Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Get out of my head, Amy Tan

I've been re-reading Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club." I haven't read it since high school when it was required reading. It's struck a new chord with me now that I'm expecting a child myself. All these Chinese mothers in the book have so many hopes and dreams for their American-born daughters, and while they love them, they end up disappointed so often. As I sit here in my comfortable cultural moment, and pat myself on the back for having bridged a cultural gap "so well" over my life, I have to wonder -- did I do as good a job as I could have? I speak conversational Vietnamese with my family, fairly fluently. And I "get" enough of the cultural beliefs and traditions to be able to identify them and understand the purpose of their existence. But in a very real way, my dad's world is an alien one to me. I'll never really understand why you have to keep a radio on in an empty room in your house to ward off evil spirits who might try to settle there. I'll never get how a woman can be cherished and held down or back, all at the same time. I'll never grasp why it matters so much to save face over being reasonable (like paying WAY too much for your wedding, just so your family and friends see you as successful, even if you go heavily into debt to do it). Sure -- some of these things aren't ones that are intrinsic to what I believe anyway. But they're very real to him and to his family. And it saddens me a bit that even though I lived in that world for a long time (through most of high school), I'm so far away from it now. How will my own children ever understand it? They'll, by necessity, be even more distanced from it themselves, as they will know it primarily through me and my at-least arm's length relationship with it. That can never disappoint me, since it's not something my children can control. But I'll admit it makes me a little sad.

I think of these things, and then I think of my husband's relationship to his Persian heritage. Though he's proud of it and loves it dearly (especially the cuisine), he's himself declared that he speaks Farsi "on a third grade level with a Texas accent." And his parents, who fled Iran to escape the Revolution in the 70s, speak wonderful English, but I know they'll see our children and maybe feel a twinge of sadness at what they're missing in being able to tease or soothe them in Farsi, naturally and easily, instead of it also being a linguistics lesson. And so from the richly diverse heritage my children will inherit (1/4 German, 1/4 Vietnamese, 1/2 Persian with some Turkish and Russian mixed in) -- maybe all they'll really consider themselves are 100% American. And maybe that's what it means to be an American after all -- to acknowledge where you come from, but make of yourself what you will. That's a really beautiful thing, to be honest. I just wonder if it comes with a bit of a sacrifice of history.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Journal, March 2005

This is what was in my journal from March of 2005.

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I remember -- we were small. We played together every day, laughing, talking, sitting, always side by side. We used to chase butterflies and moths, catching them gently, cupping our hands into one big sphere -- tiny wings against our tiny palms -- a heartbeat in my hand. When the tickling had passed, we pulled our palms apart, releasing the sweet butterfly to flit away, unsteady in its freedom. I had never held anything so soft, so fragile as those tiny beings -- their touch so gentle that at times I wasn't even certain they were there. Each beat was precious for its lightness.

And now we're grown -- and summer evenings we spend inside, cleaning, sitting, eating late, and gentle nights slip quietly past. I have not held a heartbeat in my hand since you passed the last one to me so many years ago.

And now, it seems, I know what empty means.

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