In the picture above, I’m the first kid on the left, squinting into the sun with my home trimmed rice bowl hair cut and attitude. Even then, I was trying to convey my thoughts.
My family, like any other immigrant family, has stories to tell. My father and mother were born in southern China in the early 1900s. They were from the Hoi-San district, in the “country.” They had an arranged marriage and it lasted over fifty years.
My father once told me that when he was young, around 13, I think, he was given a camera. He loved that camera. Years later, that love brought a nicer camera with him when he was drafted into the United States army. I must have picked up my father’s love of photography because it’s very difficult to not stop and take photos of everything, from colorful festivals to the shadow cast by an empty potato chip bag.
I became a Christian through my mother’s consistency in taking us to church. BaBa placed a ceramic buddha with happy children hanging onto him in their bedroom, but MaMa enjoyed the friendships of other Chinese women who attended the chapel in our neighborhood.
MaMa once told me she was grateful that her parents didn’t drown her at birth. She was the firstborn and boys were much preferred. She remembered when BaBa’s mother came to meet her. The woman wanted to inspect her teeth and see if she would be an acceptable bride for BaBa. MaMa was frightened and ran off and the older woman had to come back another day. After they married, my parents moved into a separate floor of BaBa’s father’s home. His older brother’s family lived on another floor.
Years later, BaBa’s father was in America and sent for him. My father was working in the family restaurant and before he knew it, he was sworn in as a U.S. citizen and drafted into the army. It seemed that Chinese were considered “cook” material because my father had many Chinese friends with him in the kitchen.
Once his tour of duty was completed, my father re-enlisted as aircraft support crew with the 1st American Volunteer Group, AKA the Flying Tigers. He served in the then U.S. 14th Air Service Group, 407th Supply and Service Unit. He needed a way to get back to China. The Japanese were advancing and people were fleeing. My mother had left the countryside for Hong Kong with their young daughter, the sister I never knew. My sister became seriously ill. All of the medical services groups had left Hong Kong. She, sadly, did not survive.
My father traveled to Hong Kong and brought MaMa back to Shanghai. If BaBa had not re-enlisted to be stationed in Shanghai, I and my siblings woud not be here! They stayed there until Baba was honorably discharged. My oldest brother was born during that time. He was born at the U.S. medical facility, automatically becoming an American citizen.
The rest of the children were born in the states. When people meet me and comment that I speak English quite well, I explain that I’m American born and admit that I struggle with my Chinese dialect. It is truly a blessing to be raised in the United States of America and I am so, so appreciative of the life God has given me.