There is an altar in my living room that’s been there since we moved into this house 11 years ago, and before that, there was a similar structure in our old home. It was an essential and typical piece of furniture: dining table, coffee table, sofa, praying altar. Really, it’s just a refurbished cabinet, but to my grandmother, this is the center of her faith. She is the one who gathered the decorations and the one who fills up the plates with sacrificial fruits. If I wake up early enough, I can smell the incense she burns every morning. I haven’t prayed to the Buddhist deities since I was a little girl, and back then, I wasn’t even sure what I was doing. I just knew I felt a little ridiculous, shaking a bundle of burning sticks with my eyes closed. I am not at all religious, and neither are my parents, who immigrated to the United States as teenagers. My grandmother is the only one in our household that is still committed to the religion, as it’s something that she brought with her from China. Even though I don’t completely understand her faith, I recognize that it’s an essential part of my family’s history, and the altar that demands attention with its height and colors and smells reflects that.
– Fionna Du