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tv   This Is Life With Lisa Ling  CNN  October 16, 2021 8:00pm-9:00pm PDT

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>> learning about this history has been powerful. it's been inspiring. it's been invigorating. >> should vincent chin's story be in american history books? >> absolutely. vincent chin's story is an all-american story. >> people came together fighting for justice, and in the all-american justice system. some things worked. some things didn't. and how that all comes together is a lesson that all americans can learn from. >> one night early in december, 1941 japanese people were forced to leave their homes and schools and jobs. >> one thing is for certain, now more than ever, we need to talk about hard things. >> they were forced to live in barracks surrounded by guarded fences. >> do you believe that, all the people because they were japanese they had to leave their homes? what does that look like to you?
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>> prison. >> few know what asian americans have endured in the country, how we've been scapegoated more than a century. but it's time all of us change that. because today it's asian people. but tomorrow it could be your community. >> it's pretty sad, right. >> um-hum. >> and we have to make sure that nothing like that ever happens to anyone again. we have to stand up for people no matter who they are and what color their skin is, right. >> um-hum. i've never been in a rolls royce before. >> it's all hand made. >> wow. i'm riding shotgun down ocean avenue in a car worth about half a million dollars. what other cars do you have?
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>> right now i have a ferrari 458, a porsche turbo, a gt, the range rover. >> and you're how old? >> 23. >> this 23-year-old college student from china symbolizes what's been happening there. in the last few decades china has gone from this, to this. it's been the fastest economic transformation in history. and that is having a big effect here in america. from who's coming -- to what they're buying. >> like american dreams. >> it's just not a very subtle dream s it? >> yeah. >> the u.s. have always been a place of refuge for chinese people from all walks of life, including my own family. grandfather thought he would come to america and strike gold. >> right. >> what actually happened?
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>> if we didn't sell anything, we wouldn't eat. >> tonight how some things have changed. >> shopping. buying. just keeping spending and spending. >> how some stories never do. >> i just keep working in the restaurant. it's a hell. >> and why despite china's boom, are record numbers of chinese still coming to america. >> that's my family here. that's my home. ♪ ♪ over the last ten years
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money from china has been pouring into the u.s. and making headlines. >> investors from china are putting billions of dollars into american business. >> $16.4 billion in the u.s. in the past decade. >> when china's government opened its country to the world and moved away from decades of communism, a lot of people got very rich very fast. >> as china becomes more powerful economically their dreams are changing. >> now many are trying to get their money out of china and investing it -- >> location, location, location. >> -- in places like los angeles' san gabriel valley. >> when they buy, they buy big. as a result the market has changed. >> suzie koo sells luxury homes. as the economy has boomed, so has her business. >> wow. >> dining room. >> we're visiting one of her
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current listings, and, man, it is extravagant. but this, suzie says, is now the norm with her chinese clients. quite opulent. with three floors, seven bedrooms, a pool and even an elevator -- >> two upstairs. >> -- suzie expects this home to sell for well over $10 million. that's definitely a pool. >> yeah. >> have you ever experienced this kind of money and investment in this area? >> it's only recent, five years or six years. there's a lot of money coming over. and it's all cash. >> it's part of the dream, suzie tells me, to own property. because in china, all land is owned by the government and private citizens can only lease it temporarily. >> when they come to the united states as a tourist, they see what we have here.
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they feel there's opportunity. and i can see their eyes filled with american dreams. here, they feel their dream can come true. >> it's a dream they also have for their children. the sons and daughters of china's 1%. this is rudy. eight years ago his parents sent him here on his own to get a coveted american education. he drives a rolls royce and has two homes, an apartment in downtown l.a. and a house in orange county. i'm hoping rudy can help me understand this new class of chinese, why they get rich in china only to chase the dream here in america. >> hi, lisa. >> hi, rudy. how are you? >> doing well. how are you? >> nice to meet you. it's quite a house. >> thanks. >> do you live here by yourself? >> yes. most of the time.
