Ho: This was in 1965 in Los Angeles. Well, for a few months when I first came, I hadn't finished elementary school education, and my father was just in the starting a new job and finishing his studies at USC. So we lived near USC in what is today a predominantly black neighborhood. Whether it was white or black, it was all culture shock to me. We were there for a few months, and then moved nearer to the Los Feliz neighborhood some months later. I went to King Junior High and Marshall High School near Los Feliz.

When you first arrived in Los Angeles and couldn't speak English, the kids probably were not very sympathetic. How did they treat you?

David Ho: I encountered an array of receptions from the kids. As you might expect, some kids are cruel and if you can't say anything, they make fun of you. They call you stupid or other names. But, there are also a lot of kids who are quite reasonable, who try to help. I certainly remember a lot of them. Sure, when other kids are being cruel, it's very, very tough and then you have nothing to come back with simply because you can't express yourself.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

But I must emphasize that was only a short period of time.

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