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Home Alone--Up-Market L.A. Style

June 27, 1993

It's an extraordinary story--a kind of an up-market, L.A. version of "Home Alone." And the story raises questions not only about parental responsibility but about immigration.

Whether their names are Craig, Zoe, Patty, Ti-Jen, they may be among the world's most privileged latch-key kids, according to a recent report by Times staff writer Denise Hamilton. But even the most generous allowances, most expensive cars and most exotic electronic toys can't possibly make up for the absence of their parents. These teen-agers from Taiwan are living the ultimate solecistic experience.

These "parachute kids" are dropped into wealthy L.A. suburban communities while their parents live and work overseas. They virtually live on their own while being schooled in the United States. Despite all the trappings of wealth and the "good" life, these youngsters miss their parents. But they would be the last to admit it. That would be seen as ungrateful--or, worse yet, as putting pressure on their parents.

But in unguarded moments, the feelings of loneliness, depression and isolation surface. Like other unsupervised kids, a few get into trouble with school attendance or with gangs. But most respond with stoic acceptance of their mixed fortune--living in the United States under student visas while living a Pacific Ocean away from their parents during the tough years of adolescence.

They survive psychologically by living with friends or caretakers. Generally they excel in school and have no money worries. One high school senior, whose parents purchased his U.S. home, has been writing mortgage checks since the age of 13. Another refers to her father as "the ATM machine."

To some extent, the parents are doing their best to free their children from the closed, cut-throat schools in their home countries and provide them with the best opportunities of educational institutions here. A sense of duty to parents, a view that adolescence marks the beginning of adulthood, drives these kids.

But the experience of the parachute kids gives a different face to the Asian immigrant experience. Aren't their parents abusing the privileges of U.S. students visa? Under terms of student visas, minors must live with parents or legal guardians (often extended family)--or they are subject to deportation. San Marino tackled a truancy problem by passing a rule two years ago requiring students to live with relatives no more distant than a first cousin or get a U.S. family court to appoint foster parents. Otherwise students could be expelled, or reported to social service or immigration authorities.

The parents of parachute kids often buy homes and give their children generous living expenses, all of which helps the economies of local communities. But kids are kids, and they need the comfort--and headaches--of having parents. More of a presence is required; what exists now is not tolerable.

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