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>> do you cook? >> not really. >> so this beautiful kitchen kind of goes unused? >> yeah. i should cook more. >> along with a multi-million dollar home to live in, rudy's parents have helped fund an extravagant lifestyle. ah, the cars. what's under here? >> this is the car we most use when we go to the beach. a porsche turbo. has speakers on the back in the trunk. >> you have a bentley, rolls outside and a cayenne and another car here somewhere? >> i have a ferrari. hard to make a choice every day. >> how do you think the culture of wealthy chinese in america right now represents what's going on in china? >> it's all about the mentality, right? see, in china most people have not experienced the well-supplied times. parents feel insecure. with communism like no one owns something. now everyone wants to own something. >> rudy is talking about the more than 40 years people lived
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in china under strict communism. people relied on the government for almost everything. with such a huge population, most people were poor. that all changed in the '80s when the chinese government began allowing people to start businesses. and when the tech boom hit, people like rudy's parents who started an online gaming company cashed in. >> in america you need to be elon musk to be a billion dollar company, right? but in china, normal people can become billionaires. >> the number of millionaires and billionaires swelled overnight. people who struggled under communism were suddenly filthy rich and wanted everyone to know it. so everyone wants to say i've arrived. >> exactly. >> rudy and kids like him are the children of china's new rich, children who are given vast amounts of money for
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whatever they want. rudy spent his own years in america going from one party to the next, buying luxury goods and flashy cars. >> it definitely changed the perception of chinese in america's eyes. we have all these americans now trying to know about china, trying to see that china is different. >> that was something you wanted to do, change the perception? >> yeah. it's important when they see your car they respect you. >> for many second generation chinese kids living in america without parental supervision and unlimited amounts of cash, it's easy to feel like rules don't apply. and their antics have caught the attention of the media. what do you think americans think? >> they're bewildered, actually. like these asian kids are just
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reckless. you want things now. you want it, you got it. and you can keep getting it. but these things are not sustainable, right ?
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i'm in the lunch line at
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arroyo pacific, a private high school in the suburbs of l.a. so today is popeye's fried chicken and tomorrow is kfc. better than chinese food? >> yeah, maybe. because i love chicken. >> when i was in high school, there were maybe five international students the whole time i was there and none of them were from china. today there are more international students from china studying in the u.s. than from any other country in the world, and right now we are in a high school where 70% of the students here are from china. it's part of a trend in private and public schools across the country. china's economic boom has made a lot of people wealthy, but it's also lifted over 300 million people out of poverty into the middle class. and now many are using what little they gained to pay to send their kids to america for school. that means thousands of chinese
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kids are here without their parents, far from family and home. you all were what, 15 when you came to the u.s.? >> yes. >> around 15. >> there's a perception that all chinese kids who are studying in the u.s. come from lots of money. what do you have to say about that? >> it's not for me, but if you look around our school you'll find that's the case for kids in our school. >> i've never seen maseratis -- >> yeah, you can tell, right? >> -- mercedes and porsches in the parking lot of a high school. >> yeah. >> what is that like to go to school with kids from china that have so much money? >> chinese families really want to show off how i can start from zero and make that much money. they have a good heart. they just don't want to study. >> i was looking at some of the handbags and shoes and noticing the cars at this high school. >> yeah. >> what's that like for you?
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>> i drive a honda civic, so -- >> joe blackman is principal here and has to oversee teenagers whose parents are thousands of miles away. do you ever have problems with some kids who have exorbitant amounts of money and who say i don't need to listen to you? >> absolutely. and maybe somebody who has been given a maserati might feel entitled. so as educators we're is not just giving the academic stills but we have to help them interact successfully. we have a mix. we have the maseratis, we have the hondas. we get them all. they are normal. they are students. they have the same hopes and desires. >> for middle class parents in china, sending their children to american high schools ensures more opportunities for them. but this is something relatively new. chinese people have been coming to the u.s. for over a century. it was hard work and many faced long odds, including my own family.
