Living in Gratitude While Missing My Native Tongue
By Tracy Wang
It’s easy—almost far too easy to just say where we are from. A country. A place. A word. But where we really come from is from our parents and our culture. A history.
I lost connections to my homeland when I was brought to America at the young age of three. As a child of immigrant parents, my sister and I had to worry about our English speaking skills to survive in this new country. We spoke English every day, whether we were at home, at school, or just taking a walk. But all that practice left us in a complicated position. We started to excel in English but gradually began to lose our native tongue.
Yet, I’m grateful. I am grateful because the foundation my mother has set in me is strong. I’m also grateful for my mother and the sacrifices she has made for me and because of her, I will never really lose my native tongue.
I am from a place I don’t understand because I don’t speak the language fluently. I don’t know many places there, not even a single unique landmark, and I can’t tell you precisely where I used to live as a child. But sure, allow me to show you the geography of China and tell you where I’m from. I don’t trust in my full capabilities to deliver an origin story but this is as beautiful as it can be.
I belong to a small city in a southeastern province in China with a population of 7 million people, and that is where generations of my family grew up and lived out their overworked yet amazing lives. This blood, the Fuzhou blood running in my body, separates me from so many other Chinese descendants and it’s a beautiful concept to belong to a smaller and more distinct community. Fuzhou is part of Fujian, which is the real province, and it belongs to the river basin which makes us surrounded by glorious mountains. And oftentimes when I travel back in the summertime, I visit the loud and awake areas of the city then to the more remote and peaceful mountainous regions that are farther out.
My immigrant mother was raised in an impoverished family so she didn’t receive a high school education. She had to work odd jobs in middle school after she got out of class. She would come home exhausted but had to take care of the house, cook dinner for her fatigued parents and care for her younger brother. She did this with nobody by her side and no emotional support. She did not get the chance to eat foods that were nutritious and tasty because she couldn’t afford them. She taught me not to be wasteful of food and to always live a humble life as well.
My mother came to the Americas in hopes of finding a new job and a better life. And here in this free country is where she chose to have us, so we can have a better life, unlike her. School for youngsters like us means busy mornings; she would be waking up in the early morning to prepare breakfast for us and walk us to school in the frigid winter weather, to make sure we were warm and all bundled up. She prioritized our education by helping us with homework to the best of her power. She made us lunch and dinner and always remembered my favorite foods like stir fried cabbage and Chao Mi Fen, a delicious noodle dish. Her actions were the constant motivation to keep us learning and show us that we’re loved and cared for, and that although we are kids we work hard too.
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My mother also makes life fun for us. She would agree to chaperone on field trips so she’d be able to watch over me, and put me in swimming classes. She also put me in a Chinese class so that I would know life skills. We hung out at the Bronx Zoo, aquariums, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, amusement parks, supermarkets, the beach, and the Botanic Garden. We also traveled to China and Canada. She made it all possible to ensure we had a memorable childhood. She also supports me emotionally. After school, I would come home and cry because I was made fun of and harassed by little kids in my grade. This is just a drip from a bucket of everything she’s done.
Today, I stand as a sixteen-year-old girl who has skin the color of sun-kissed desert sand. I’m grateful because through the help of my mother I’m regaining my native tongue and learning about my culture. My mother has been there for me and made so many sacrifices so my sister and I can have a future, live stably and independently. Where exactly is someone with yellow skin from? This is an easy question but for some reason we, being humans, usually overthink it. Or more like overexplain it in efforts to make it more complicated and meaningful. And even so, that complexity is just as beautiful as our simple origins. I’m just grateful for everything in my life.
Throughout the entire pandemic, both of my parents have been there to support me. Not outrightly, sometimes not verbally, but frequently through the act of taking care of me. Undertaking chores, making comforting food of my culture, encouraging me to build stronger versions of myself…so much more. Everything they taught reflects outwardly in the girl I am, with their love by my side during this difficult time. I believe I owe many thanks to these two outstanding humans.
No specific workshop inspired my piece, but many of them came together to collectively build up the words I wanted to express in appreciation. This is my first half of the personal essay dedicated especially to my sweet mother.
Tracy Wang is a 15-year-old who first discovered her zest for writing during her middle school years. Being the recipient of every wonderland books offered her, she's now decided to tell stories she's seen, stories that grew near to her heart, stories that inspired her and would inspire others, stories to call her own. Writing for her has always been a form of communication, either to others around her or to herself. It is a form of change, of healing and developing, of learning and indulging, and brings revolution. Motivated by show-not-tell, she believes writing accomplishes this.