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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We may have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.

Before I sat down with the files in the research room at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), I had no idea what my grandfather or great-grandfather looked like or that they had a birth name and a marriage name. I had no clue about the challenges they faced, the obstacles they overcame, and their tenacity to rise above every challenge and obstacle to create a successful business.

Not only do I know more about my ancestors but I have now walked the streets of their villages in China. I have knelt at the altar of those whose shoulders I stand on.

family-collage

My great-grandfather came to the “Gold Mountain,” the land of the beautiful flowery flag, in 1881 on the SS Gaelic.

He became one of the partners in the Fong Sang Lung & Co. store on DuPont Street, ships-collagewhich is now known as Grant Avenue. In 1907, my grandfather followed in his father’s footsteps even though the Chinese Exclusion Act created more hurdles. He helped the store rebuild after the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco. And in 1928, my father made the same trek across the ocean and faced a new generation of discrimination. Discrimination that haunted me for many years.

I felt sad and elated at the same time as I read the files; sad to read the interviews that were more like interrogations, to witness the difference in the way the sojourners were treated as opposed to the way their white witnesses, amazed to think about the vast amount of information they remembered and communicated during those interviews. I am in awe that the information held clues for my search for truth in villages half way around the globe and painted a picture for me of those whose shoulders I stand on.

Now more than ever, I understand the words of Martin Luther King, 
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Like King, I too have a dream of a nation, a world where we honor, love, and celebrate our uniqueness.

Rooting for Truth 寻找真相 with Friends

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.

names

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-bao

          “A”阿 used as a prefix to a name indicates familiarity, seniority, or an affectionate form of address. ” Bao “ 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.

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.

 

 

FREE Summer Read: The Not So Secret Life of Emily Elizabeth

Happy Birthday, Dad, who was my first guide on the “other side.” He would have been 106! I am still working on the book,

I am still working on the book, Conversations with a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium, which was inspired by the experiences I shared with him since 1990 when I sensed him at his funeral. I promise to finish it after my trip to Dad’s birthplace in China. Definitely, by the end of the year.

In the meantime, I finished a paranormal short story, The Not So Secret Life of Emily Elizabeth. So, I thought it only fitting to offer it for FREE to celebrate Dad and all the other ghosts who want to share their stories. CLICK HERE to pick up your copy. Enjoy!

If you like the story, please feel free to share this link with your friends and to write a review when you are finished.

Emily_Elizabeth (1)

THE CENTER – RVA

Today is a very special day – the beginning of a new chapter in my life. For over twenty-five years I have been researching reincarnation. It all started with conversations with my father’s ghost. Dad was a Chinese Buddhist, and I wondered what his beliefs in reincarnation would mean for his next life. However, like so many people, he did not know a lot about Buddhist beliefs about reincarnation.

But when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Then, Brian Weiss, M.D., author of Many Lives Many Masters, entered my life and, like a caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly, I began to change. Like the butterfly, whose struggle to come out of its cocoon is an important part of its process to be able to take flight in the world, I have gone through a process to prepare me for this day – the birth of THE CENTER – RVA, a center for spiritual growth.

My reincarnation research, my conversations with my father’s ghost and all the teachers who have come into my life, and putting what I have learned into practice has prepared me for this next chapter. After years of training with Sanaya Roman, Brian Weiss, M.D., and Carol Bowman, I am pleased to “move forward in the direction of my dreams.”

THE CENTER – RVA is a center without walls. It is more about a state of mind than a bricks-and-mortar place. I will offer classes, workshops and gatherings while I continue to work on the book, Conversations with a Hungry Ghost: Memoir of a Reluctant Medium, and prepare for a trip to my father’s birthplace in China with my Roots Plus group.

circle-square logo

Check out my website for THE CENTER – RVA and join me for my upcoming workshop, Karma 2 Dharma: From Healing the Past to Embracing Your Life Purpose.

Last, but not least, I want to say “Thank, Mom.” I had cared for her for over a year before she left her physical body in January, and I shared with her some of my beliefs about what happens and where we go when we die. It was an experience I will always treasure. So, I was not surprised when she came to me moments after she crossed over. Like a mother bird who pushes the baby bird out of the nest, she said, “Don’t be afraid. It’s time to fly.”

 

Celebrating all are created equal

This Fourth of July I am reminded of a song that I sang in Glee Club, a song (see link below) that celebrated the diverse origins of this country’s people. It inspired me in my youth and it continues to inspire me even today when others would have us look down on one another. Have we forgotten our roots so quickly?
As I am rooting for the truth about my Chinese heritage with my Roots Plus/Friends of Roots group, I am ever grateful that my family came to the “Gold Mountain.” What I am discovering about the Chinese experience of becoming American, well, it is sometimes scary, sometimes sad and yet it fills me with awe.
liberty
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence)
This Fourth of July, as I listen to the words of the song from my childhood, I pray that we see the beauty in one another and in this, and all countries; that we realize as Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “All we have to fear is fear itself.” That we practice what Jesus taught us: to love our neighbors as ourselves, even to love our enemy. Call me optimistic, but I hope that we again see this country, this world, as abundant and full of opportunities.
For if my rooting journey has taught me one thing, it is this: We are all one family and it takes a village to create peace on earth.