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i've lived in california most of my life, but my aunt anna has been here since the 1950s. life for the chinese people in california was probably not the easiest. >> even the chinese who were wealthy really were restaurateurs. there wasn't a lot open for chinese. >> my aunt's family moved here from china, brought by my grandfather, h.t. ling. every photo i've ever seen of him, so handsome. >> i wish there were more pictures. >> i mean, look at that three-piece suit. my grandfather had an mba and came from a prosperous family. but when the communists took over he decided to take his chances in america. >> i think my dad wanted to find a new way of life. america was gum san, gold mountain, the land of opportunity. >> it was a vision shared by
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many chinese, and it had its roots in the american gold rush. in the late 1800s chinese immigrants who helped build american railroads flocked west along with pioneers and prospectors seeking their fortune. their stories helped brand america the land of opportunity. so grandfather thought he would come to america and strike gold. >> right. >> what actually happened? >> well, he moved the family out to california in the late '40s. the only job he was offered was plucking chickens for 50 cents an hour. and my mother said, you will not do that. so he just had to strike out on his own. >> like so many chinese immigrants, my grandfather started a family restaurant called hop sing eat shop. >> it was a typical chinese-american restaurant.
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i can still remember the menu from 1955. you know, $1.25 for four shrimp, a scoop of fried rice and some chow mein. >> here's my daddy in the restaurant. my father grew up working in the family business. how old do you think he was here? >> my guess is 16. i don't remember him smiling a lot. >> what was life like working in that restaurant? >> it was all consuming. we were open seven days a week. if we didn't sell anything, we wouldn't eat. so it was very difficult. >> do you think people looked down on them in america because they were chinese? >> i do. when we had the restaurant, my father was the host. and people would go, chop, chop, hop sing, come over here. me wantee fried rice. and my father would look at them like, are you kidding me? but it was our life. so he simply said okay.
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>> so he just dealt with it. >> yes. he had to internalize all of it. >> do you think grandfather was resentful of his life in america because he came from such privilege in china? >> i don't think so because he had great dreams for your dad and for me. i think my father and my mother were very, very proud. one memory that comes to me is when they got their citizenship and they cried because they said, we love america. >> the restaurant gave my family a foothold here, a place to land and launch. today that pattern continues. across america in nearly every small town is a chinese restaurant. and many are gateways to citizenship for china's poorest immigrants. more than 50 years after my own
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grandfather began his journey here in america, vincent chou is following in his footsteps. >> when i was in china, i want to learn new things. i want to see the world. america to me is opportunity. >> so how old were you when you decided to come to the united states and why did you come? >> 16 years old. in china i already can see my future. i already know even like ten years what i'm going to be. i might be working in a factory, have a job. that's it. if i go to america, maybe i can find a different life. >> if you have resources, getting to america is a direct path. but for those without means, there's a network of smugglers that will get you here. in china they are known as snake heads.
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how much money did you have to pay the snake heads? >> 59,000. >> that's a lot of money. >> that's a lot of money. >> from his village in china, 16-year-old vincent journeyed thousands of miles from asia to europe, across the atlantic and, nine months later, he finally arrived in america. broke and deeply in debt. what happens if you don't pay back the snake heads? >> i heard some stories. they got kidnapped. they would get killed. they would get beat up very bad. >> vincent needed a job and fast
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gig-speed broadband network. and just doubled the capacity here. how do things look on your end? -perfect! because we're building a better network every single day. new york is home to one of our country's oldest chinatowns. and it's here that many chinese immigrants begin their journey. china may be booming, but there are a growing number of poor workers at the bottom who believe they'll have a better shot in america. just below the manhattan bridge there's a row of cramped store fronts. employment agencies where newly
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arrived workers seek their first job. men like vincent chou. i spent a lot of time in new york chinatown and never noticed all these employment agencies until today. but there's so many of them. what do they do? >> that's how we find a job, especially new immigrant come here first to look for the first job. when i got here i just walked into one of these employment agencies, and they have a position. like a waiter or bus boy, cook, dishwasher, something like that. >> when you first came to america, is this the kind of work you expected? >> well, i decided to come here, i was thinking about some better job. maybe like 40-hour work week. can make some money for living. maybe i can have time to go to school. but i don't see any choice here. >> like other poor immigrants, he had to seek a menial job at one of these agencies.
