Immigrant Mother Pursues Her Passion for Fashion After Long Deferral to Raise Her Children

Michelle Jing Chan is a Chinese American artist and children’s book illustrator who, in an interview with Asian Hustle Network, opens up about her mother’s remarkable journey as a first-generation immigrant and the profound impact it has had on their relationship.

Michelle’s mother, May, is a survivor of Mao Zedong’s reign. She emigrated from Guangzhou, China, to California, facing numerous challenges along the way. She pursued her passion for fashion, but eventually put her dreams on hold to raise Michelle and her brother in Colorado.

After retirement, May embarked on a new venture where she creates Chinese-inspired baby clothes and puts them up for sale. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, with many people showing keen interest in purchasing her creations.

In this article, Michelle shares a heartfelt glimpse into her mother’s story and their shared journeys. Join us as we explore May’s experiences as a first-generation immigrant, from surviving challenging times to embracing a new life in the United States.


Michelle: I’m a Chinese American artist and children’s book illustrator. I grew up in Colorado and now live in the Pacific Northwest. Although my background is in engineering and business, my passion is in art and storytelling–particularly in stories that empower queer and Asian youth to be their authentic selves.

My mom is a first-generation immigrant who grew up in Guangzhou, China, and emigrated to California in her early twenties. In China, she and her family survived Mao Zedong’s reign and the struggles that it brought, including facing famine, almost losing one of her sisters in an accident at a labor camp, and being targeted by Red Guards for my grandfather’s opposition to Mao during the Cultural Revolution.

When they emigrated to the US, they lived near LA and had a robust community of other Chinese immigrants. However, my mom and her family were poor and didn’t speak English. The rest of her family all found service jobs. Similarly, my mom worked as a waitress at a restaurant near Hollywood.


Early in the morning before the restaurant opened, she would attend adult English classes. She always had an interest in fashion and it became even stronger after working near Hollywood and seeing designers and celebrities come into the restaurant. She saved up enough money to go to school and study fashion design. During that time, she continued to work at the restaurant on weekends and at a fashion company after school.

After completing her program, she planned to enter the fashion industry in California. However, she met my dad, a first-generation immigrant from Hong Kong, through a family friend. They got married and she moved to Colorado where my dad lived, and they had me and my brother shortly afterwards. In Colorado, opportunities in fashion design were much scarcer than in LA.

She decided to put her own dreams on the back burner and became a stay-at-home parent, dedicating the next decade and a half of her life to raising me and my brother. It wasn’t until I was in high school that she started working again, and she didn’t return to the fashion industry until a few additional years later.


Growing up, I was very close to my mom, but I don’t think I fully grasped the emotional weight of what it must have been like for her to sacrifice her career for her children. I definitely took for granted the fact that my mom was always able to pick us up after school and had the time and energy to make clothes and Halloween costumes for us, tailor clothes if they didn’t fit, and come up with other creative craft projects to keep us entertained.

As an adult now–especially as a creative myself–I understand more fully how isolating and difficult that sacrifice must have been. Also, our town in Colorado is conservative and not very diverse, so the adjustment for her coming from LA must have also been challenging and lonely. What strikes me now is how unselfish and giving she is. She has never voiced resentment for the educational or creative opportunities that I’ve had even though she didn’t have access to those same doors herself.

While my parents and I didn’t see eye to eye on my career in children’s book illustration at first, they are now some of my biggest cheerleaders. In fact, being in a creative career myself has allowed me to bond with my mom in a new way as she is embarking on her own creative journey. We can now connect over our creative passions, which is a new dimension to our relationship that didn’t exist before.


My mom loves kids and designing kids’ clothes. As I mentioned earlier, she made clothes for us growing up–including many of our Halloween costumes! She also loves Chinese fashion and still has suitcases of clothes from her life in LA. As she and my dad are now retired, pursuing this new venture seemed like a natural integration of these interests.

She uses Gerber brand onesies and transforms them into Chinese-inspired designs by adding ribbons, gold fabric, and traditional qipao-style buttons. She sews all these designs by herself in my childhood home.

She’s blown away by the response to her shop so far and is still processing the influx of orders! (Thank you again to the AHN community!) She wants to expand into clothes for toddlers and perhaps someday, older kids as well. In my eyes, the sky’s the limit for her and her talent and I’m excited to see where she goes from here.


The biggest thing she has taught me is how to have a strong work ethic. My mom, dad, and my grandparents work harder than anyone I know. Now as an adult, I carry that with me always.


Thank you for everything you’ve done for me and my brother. I know it’s a debt I will never be able to repay, but I hope I can give you a small fraction by supporting your creative dreams like you’ve come to support mine.


Instagram: @michellieart

Twitter: @michellieart

Tiktok: @michellieart



Instagram: @pandacub.babywear