It has inspired me to share more stories and reflections ...
Merriam-Webster defines 'memories' as 'the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained especially through associative mechanisms' ... I have been reflecting on early childhood memories. I know my memories, my experiences, the felt senses of all that happened to me as a young child are all there ... but where is 'there'? in my brain? in the gray matter? in spirit? in landscape? I know this photo of me was taken at an apple orchard somewhere close to Alton, Illinois. I believe it was in 1968 when our family traveled around 8,700 miles from Bangkok, Thailand to bring my Papa to the United States. I had just turned 4. My Papa was dying, and my mother was desperate to try anything to save my Papa. I learned growing up how my parents believed in the educational system 'abroad' ... the United States, London, Australia. They wanted their children to be 'educated' not in Thailand, but in America, or London or Australia. I wonder if their belief in the education system being 'better' abroad was based on stories they heard, messages from 'abroad' ... or was it from personal experience? My mother was born and raised in the Philippines. She spoke tagalog (the language in the Philippines) and English fluently; and yes, a fair amount of Spanish. My Papa was born and raised in Thailand; my grandparents on my Papa's side were Chinese; they came from mainland China. He spoke Thai and English fluently; i believe he also spoke Chinese. The only common language my parents had was English.
At the age of 53 I find myself longing to have the opportunity to sit down and have conversations with my Papa and Mama … and my grandparents. My memories are sketchy. I have stories and narratives from my childhood, pieced together by sporadic memories. I feel a deep sadness for not knowing how to speak the many languages my parents spoke. They spoke English in the house. After Papa died in St. Louis, MO when I was 4, and we returned to Bangkok, Mama enrolled us in a British School, Bangkok Patana School. I know my mother only wanted the best for us. I can't help but wonder, what would my life be like if I had grown up in a Thai school, speaking the language of my home country? I feel a deep connection to the wisdom of our communities, our ancestors and elders, our tradition. Yes, I have gone through the U.S. educational system and have a graduate degree; yet what matters to me is not that I have a higher education degree; what matters to me are the stories and narrative and experiences I carry with me, and in me, through my lived experience, and the collective lived experiences of my communities.
At 53 I find myself being drawn back to my roots, to my origin … to my country and a culture, language, landscape, spirit that … I know who I am is very much connected to my roots, community, culture, landscape, language. I am amazed and in awe of the wisdom of our bodies and our being; at how we adapt and transform to survive. I arrived in the U.S. when I was 16 from Thailand. The complexities and trauma I buried deep inside of me began to unravel when I arrived in a foreign country where I stood out. I was a brown skin. I began to apologize for being brown. I chose assimilation to a white culture in order to survive.
And now, I long to re-discover who I am; to unlearn and let go of survival strategies I took on at the age of 16; to remove the I am not brown mask I have been wearing for decades … this mask has been pressing deep into my skin, cutting into my flesh, peeling back scabs of old wounds and creating new wounds.
Today, I set my mask down. I thank my mask for its service. It has served me well. This mask no longer serves me as I step forward into a new path.
Today, I declare, with dignity …
I am a commitment to Being Brown without apology.