Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fragments of the Past III

The Preamble to the Present

My parents aren't the kind who go on and on about their lives. What they do tell us come to us in short fragments, usually to highlight a point or just a fleeting moment of remembrance. Here I've pieced those fragments in a semi-linear fashion.

I don't remember the circumstances under which my parents met. Actually, I'm not entirely sure I know how they met. It wasn't in high school, it wasn't in college, it wasn't through work. I suspect it might've been through a mutual friend somehow . . . or I could be mixing that part up with how my uncle (mom's younger brother) met his wife. I do know that they were always spending time together like any other young couple in their early 20s. I wish I could remember some of the semi-interesting stories here, but alas I cannot.

Once my parents tried to impress upon us the importance of academia. When my dad was dating my mom, he called her every day. One day he asked her to put their relationship on hold for 2 months so he could study for his finals. And so, instead of seeing each other after work, my dad went directly to the library to study after eating dinner. My mom didn't begrudge my dad and instead went on a trip throughout southwestern China with some of her friends, climbing mountains, visiting the cities, and seeing sights. And so my parents pointed this out that academics was so important that it can sometimes supersede a relationship. Figures as much.

Moving on, my parents got married in Hong Kong about 2-3 years before I was born. I don't remember the exact circumstances that brought them to the US. My mom's family all moved to the US first ahead of my dad by almost half a year. My dad had to a lot of paperwork to complete in order to attend graduate school in the US. On a handful of occasions my mom mentions how I am the only one of my brothers who is "truly Chinese" as I was conceived before my mom came to the US, though at the time my mom didn't know she was pregnant (I was born in Chicago, however).

My mom's family moved to Chicago. Everyone lived in the same apartment near Chinatown. My mom's mom worked as a nanny/maid for a Chinese doctor's family, who we have become quite close with over the years. My mom's dad worked doing I don't remember what. My mom's older brother worked as a chef while his wife worked in a hotel. My mom's younger brother continued his studies at U of Chicago - Champaign. Once he got his Masters in electrical engineering he moved to California where he still lives. My mom worked in an assembly line for General Electric, I believe. When my dad came to the US, he went directly to live with my mom with her family all in that one apartment. (My mom believes my dad's mom doesn't like her much becasue she "stole" my dad away from Hong Kong to faraway US.) It would be over a decade before the last person moved out of that rather low-income apartment and into the ranks of middle-class America.

Both of my parents' families have worked harder throughout their lives than I can really even imagine going through myself. From practically nothing to middle-class in about 2.5 decades is really . . . okay, I don't have adequate words for what I want to say about how far my parents have come in life. But if my parents can do it, I believe almost anyone can if they have the motivation, the work ethic, and find the right opportunities. I think when my dad's dad named me when I was born (well, my Chinese name, as I explained in this post) he had in mind the importance of what his family and my mom's family were achieving - breaking free of the past and progressing towards the future.

And while my brothers and I were growing up, my mom worked nights part-time as a florist at a nearby supermarket. So for a few years my brothers and I would only see our mom for about 3 hours a day or so on weekdays. Eventually my mom worked a bit less so she could take courses at a community college, getting her Associate's Degree. Now she works for an architecture company detailing the electrical work on the floorplans. All those long nights and long hours . . . the so-called "American dream" is not an easy thing to achieve.

So I know and fully understand where my parents are coming from and why they put so much pressure on my brothers and me. Why they push us to excel and will us to succeed. For them, anything less than what they've achieved is a huge slap to the face, a dishonor upon the family. A "loss of face" as the Chinese say. It's just where they come from. But I have no intentions of taking a step or two backwards anyhow.

3 comments:

David said...

lotsa writing i see...

interesting stories!

write about yourself for once :P

James said...

The only crowded apartment I ever want to be in is one at a party with a bunch of (semi)nude guys. Eh, it reminds me of the Mongolian familie that sleep like a dozen to a ger...only they have no flush toilets or running water.

So, have you decided your ethnicity yet?

Aek said...

My ethnicity was in question? How am I not aware of this. XD