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they have connections all over the country. you see a big map of the united states. sending workers to small towns across america. so each one of these pieces of white paper represents a different job? >> right. they put the area code. that means which state. kitchen helper. general helper. bus boy. they can call the employer to ask if the job is still available to decide whether they're going to hire me or not. >> it's so interesting all these 318, 606, 812, 724. i mean, wow. with few other options and deeply in debt from the journey here, vincent took a job on one of those post-it notes. >> the best i can find is a bus boy job. i had to work 12 hours a day. i got one day off. and i did send back some money, but it's not enough.
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>> it's been 16 years since vincent first got here and today he's still trying to dig himself out. every morning he catches a train from brooklyn to chinatown. puts on his uniform and spends the day navigating a crowded restaurant. >> enjoy. >> from his first job as a bus boy, vincent has worked his way up. now a waiter at another restaurant he has regular hours and earns a little under $30,000 a year. it's progress but still a far cry from the life he'd imagined. it's been 16 years since you first came to america. you're still working in a restaurant.
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>> right. >> did you think that this would be the case when you first decided to come to america? >> i wanted to go to school. i want to find a new job. i want to find a good job. i want to have a life. but if i work in a restaurant, it's not going to happen. >> this kind of work can feel like a trap, and while vincent has escaped some of the worst practices in the restaurant business, many other chinese immigrants still make less than minimum wage, get no overtime pay and even experience wage theft. like, you know, how many people really have that kind of life? >> to support other workers, vincent decided to do something that would be dangerous in china. on a wednesday afternoon on the upper west side vincent is holding a rally for better working conditions. [ speaking foreign language ]
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>> what do we want? >> what did it feel like to be an activist? >> a release. like i had been in jail for a long time. just my voice. my voice is all the workers voice, finally have a chance to do something, say something. >> after 16 years of being in this country, vincent is just now getting the courage to stand up, but there are thousands of chinese restaurant workers throughout the u.s. and so many of them live under the radar and in the shadows, which is such a stark contrast to how so many other chinese are coming to this country now. men like my grandfather and vincent came to america and had to fight for a place here.
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but what if there were an easier way? it's called birth tourism. i'm about to explore a nearly undetectable industry providing a shortcut to citizenship that's inspiring a backlash. neighborhood protests have sprung up around the state. >> citizenship should be precious .
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i'm in arcadia, california, seeking a community of chinese women who wish to stay hidden. >> the facilities are kind of hard to track because they really do a good job of blending in. they choose to not be detectable. >> detective steve castillo is a ten-year veteran with the arcadia police department. he works gang, vice and narcotics, and in the past few years has added a new beat, a practice that's been hugely controversial in los angeles, chinese birthing centers. it's called birth tourism. dozens of these houses are scattered across california. pay them thousands and, according to their ads, they'll help you obtain u.s. citizenship for your newborn. it finds it's roots in beijing.
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storefront and this one help you obtain u.s. homes where 24 hours nurses and doctors will care for the mother. many in the media tried to get access to an active maternity home -- >> hello. excuse me. >> but few outside of law enforcement have actually been allowed in. these operations run completely off the radar and avoid almost all contact with outsiders. but today detective castillo is taking me to a maternity home he's been monitoring to try to get us a rare look inside. so what these people are doing, operating these chinese birthing centers, is that illegal? >> in terms of the people coming over, there's no clear law that they're violating. now, the ones that are operating the maternity homes, there might be a criminal aspect. the possibility of human trafficking, or if people are being taken advantage of. but most of these are more related to the running of a business, the operating of a
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business, getting proper licensing. >> what you're saying is even though having a baby here in the u.s. is legal, some of the operators are shady? >> i believe so. it's more profitable for them to operate in this manner. >> it's detective castillo's job to make sure these operations are complying with state law. so he makes regular visits to inspect their facilities. so what do we know about this house right now? >> this house is being operated as a maternity home. the guy inside currently has two chinese families that he's renting to. >> okay. let's do it. they just look like normal -- >> yeah. >> -- residential houses. >> yeah, they do. mind if we come in? >> please. >> hi, how are you? i'm lisa. nice to meet you. charles owns and operates this maternity home from a private residence. detective castillo has been
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working with him to make sure everything is up to code. it's a relationship he spent months building. and today he's persuaded charles to let us look around. it may look modest, but birth tourism packages can cost more than $30,000. this is a little nursery. an opportunity only well-off chinese can afford. clients get a bed, three prepared meals a day and some basic services. >> they have all the type of food they are used to eating. >> detective castillo doesn't speak mandarin, so david, an interpreter, joins him on visits. [ speaking chinese ] >> david goes into the backroom to see if one of the pregnant clients might be willing to speak with us, but they're hesitant. >> the lady here said give her a couple minutes and she might. >> okay. why don't the women want to be
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seen on camera? >> because their families in china, some of their families work for the government and they don't know they are here having babies. >> finally, one of the mothers agrees to speak with us but only if we conceal her identity. can you show us? >> yeah, sure. >> thanks. >> hi. [ speaking foreign language ] >> oh, you're having a girl. why did you want to come to america to have your baby? [ speaking foreign language ] >> in addition to giving their kids a shot at an american education, having a baby born here means their child can have both chinese and u.s.
