I remember the very first place my parents and I lived in NYC was a 150sq feet room in a 3 bedroom apartment in Woodside, Queens. We shared the bathroom and kitchen with two other families. I recall my mom complaining about how everything was dirty and mice infested. I also remember bringing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school for lunch everyday during this time. This is why I hate peanut butter and jelly.
The next place we moved to was a one bedroom apartment in a 3 family house in Corona. Unfortunately after a month we could not afford the rent so we moved up to the attic of the 3 family house. The attic was cramped and hot. However we managed to live there throughout the sweltering summer without an A/C. I remember my dad buying me an ice-cream cone to cool off at times. He did not buy one for himself as money was extremely tight. During this time, my dad worked in the fast food industry and would often bring home the leftover food for dinner.
Our next home was a 250sq room in a house in Elmhurst. All of the rooms of the house were rented out to immigrants like us and everyone shared the one bathroom and kitchen. I actually had very pleasant memories of this place as one of our housemates took a liking to me and gave me all his beer cans for recycling. During the holidays they would bring me yummy food that were out of our price range like lobster! I think we were living paycheck to paycheck during this point as I remember visiting the Check Cashing Places with my dad. We also scavenged for furniture during garbage days.
Our situation was much improved after my dad was able to find a better job and we moved to a 600sq feet apartment with our own kitchen and bathroom in Jackson Heights. I remember my dad working extremely hard during this time. He had a regular job and worked nights and weekends to earn extra income. During this time my mom worked in a sweat shop aka sewing factory where I spent all my after school hours. After living here for several years, my parents were able to save some money and buy a small one bedroom co-op of their own.
It took us about 5 years in NYC to climb out of poverty and into the lower middle class. My parents made lots of sacrifices and worked extremely long hours. But they looked on the bright side. Being poor in the US is a whole lot easier than being poor in China.