Rooting for Truth 寻找真相 Doors of Guangdong

 

I had no idea when I started “rooting” that it would be so much more than finding my father’s village and honoring my ancestors in their homeland. It will take me years to fully process the experience. As a student of architecture, I was fascinated with the doors and windows. They became the symbol of my journey. So, here is my ode to the doors of Guangdong.

doors-of-guangdong

 

The journey to our ancestral villages in China,

thousands of miles away from our birthplace,

began with a single step.

Like knights on a heroic quest,

we’ve overcome many obstacles.

We’ve slain dragons of ignorance,

learning how our forefathers and mothers

were treated on the Gold Mountain.

We’ve unearthed records from the National Archives.

Some have been fortunate to learn the oral histories.

I was not one of those

because my father and my older brother

could not,

would not

speak about their lives in China,

and yet,

I persevered as we all have

until,

at last we stepped through

the doorways of Guangdong,

where the past and the present collided.

We touched the hands of the villagers

knowing that

the red thread of fate

pulled us together once again.

We know our quest is about so much more

than dots on ancestral tablets

even as we honor our ancestors.

We know it was our choice

to make this journey

and to take from it

whatever we choose.

Where will our next step take us?

 

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Rooting for Truth 寻找真相

 

rooting-for-truth-pig

Pigs are known for their rooting skills, and since I was born in the year of the pig (Chinese calendar), I ‘m sure I have a nose for rooting. I’m not looking for truffles, but I am searching for something precious, at least to me. My ancestors.

This year, I joined a Roots group, an offshoot (pun intended) of Friends of Roots: Him Mark Lai History Project (http://www.friendsofroots.org). They specialize in researching sojourners from the Guangdong Province of China. Where will my Roots adventure take me? My destination is a village in Taishan in the Guangdong Province of Southern China, but I have a feeling that the trip to China is just one step in my quest. A very important step. Like any quest, there have been obstacles to overcome and fears to face along the way, and for me, that meant facing my life-long fear of ghosts.

My father, like so many of his generation, was secretive, and he carried his secrets to his grave. When he was alive, I did not know why he would not tell me about my Chinese heritage. When I asked him about China, he’d wave his hand at me and say, “Be American.” Everything changed after he died in 1990. I sat at his funeral and went through the rituals like a dutiful daughter, but I sensed his presence.

Although I was aware of ghosts all my life, I had blocked them and told them to go away. But when my father’s ghost appeared, I knew I had to find a way to communicate with him. I first saw my father in the Tenth Hell of the Buddha, where I saw that he had to atone for his misdeeds, and there were many, but as I researched the teachings of reincarnation, I helped him see another way beyond the issues he left unresolved and unfinished. I honored his beliefs through rituals that were meaningful to him. As my understanding about reincarnation grew, I saw where we had known each other in another life and why we chose to reincarnate in this one. It wasn’t easy, but after more than twenty years of conversations with my father’s ghost, of rooting for truth, I am headed to China where I hope to honor my ancestors. If the journey there is anything like the past twenty-six years, I know it will be quite an adventure.

If any of you have family who immigrated from China, I encourage you to talk to them as much as you can about their story. Even though my father was not as open about his story as I would have wished him to be, digging through the records at NARA (The National Archives & Records Administration) was revealing about my family’s long history in the U.S. since the mid-1800s. I am still deciphering what I discovered at NARA, and I am in a quandary about what I will learn in China. I can imagine the house in the village from the descriptions from the immigration interrogation, but I am not certain yet if it is still there. The Roots team is helping me do the research with a team in Guangdong, and I feel as if my ancestors are guiding me.

louie-fat-photomow-louie-at-17

(Left photo: Louie Fat, my great grandfather; Right photo: Louie Mow, my grandfather)

Even though I may not learn the whole story, I have learned that love does not die, and every answer leads me to a hundred more questions in this never-ending journey.

July 2017: I am looking forward to learning more at a Chinese Genealogy Workshop knowing that there is something more driving me in this search for my roots, not entirely sure what that something is, but embracing the journey with heart and soul.