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 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.
There is NOTHING like the joy on grandma's face when i speak my broken cantonese. what little i know. one grandson among many.
why am i drawn to the best (west) coast of turtle island north america the 'new' world... is it because my heart draws me closer to the land i am forgetting? vancouver (victoria) is my home, but i can't help but wonder.. maybe, i was right: age 5, "i am emperor lost at sea" letter in a bottle (china i am alive)
it is july first the day when people gather under glimmering, shimmering fireworks, candescent coalescent explosions of joy awe & childhood.. but in the quiet of my mind the calm hum in the ambience of my thoughts there sits an ivory lady dressed in jade; behind a gilded red curtain she says, "can you hear me? i am your ancestor, the ethereal phantom of your past, the beginning of our ancient bloodlines... i'm here because though you would call this day 'canada day' there is a history that no one will tell you, but here in the quiet of mind you can remember that this used to be our humiliation, that the happy and proud people you share this day with were once banished from voting, separated by marriage, forced to pay two-months = two YEARS' salary... so grandma could eat, so auntie could learn, so great uncle would be able to come (eventually) to ca na da, and pull rickshaws.. today was once called 'dominion day' and was celebrated by the white state that would have your hands for railroad planks, and feet for steel wheels, but not allow you to be equal..." so today i march on waving a dragon flag under the golden sun... and under the night sky, painted in pastel purple and red in my heart i remember: that a battle unfinished is a battle not lost and not won.
July 1st, 1923 was the first “Humiliation Day” as it was called by Chinese-not-Canadians when the Dominion of Canada enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act – which prevented many Chinese people to immigrate. Many married couples and children were separated for years, decades, and some never reunited in their lifetimes. They are the never-knew-their-dad people and the paper sons (immigrants who were only related on forged documents). Though my own family never paid the Chinese Head Tax, it still prevented my dad and Grandma and Great Aunt from coming to Canada for five years, meaning Grandpa was only an imaginary person to my dad for his first years of life. I choose today to remember this shame and how it continues to affect us in the present day.
why do i always have to explain.. that my cantonese is 'siu siu.' 'mm sick gong,' that i can't speak 'that' (well). that long before my ancestors came to the new land, i was already forgetting a home and slipping through my small fingers was a language which i learned in translation. that i wish my ability to communicate was fed to me at birth - that i worked so hard to forget and to remember... why do i always have to explain that i cannot speak, but i understand.
Oh when i hear that southern drawl The kind that originates In the mother land, the Wide East... That language of tongue that is not Tone alone, but slang and wit and Whip-fast clever, a posture and a history... Do not mistake my polite nods for empty listening. That language creeps into me like a mountain rain, drifting above freshwater pools and lakes of emerald in an updraft, collecting at the ridges and peaks that are the bent backs of my ancestors weighted down by law and conquest they offer me their suffering and call it a better life on their steep slopes salt drips crashing through the currents of brownwater, resting in pools and pristine waters that would pose as the sky.. Here between cracked canyon smiles, haunting granite faces: i am a rain a field A thunder