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citizenship. and can come to the u.s. without restriction. this process is entirely legal, but navigating customs can be more complicated. >> you can lie about your visa. but if you come here for business, you have a business license, if you come here for tourism, you have a tourist visa. so you have to tell the customs the purpose of the trip. >> so this is a very sweet little american-born chinese baby boy, 20 days old. >> you call these anchor babies. what does that mean? >> a pregnant woman in china can contract with a turnkey operation to be smuggled in pregnant and smuggled into the united states, have the baby, get the little footprint on the birth certificate and fly back to china. >> go back to your country! >> while opponents of immigration have dominated media coverage -- >> not here, not anywhere.
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>> -- the perspective of mothers has largely been missing from the conversation. i'm about to meet one who is willing to speak on camera. to find out why she came here and why she stayed. four years ago ashley contacted a birth tourism agency. the start of a long and unexpected journey. why did you want to have your baby in the u.s.? >> i was carrying twins. the doctor in china told me one of my twins is not in good condition and might have birth defect. they asked me to terminate the pregnancy. and i really don't want to because no matter what i -- you know, what he was like, i'm still going to keep him. i was thinking like, he's my son. i will love him no matter what. >> newly divorced and on her own, ashley booked a ticket to the u.s., selecting a maternity hotel package that provided care through her third trimester.
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>> the owner provided like basic meals, took me to the doctor appointment. really basic things. >> but a full two months before her due date she was rushed to the hospital with severe bleeding. >> i had like preterm labor and one of my twins didn't make it. so -- that time is a really tough time for me. my daughter was in nicu for a long time, 33 days. and at the same time i had to find a place to bury my son. that's a lot for me to take. like i got divorced and my boy is gone and my daughter is in nicu. >> and you were just by yourself? >> i was by myself, yeah. the nurses were really, really nice and said you can take as much time as you like to grieve.
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they make this for me like when i was in hospital, i hardly open this just because -- i didn't know i would give birth that early. so i didn't name both of them until they were born. the name ayden means come from the moon. and i think he's watching us. they took a picture for me. they dress him up like really nice. >> so the hospital made this for you? >> yeah. the nurses made this. i would never get something like this if i'm back there. >> this is really a way to honor him that the hospital made for you. you don't think in china they would have done anything like this? >> over here, people respect like you as a human being, but we don't get that kind of thing back home. they don't treat you in the way you should be treated.
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>> is that why america is home to you now? >> yeah. because my family here. so, yeah, it's my home. >> it's been almost four years since ashley came to the u.s. to give birth. now her daughter caroline is a growing, thriving american girl. >> to my daughter i'm the only one that she has. for caroline, the meaning of the name is like little but strong woman. so i think the name fits her perfectly. >> how many times have you been to china? >> when i was a baby i go. >> do you remember it? >> do you remember? >> yeah. >> you do? >> when i was a baby. >> who lives in china? >> jai and nainai. >> grandma and grandpa.
