Though this is my mother's diploma from the University College London, I see it as an object that connects me to a colonial lineage three generations deep, one that begins in my grandpa’s Hong Kong, where my mom was born and to which I have returned only as a sporadic visitor. When the Japanese invaded in 1941, my grandpa, the son of a wealthy government contractor, was forced to drop out of La Salle College, a British school offering the finest English-medium education in Southern China. While my grandpa remembers only the degree he could not finish at La Salle, the rest of his life--and therefore my mom’s and mine--is shaped by the English education he received there. It is those three years of La Salle English that allowed him to work at age 15 as a chef’s assistant for the American army and send money back to his family in Guangdong. It is those three years of English that earned him, four years after World War II and decades after the end of the Opium Wars, a job as stationmaster of the Hong Kong railroad, running the same British-built trains that used to carry drugs into the heart of the Qing empire. His English let him send his eldest daughter, my aunt, to school in the U.S. and my mom to London. I am the third generation to be educated at predominantly white institutions. My mom’s diploma calls me to unpack what education means (has meant) to and can do (has done) for me, and in doing so begin to de-colonize my family’s and my own memory.
– Janine Ko