Rooting for Truth 寻找真相 in a Small Village on the Other Side of the Globe

Until my father died, I did not know where he was born. No matter how many times I had asked him when he was alive, he evaded my question. Consequently, the only think I knew about Dad’s life in China was that he was afraid of water because his father threw him into the river.

My Caucasian mother ran away from Dad when I was nine and took me, my younger brother and sister with her. We were raised in the South and the only Chinese words I remember from my childhood were多謝 duō xiè “Many thanks,” and some words that sounded like “ki doy” and “ki nui” that I thought meant “bad boy” and “bad girl.” I have not found the correct transliteration in any Chinese/English dictionary.

Even though my exposure to the Chinese culture was limited, I was drawn to all things Chinese. I look less Asian than my brother or sister, but I feel Chinese. I feel drawn to China by an inexplicable force.

After I reunited with Dad in 1969, he did not share his story – our roots. Everything changed in 1990 when Dad died, and his ghost stood at his tombstone and wondered “What happens next?” I was aware of him at his funeral but after years of blocking the ghosts I saw as a child, I could not see or hear him clearly until I learned how to meditate and studied metaphysics.

Long story short, through my conversations with my father’s ghost, I began to piece together a crazy quilt about him, about his life in China and his life in the United States. I began to understand why he was so secretive. And I discovered the name and location of his village along the Pearl River. There’s just one hitch. It took twenty-six years to draw his story out. He would be one hundred six if he were still alive. I will be lucky to find anyone in the village who remembers the 华侨 wah que, the young man who went overseas. It doesn’t matter because now Dad knows that I was sincere about wanting to know our history and that I will go back to the village to honor my ancestors, and then I will write his story, our story.

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The take-away is this: if at all possible, do not wait too long to learn your family’s story. Gently pry open those shells to find the pearls of your family’s story. Sometimes the shell will be empty, but when you find a pearl, it will be precious. Like the grain of sand inside the oyster, some aspects of our lives are irritating and yet can develop into something quite beautiful.

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.

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(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.