Grandma's Exclusion Act File


My Grandma Ou Shee was afraid of the police. I did not know why. She never spoke directly of her fear, but when I was a little girl, I could interpret her actions.  When we walked through the streets of Chinatown, and she saw the police, I could feel her body jerk. A shiver would filter down her arm into my hand. Her jaw would clench. A lightning bolt whisper from under her tongue would seep through her poised lips, and clap like thunder in my ears. Her palm would anchor my hand, and I was safe in her grip.  Look yee. Police. Lai shou gua guy. Hold my hand to cross the street. Nay henga ngoh. Mo gong. You listen to me. No talking.  We would take a circuitous route to our destination. No matter how far out of our way, no matter how long it would take, no matter what, we would avoid crossing the path of the police. Once the threat subsided, once we were back in our ground floor home at 507 in the East Kong Yick building, once she was in her smoking chair drinking one of her six daily cups of black coffee, lighting one stick of her two daily packs of Chesterfield cigarettes, she would breathe with relief.

Now I am 57-years old and I understand the fear that my grandmother passed on to my father and to me. 

Place(s): China
Year: 1920

– Elana Lim

Relationship:  Grandchild of im/migrant Grandchild of im/migrant