I am part of the Chinese American story, but one thing that has made my mission to discover my heritage challenging is that I do not speak, read, or write Chinese. Now, I have friends to help me overcome that hurdle. My group is called Roots Plus. It’s for Rooters over thirty and also for family groups. It is part of the Friends of Roots organization, which grew out of Roots: Him Mark Lai Family History Project. Him Mark Lai (1925-2007), renowned as the Dean of Chinese American history, was a life-long advocate for documenting the Chinese American story.
My Roots guides, John Wong and Walter Lim, emphasized the importance of knowing the calligraphy for my ancestor’s names and villages. Thank goodness that I had photographed Dad’s tombstone, which was carved in calligraphy and that I saved the piece of paper where Dad wrote my Chinese name. However, when I met with Walter and showed him the paper, I discovered something strange about my name. For years I lived with the idea that my Chinese name meant Precious Lotus Blossom, but when Walter looked at the characters Dad wrote down, he said, “The first character means ‘precious,’ but the second character is not ‘lotus blossom.'” A quick search in his Pleco app and he discovered the actual meaning was “age.” Not Precious Lotus Blossom! Precious Age. What a strange name! But I like what my friend, Winny, said, “Let’s call you A-Bao.”
“A”阿 used as a prefix to a name indicates familiarity, seniority, or an affectionate form of address. ” Bao “宝 means precious. A- Bao. I like that name. So, I decided that Carole A-Bao Louie would be my pen name.
Now, to sort out the other names in my family tree. I discovered how important the calligraphy is as I poured over the documents from the National Archives (NARA). John and Walter were right! The calligraphy and understanding its meaning is a key to the treasure chest that held the map to my roots quest. As I search for the names and my family’s story, I am learning to read and understand more Chinese than ever before, and the branches of my tree are growing.
I’m looking forward to going to the villages of each of my Roots Plus group. There are fourteen of us and our guides. We will share the rooting experience going from one village to another. Will we be able to locate not only the village but also the house? Or the burial grounds? Or living relatives? Will I be lucky and find the genealogy book and learn more about my Chinese lineage? Who knows what we will find and how it will affect us? I have a feeling some very special friends, our ancestors, will be going on the journey with us, and so, the story continues.