Photo by Ji Ling
Who are you? Where do you come from? Tell me your story. What is your reality? What has nourished, challenged and sculpted you, most magnificently, into your current reality—and then, when you look down beneath the earth that you stand upon, what are your roots?
My roots reach deep below my feet, and then far across the Pacific Ocean, with grandparents that migrated from China to Taiwan, and parents that migrated from Taiwan to America. My roots have then carried me, migrating like my ancestors, around and through America for four years, twining and intertwining, and now above and beyond—back across the ocean, back to my parents’ roots, back to Taipei, Taiwan.
What is this place you call home?
I am now living in the same area that both my parents grew up in. Down the street, my mom’s parents still live in the same house my mom grew up in. The house my dad grew up in is only a few blocks away. I am going to school up the road from my mom’s college, learning Chinese and tasting what it is like to be a student in Taiwan. I visit a beautiful park everyday; this is where my parents first met. My personal creation myth begins, here. Once upon a time..
What is your story?
Every time I sit, poring over books and preparing for tests, in my grandma’s store, she watches me, and whispers to my aunt, “She is just like her mother.” My every action is watched, is a miracle. The beautiful chubby big-eyed baby has returned to her roots, to her parent’s homeland, transformed into a woman. Some woman. We place my school ID next to my mom’s old school ID, and see a startling similarity. I am the mirror of her youth. I look into the mysterious blackand-white yet not-so-black-and- white eyes of my mother from when she was even younger than my current age.
Who ARE you?
My sprawling family tree smiles up at me from bags and boxes and albums of black-and-white memories. I never even imagined a tree like this. We are migratory. We are steadfast. We are survivors, adventurers, warriors, scholars, artists, healers and royalty. We are our grandmothers’ prayers, we are our grandfathers’ dreaming and we are all (somehow) completely connected by roots intertwined into the most beautiful knots.
Who is your family? How are they manifested in your being?
“You are so wise, grandma,” I say over a dinner of warming winter soup, stir-fried cauliflowers, and the ever present bowl of rice. My grandma replies, “No, you are much smarter than I am!” She has never gone to school. It was taboo for women to get schooled in her time. She taught herself how to read and write Chinese. She started this store we sit in now, and is the proud matriarch of a family of five children, who are all married now, each with two children. I say, “One plus one... makes twenty-two!” and “Grandma, you’ve lived so much longer than I have. You’ve seen so much. All my schooling is nothing compared to your life experience.” We all have so many stories and experiences to share, from worlds apart... and yet not apart at all. Isn’t it all just one world, really?
I don’t know you, but somehow I do. And you, dear grandma, are a huge part of my life... whether I know it or not. You created my mother, who created me. I am, thus, literally walking in your feet. Who ARE you?
I don’t know you, but somehow I do. And YOU, dear reader, are somehow also nicely tied into my life, now even more so, from reading this... whether I know it or not. Tell me, tell we, who ARE you?
Speak to me of family shock–a family tree that extends on forever, with fresh stories that never stop flowing, and realizations that never stop surprising. Oh, so that’s where that pattern came from! Oh, so that’s why Mom walks like this! Oh, so this is why I have an unexplainable penchant for this-or-that! Click, click and click. All the puzzle pieces in my brain rearrange as my roots dig in deeper and I explore this land, and my family ancestry.
What’s calling to you these days? What stories do you connect with?
I am now sitting in my room, preparing for bed. A lone bird’s night song comes dimly drifting in through the window, grounding green tea scents tickle my nose, scrawling Chinese doodles tumble across my desk, my aunt’s warm wool coat scratches my neck, sweet black sesame paste dessert lingers lovingly on my tongue. I will fall asleep soon, and most likely dream of a forested desertscape with big mountains in the background, and a big ocean in the foreground, all my various-chapters-of-life friends from across my global roots sitting with me in a circle as we share food and stories over a large fire. Soon enough after sleeping and dreaming, I will most likely wake up. And it will be yet another new (perfect and beautiful) day, in a place that is somehow home and somehow not quite home, and new yet familiar, and warm yet cold, and so many sensations, colors, thoughts and more all rolled into one big pulsating ball of once-in- a-lifetime experience... and I am grateful. Grateful to look into the mirror, and then all around me, and ask the same question again, and again, and again, the Seeker’s mantra:
Who ARE you? Who AM I?