Too Many Homelands

To be Chinese in Vietnam, and Asian American out of Asia – Gladys Mac

One day in second grade, Mrs. L demonstrated Chinese calligraphy for my class, explaining that it’s an important part of Chinese culture. But I am Chinese too, I wondered – so how come I had no idea what she was talking about?

My family has always self-identified as Chinese, even though they lived in Vietnam for at least two to three generations. Some of my grandparents were born in Vietnam, while others migrated from Southern China. My great-grandparents had arrived in Vietnam after fleeing the Japanese occupation of China. My parents were both born in present-day Ho Chi Minh City, but they were educated in Taiwanese-founded private schools during their early school days; they did not receive a Vietnamese education until after the north and south were united. My dad’s side of the family owned a bustling Chinese restaurant; my mom’s side owned a lumber yard.


Blood and Soil

The Chinese minority targeted in Indonesia, historically and today – Frank Beyer

The Palace Museum in Yogyakarta, a city on the Indonesian island of Java, is a mixed bag. The gated entrance to the Sultan’s royal palace complex, the Kraton, opens onto a large grass-covered square – a relief from hot, traffic-choked streets. Within, the museum is not very well maintained but has several interesting exhibitions, one being portraits of all the Sultans of Yogyakarta since 1755. The date of birth, length of reign and number of children of each ruler are given – one managed eighty-two offspring. Today’s Sultan, Hamengkubuwono X, gave up the tradition of having concubines and has only one wife and five children.

In contrast to the rundown Palace Museum, a nearby Chinese temple, the Vihara Buddha Prabha, looks like it just received a fresh paint job. The entrance is bright in its yellows, reds and blues – more ostentatious even than similar temples in Taiwan. Inside, there are altars featuring an array of different buddhas and deities (the cast of the Chinese heavens is hard to remember). Adding to the impressive interior are scenes from the Chinese classics painted on the walls.


What We Owe Each Other

Anxiety of influence in writing from the diaspora Jane Shi 

I am afraid of ancestral debt. The debt that does not come in the form of money, though it is often steeped in it. The debt that is not knowing – of how to ask and where or why exactly it hurts. An inheritance that cannot be thrown out, a thing more ceaseless than ocean and more anguished than birds swallowing plastic. 

What is ancestral debt? To whom are we indebted, and how? Over time, as I come into my voice as a Chinese Canadian writer and poet, I learn that the central questions of diaspora are best attended to through metaphor. The movement of a vehicle (ocean, birds) as it reimagines a tenor (inheritance of debt) is much like what happens when bodies migrate across land and water to reimagine belonging. If a poet’s job is to bear witness and reassemble everything that gets tugged away and lost through displacement, what happens when the poet herself houses the memories, stories, and hauntings of that loss? What does she do with images that keep coming back and refuse to let go? 


Queer Finds Family

Cantonese opera ignites LGBTQ voices in Vancouver’s Chinatown – Kimberley Wong 

Editor’s note: To celebrate Pride Month and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, this column brings you three stories from queer and LGBT+ diasporic communities over the next three days, beginning with Kimberely Wong’s route back to the art of her grandfather, a master of Cantonese opera. – Rebecca Choong Wilkins

As I stood at the bottom of the stairs at the Wong’s Benevolent Association, I held a plant in one hand, my hand gripped tight to the grainy bottom of the pot, eyes interrogating the leaves, ensuring they were glossy and auspicious-looking. I wanted to make a good impression on the folks I would be meeting today. I had my notebook, with ‘Wong’ written on the front, in the other hand. I had asked my Dad and my Grandma, both born Wongs, to tell me the names of our ancestors and fellow Wong Chinese-Canadians, so that I could look them up in the manifestos and so that I could tell Uncle Tim Wong, the elder Wong historian, to whom I was related. In the scurry of looking through photos of my Yeh-Yeh, my paternal grandfather, we figured that he and Tim Wong must have been in Chinatown at around the same time, in the same social circles.


The Past is a Foreign Country

Finding a vanished Chinese home in Vietnam – Connie Mei Pickart

With children at least, balloons are still popular here. A little girl has a big red one tethered to her wrist. When I was seven I had one like it on Chinese New Year. I recall the bang when my father burst it with his lit cigarette. A boy nibbles on a dripping popsicle that looks and tastes like watermelon. I know the taste because it was one of my summertime favorites. Nearby, a woman stirs a bucket of gooey maltose with a pair of wooden sticks. The old man outside my primary school sold these for 10 cents a stick. “Maiyatang!” The woman hawks at me in Chinese, as if she knows.

It all seems familiar. For a moment, I feel like I am transmitted back in time, to the heartland of China where I grew up.