Family Portrait

I saw this photo for the first time this summer. My mother found it when she went back to China in March to visit my ailing grandparents. I don't know when this was taken, but if my brother had not yet been yet, I must have been younger than two. Growing up, I'd only seen a handful of photos from my childhood. My parents are not nostalgic folks. My mother, especially, has always exhibited what Junot Diaz called "a particularly Jersey malaise–the inextinguishable longing for elsewheres." (Check in "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"). It's this malaise that drove her to learn English from scratch at 30 years old, battling the laws of grammar till dawn broke almost every day for five years. In 2004, she passed the IELTS and took us to a world ruled by kiwis, New Zealand. And at nine, I began writing my own immigrant story, in an environment cultivated and maintained by my parents. My brother and I were put on the assimilation express train. While a lot of other Chinese kids went to Chinese school, we weren't allowed to read Chinese books or watch Chinese shows. We took ESL classes, went to church every Sunday, and joined a tennis club. Still, we were undeniably Chinese. We spoke the language at home, ate traditional homemade food, and played piano like every Asian kid ever. What we weren't–what my parents made sure we weren't–was idle. I think that's why I never saw this photo until this year. My parents didn't want us to look back.

Place(s): New Zealand, China,
Year: 2004

– Claire Wang

Relationship:  unknown unknown