Friday, January 15, 2010

"Before You Were Asian"

“What’s that thing on the wall called?” my 14 year old from China asked, pointing at a heavily embroidered panel of antique ceremonial cloth hanging in our living room.

“It’s a Kalaga,” I answered. “It’s from Thailand”

“It’s not Chinese?” Lily said in mild surprise.

“Nope. Not Chinese,” I responded, looking around our living room. “And neither is the Thai temple fragment, or the Japanese origami figures, or the bowl I found in Seoul.”

Some of the items had been collected during my years as an international flight attendant; some, like the Kalaga, were acquired during young adulthood. Purchased right out of college, the Kalaga had been bizarrely expensive and unwieldy to hang; I wonder now what had stirred my need for its presence and rich tradition.

“So”, said Lily, looking around the room at our artifacts, as if seeing them for the first time. “You bought all of this stuff…before you were Asian?”

I nodded, catching her eye and pondering her perspective.

“Yes. Before I was Asian. Before you and your sister got here.”

Suddenly, I was aware that my own, familiar perspective was out-of-synch with my daughter’s world-experience. Clearly, Lily understood the impact she and her younger sister had had on my life-path…but I , just as clearly, was a little out of touch with the POV of an edgy Asian girl growing up fast with a white bread mom.

We gazed at each other in a moment of clarity and mutual recognition. Our assumptions had met, and we silently acknowledged the curious fact that both of us had led separate lives on separate continents before becoming a family. Like every parent, I occasionally wonder what my life would be like today if I hadn’t discovered its meaning in my children. Now, my teenager has begun to connect me, our disparate pasts, what brought us together and the effects on us all. We were teen-talking adoption without ‘going there’, and I was given a glimpse into the broadening perspective of a daughter connecting her own dots. Lily wasn’t being sarcastic. She acknowledged our differences and reaffirmed our pact with her pointed phrase, and I understood what she meant. Before both of our lives intersected, before we took on this international experiment, before we knew how much we could love, before we were brave enough to try, before…I was Asian.



  1. A beautiful post, Jean, one I'm sure I'll steep in for a while. Thanks.

  2. What a wonderful description of this poignant experience.

  3. Thanks for sharing this Jean. Years ago I worked for with a guy who is Korean-American. When my oldest nephew came home to my sister and brother-in-law for Korea, my friend thoughtfully remarked "I guess this makes you Korean too." I remember being so proud of that and thinking how wonderful it was to have this new culture as a part of me. It's probably why I recently referred to myself as the Chinese mom in my daughter's Kindergarten class without even realizing I was saying it.

  4. Hi Jean,

    Thank you for sending me the note the other day.
    Too often my nose is buried in my work, and it is nice to take a writing break and drop by to read you.