I wrote this very quickly, sixteen days ago, the day my parents became citizens. Of course, I typed furiously with tears in my eyes and before I went home to celebrate with them.
After thirty years of living in America, and never having learned English, my parents became citizens today.
What does that mean to me?
That my parents no longer are “aliens”
Their “Alien Registration Cards” are moot
Those eyes that stare
When they hear my parents’ Toisan accents
Because they’re not aliens
If China attacks
If our view of China changes
If our view of Chinese capitalism intensifies
If, all of a sudden, people do realize we’re people of color
And when people realize we’re people of color
They decide to deport “them” all
And to send “them” back
Where “they” came from
Got the papers to prove it.
Or so we think
They might pull a Wong Chin Foo move
Keep us out when we try to come back
Who knows what they’ll try next?
All I know
Is that they finally did it.
I thought they’d never.
The beauty of it all?
They never assimilated.
They kept on with their culture
They continued being exactly who they were.
They didn’t bend down to the racism
The idea that they had to be anything other than who they were
They kept their language
They kept their culture alive
As best they could
I wish I knew how to do that
Whilst straddling two.
They tried their best with their children
Sending them off to Chinese school when they could afford it
Temple that one time
Never learning English
Too tired to help with homework
Because of the overbearing jobs they had
Trying to win games at the casinos
Left the kids to their own devices.
We figured it all out.
And so proud when we all
Went off to college
On full scholarships.
Began our lives
Moving back homes.
They’d done it, they supposed.
Sent us all away
To fulfill our dreams and lives
And so what next for them?
Might as well, they probably thought.
Take the test
Get the papers
It won’t change anything
But might as well.
I wish I could articulate all this to them
How much this means to me
Their American citizen daughter
Lucky from the day she was born
That she was born here.
I wish I could tell them how hard I fought
For their existence here
To be validated.
Their decision to move here
To be the right one.
How I could never understand their struggle
I’ve never lifted anything for a living.
I’ve never built structures
While also knowing no English.
I wish I could verbalize how it was
How hard it was to try to be
both Chinese and American
that I could be Chinese American
all at once
I wish this poem could be written
In my parents’ native dialect
Which, of course,
Has no written counterpart.
I wish I could articulate this
in the culture of my people
With the intricacies of history
But I never learned it.
I wish I could show my love
in the Chinese way
But I grew up here
And they there.
But they’re here now.
And they got the papers to prove it.