This is an excellent depiction of a first generation Chinese immigrant family, written by a second generation, American born child of immigrants.
My grandmother and mother are Chinese, and like the mother of this writer, they didn’t give AF. To be more clear they didn’t give a AF about American, American culture, Americanism or what this author calls American “hegemony”. To them, America is a new country, too callow, uncouth and far too arrogant to know what’s good for them. China on the other hand is an ancient civilization millennia old (with its own set of intractable, entrenched problems), the 250 years of American existence barely covers the arse end of the corrupt and mismanaged Qing Dynasty. If China doesn’t go around the world telling people what to do, what to believe, how to behave and how to construct a political system, what right does the United States of America have? Even if we take the argument and say America really comes from Europe which has a history longer than 250 years, its history is still far shorter of recorded Chinese history, which is bloodsoaked, genocidal and homicidal even on its best days (very much like Chinese history – minus the genocidal and conquering tendencies). My grandmother always thought Americans were like overgrown children, well meaning but at times too rambunctious and arrogant for their own good. My mother has a more nuanced view, but she didn’t find Americans and their ways better than the rest of the world (as is the common view then), they just happen to be the victors of World War II and built its economy from it. Mom’s view has always been you learn from the best and leave out the worst from every culture and everything. Practical, unsentimental, useful.
What I learned slowly over the years is the very taboo subject of abortion. Subversive Mommy said her mother had several abortions and one miscarriage. She took the decision on her own, didn’t consult with her husband or conscience or religion or God. My grandmother had several abortions throughout her life, she didn’t give me the details but I was pretty sure my grandfather wasn’t consulted before the fact and was casually informed after the fact if he even knew she was expecting to begin with. I don’t know what his feelings are. They don’t talk about those. I don’t know ‘how’ she got those abortions with what method and they were most definitely illegal, but it must have been safe enough because she still bore five healthy children and lived to her late seventies. Women of who came of age during the brutal years of the Japanese Invasion and subsequent World War II, Civil War and then the Cultural Revolution had no such luxuries of ruminations of ‘only what if’. It was all about survival and preserving the family you have and not ruminating about the ones that could have been. Ruminating and overthinking about the ‘choices’ in your life is a distinctly Western luxury that many other women around the world can ill afford. My grandmother, a huge fan of Western cinema, always found Woody Allen irritating (where I was a huge fan), I asked her why, she said he thinks and talks too much. In my grandmother’s middle years, before her grandchildren came along, I was told she suffered from crippling menopause related health issues, where for long periods of time she couldn’t get out of bed. I later learned it was debilitating depression and sadness, but again, it wasn’t discussed. She just got on with it the best she can. She got out of it slowly and life resumed its natural pace.
Being brought up in two cultures, two distinct cultures with very polarizing views on the important matters of life, I’ve come to appreciate the practicality of the Chinese culture specifically, Chinese women as it’s depicted here:
She would always tell me and still does that the only thing you really need to raise a family is rice. As long as you have rice the kids will never go hungry. [So True]
She was right. She is right. I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve been a spoiled ungrateful brat, but I’ve never been hungry.
Perhaps the biggest gift my mom has given me is the luxury of giving a fuck. I have all this damn time to read and to ruminate AND all the while trying to raise my kids. For that I must thank her and more importantly, pay my penance eternally.
My mother has had very few luxuries in her life. She has no time for my shame. She’ll tell me to get over it. Talking to me about my regrets as a young foolish daughter is the last thing she would want to do with her afternoon. Her luxuries today are things like catching the bus at just the right time or slaying at a sale on evaporated milk. She wants her afternoon nap.
A luxury in her past was having the access and the choice to terminate her pregnancy–not what her husband preferred.
And she still doesn’t give AF what she puts on the table when I visit her now with my two sons in tow these days. There can be two stalks of celery and an a half eaten hard boiled egg on the table BUT there is always rice.
This also speaks to the hegemony of feminism, what it means to be a feminist and how feminism looks very different in different countries under very different circumstances. Growing up as an ungrateful bratty granddaughter, I would have never classified my grandmother as a feminist, in my mind she was the opposite of what a feminist was, she spent far too much time in the kitchen to be one (the irony of this). She deferred to my grandfather in most important matters, I thought of my grandfather as more a feminist because he always considered the situation and feelings of his wife over his own and what’s best for his children. My grandmother though was probably better educated than her peers because she came from a wealthy landed family, when she married, she took on the traditional role of a wife and mother, without having the luxury to decide if that’s what she wanted or if she aspired to more. There were interims where she worked out of the home as an accountant but she never had a career of her own. Tellingly, she never wanted the same life for her daughters and granddaughter. She spent her days in the kitchen but rarely told us to do so, or even bothered to teach us to cook – my mother and my aunt are pretty atrocious in the kitchen as a result. She wanted us to pursue higher education and get out there and make our marks in the world in ways she couldn’t. She even told us to forego the idea of marriage and children though her marriage by all accounts (even her own) was quite happy and fulfilled. But when it came to the most important decision of her life, whether to bear a child or not, and whose consent she sought for that very personal and important decision, she only consulted herself and no one else. For that, she’s a feminist.
The full link on the bottom. It’s worth a read.
Abortion was controversial. Abortion was murder. Abortion was a choice. It was clear to me what side of the debate I had to be on. My mom made her own choice. She kept me.
Source: My Mom Does Not Give AF.