Like many traditional Chinese households, we place the “spirit tablets” and the black-and-white photos of our ancestors on a household altar. It is representative of our lineage. We worship them with incense sticks, fruits, and in special festivals, roasted meat. This tradition is originated from Buddhist practice. The altar signifies a passing on of family history. My grandparents passed away before I was born. Their photos are the only impressions I have of them. The burning of incense for them is the only interactions I could have with them. We pray for luck, and tell our ancestors about our wrongdoings and wellbeing while worshipping as if they are gods. We, like most Chinese, do that out of tradition and custom, but not for religious purposes. We worship, but do not embrace the beliefs and stories in Buddhism. Nevertheless, we do, more or less, think that ancestors have power over our lives. Therefore, we have to apologize when we “disrespect” the altar. If we ran into the altar, we were made to recite two rhyming lines with both palms pressed together, “有怪莫怪，細路仔唔識世界。” Now, I have left my country and have abandoned the only interactions with my ancestors. My family members continue this custom in Hong Kong. Perhaps, if they later choose to settle in the States with me, they might bring the spirit tablets here. Since the tablets represent our lineage, moving them here will be testimony to our recognition of immigrating here and to the shift of identity, as true Americans.
– Christine Wong