Writer reflects on cultural heritage


It’s sort of funny because you can’t tell.  Sometimes people don’t even believe me.  But it’s true.  I’m part Chinese.


My mom’s side of the family is purely Irish.  Both her parents immigrated to New York, where they met, from Ireland as teenagers and have remained here since.   While my dad’s mother’s side of the family has been in the United States for as long as our family tree can trace back, his father is actually Chinese- American.


My grandfather was born in Hawaii where his mother, the first of her sisters to be born in the United States, was born.  Growing up as a second generation American for my grandfather meant that he didn’t learn to speak Chinese, but that didn’t mean he was cut off from his culture.  He just adopted a new one having grown up in Hawaii.


As a girl, his mother was faced with the tradition of foot- binding.  As the youngest, her older sisters had already gone through the long and agonizing process.  Once the bandages were tightly wrapped, her faithful siblings couldn’t bear to see her in so much pain.  So they quickly unwrapped the torturous cloths at night.  But what I find fascinating is that this was actually something that occurred within my own family.  Something that I read about in history textbooks.  I was even lucky enough to get to know my great grandmother because she lived to be 105 years old.


My grandfather even remembers the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.  Being interested in the war planes encountered during his generation, he saw the planes carrying the bombs fly over his own home and immediately recognized them to not be American. I think it’s amazing that this was something my own grandfather was able to experience because he was Chinese- American and therefore grew up in Hawaii, a place where many Chinese immigrated.


Because so much of my distant family lives in Hawaii, I have been lucky to have been able to travel there on multiple occasions.  Hawaiian traditions have even found their way into my family.  At my parents’ wedding, everyone wore real flower leis imported from Hawaii.  And visits with my grandparents often meant meals where we would see who could pronounce the most complicated Hawaiian word between bites of food.


I’m fortunate to have this unique diversity within my family.  It has become part of who I am even if my appearance doesn’t make it obvious.  I love being able to tell people that I am part Chinese.  I even love seeing their surprise.  Part of me even loves seeing how envious people are when they discover that part of my family lives in Hawaii, because it only reminds me how special my family really is.