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how different do you think your life would be if you went back to china with your daughter? >> i can't even imagine. over here she can do whatever she likes or she's interested in. she can be whatever she likes here. >> having a child here doesn't guarantee you residency and ashley will have to apply for a green card if she wants to stay. but after a long journey to motherhood, ashley considers this a fresh start. there are people who say that all these chinese women who are coming here to have babies are taking advantage of the system. what do you think about that? >> i paid all my medical expenses out of my pocket. and we're people. we're not criminals. this is my home. she's a u.s. citizen. >> magic. perfect. and i want to be here for
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after years of struggling in america, vincent has finally carved out a life here. he's even started a family. he has a wife and two young boys. but there's one thing that still eludes him. what is all this stuff? >> it's photos, pay stuff. children's birth certificate. marriage certificate.
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my birth certificate. >> i'm joining vincent for an appointment with jeannie, an immigration advocate. she's working pro bono to help guide vincent through the complicated process of getting a green card. >> so jeannie, what is the status of vincent's case right now? >> basically his case is pending. we submitted his petition and we haven't received an approval yet. >> reporter: so how long have you been waiting? >> previously application was about may 2006. >> so you've been trying to get a green card for 11 years? >> right. at least 11 years. >> vincent's wife is a permanent resident and his children are u.s. citizens, but unless vincent gets a green card, he faces the possibility of deportation. why is it so important for you to try to get a green card? >> what if the people from immigration just stop me on the highway, arrest me and deport me back to china? what about my sons? my wife? without me, it will be a
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disaster for my family. >> in vincent's situation, he has two children, never been to china, doesn't speak the language. doesn't understand the culture. so how exactly can they function in china? they're americans. >> that's manhattan, downtown. >> downtown? >> right. >> as i watch vincent and his son, i think of the journey he's endured to get to this point. >> oh, my god! >> do you know what that is out there? >> yeah. it's the statue of liberty. >> the statue of liberty. and i realize it's for moments like this. you ready? perhaps that's something that we all have, an instinct deep down to find a better life for ourselves and for the next generation.
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two years ago a high-speed chase in los angeles with an unusual suspect made headlines. >> a wild pursuit involving four national students going more than 100 miles per hour. >> bad publicity like this involving rich second generation chinese has caught the attention of authorities in china who recently issued new rules cracking down on wealthy chinese living abroad. >> if you have the children of wealth that are going out there and flaunting it and misbehaving, it looks bad. >> more and more rich second generation kids are under pressure to shape up. kids like rudy. >> it's just more and more.
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shopping, buying, raves, drugs. just keep spending and spending. you keep sliding and swiping your credit card. started asking questions to myself like, am i happy? is this really what i want? but i was not happy. i realized it's not meaningful. for people like us, we have the advantage. cannot be, do nothing. >> rudy is beginning to realize it's time to grow up and be his own person. >> i didn't really know what i wanted to do because largely i could do anything. i need a purpose, right? >> we are standing at a point where the new product -- >> rudy is starting a tech company using virtual reality. >> now i run a company. i'm like the model kid.
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>> he wants to create virtual worlds that allow users to experience the kind of luxury and high life that wealthy kids like him get to experience every day. >> our mission is to connect people without the physical limits of the real world. >> and to create these virtual worlds, he's drawing on his own life for inspiration. including his love of fast cars. so how is this working? >> yeah. so basically we are filming a vr experience. what it's like driving a 458 so people can experience it as a mixed reality game. >> looks like fun. >> you haven't experienced it now before our game comes out. >> you want me to drive this car? >> yeah. >> if you insist. >> and out we go.
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start picking up the throttle. >> the sound of the engine, the speed and intensity. >> longest straightaway so -- >> rudy may be trying to change his past, but the dream he's selling is still as big and flashy as ever. >> full throttle. go for it. push it to the floor. drop the hammer. go, go, go. >> with the advantages he's been given by his parents and now his own drive, it will be interesting to see where he lands. >> i'm going to catch you. >> my own daughter's journey is just getting started. she's only 4 years old but she's already learning how to speak mandarin. as much as the chinese today ment to become more like americans, i want to make sure my own daughter doesn't forget her chinese roots. because in a world that's changing faster and faster


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