i don't know how my ancestors walked to canada over the miles of roads meant for travel faster than foot: wagon paths of stone and mud with 10 chickens on their back, there's a reason there are a billion bicycles in China, great great grandfather must have had to file and sand his own knees to bend them into perfect circles. how else could these roads be traversed? meanwhile great great grandmother must have died of worry -- the worst sickness unknown to the family because telegraphs didn't span the pacific ocean. and paper was expensive. those chickens weren't yet money to buy rice, and they were too skinny for eggs, not that we could eat shells, anyway. but maybe we'll try. did i forget? how did he get to hong kong? kowloon? always the outer skirt of lady britain's domain, never quite city familiar. right, because money's hard to spend, when its locked in the white banker's savings. i hear that the bridge lies beneath the waters, foundations in ruins. and someday i'll walk it and meet grandma on the other side.
i am a foreigner only, i don't know from which land i am foreign to. here, in a nation called "Canada" i am not treated as a citizen. though, i was born here and qualify by the rules. i am treated as an outsider within my own people, gossip passed in front of me, like a bottle of wine around a young child. contents forbidden. and when i go back 'home' i cannot read the signs in my language, only in English. i need a translator to speak to my elders. and, though i try to find a home in the name of "wanderer" i do not really go wandering. if anything, i am searching, purposefully looking with intent, but the results are not easy and as i dig, and dig, and dig, the deeper i go, & the wider the hole. the wider the hole. the wider the hole.
i'll never give up my history to assimilate into a culture that has forgotten its name a culture whose web of ancestry.com videos tries to sell back family history that was lost because it was more convenient not to have to carry ID. the stories of my people involve telling white people with white tongues how to fill out white papers. a white stamp on our head tax certificate: a white lie. the least wanted: the most documented and white i white my story, 50, 100, 150 years later white letters turn brown in well-whited archives listed addresses in the white pages never white delivered to village homes in red china. still,lost grandfather's secrets murmur beneath white blankets on gold mountain, under a fresh layer of white noise.
This poem was inspired by the ACCESS community television broadcast series Uncovering Gold, which discusses Chinese-Canadian migration through a multimedia format. Part 1 can be found here: http://youtu.be/eP5dakbuXG8.
i thirst for the connection of language that thing you so easily conceal until a few drinks down and you no longer care "ngo-di hai loong jai" we are bound by the same name same shame same hate, same insolence same (innocence).. that the appearance and cadence of whiteness is what we strive for but can never amount to i wish i could speak like you i wish my tongue had your wings i wish i could touch the sky with an aerosol can painting words like i've never known f r e e d o m j u s t i c e l o v e l i b e r a t i o n l i f e & reach into that bag of words a trick or two. a greeting. a phrase. an idea. but until then, i'll surround myself with police-action movies, mandarin love songs.. and recreate what my family could not give me.
i am already starting )beginning to forget.. those houses built and raised by families children mothers below age growing side by side in rows in villages in a billion person economy a pocket of home here in the new land we are the friendly neighbours who-moved-away-neighbours and 'never returned' neighbours the best friend whom you shared your first kiss living always in the past- a memory a treasury... they tried to remove you, erase you, tell you that you don't belong put you in another town another pocket, put an ocean between you and called it separation 'immigration' 'integration' it was humiliation> but in my heart of hearts i know that we are connected by a bridge a melted ice land under sea, and all i need is a paper boat.
I wrote this poem today called “paper boat” but in private, I think is more fittingly called “our story.” In it, I’ve tried to tell the story of my family from the reaches of my own perspective which are limited to my knowledge and experiences and position in the family tree. I draw upon childhood images of the “first generation” as it may have been in Seck-Hee as well as how it was for the “first and a half generation” and “second generation” growing up in Canada:
Making paper boats with Grandma.