My name is Mia Lung. This is the story of the first eighteen years of my life. It is also the story of my mother and of my family's love.
From the time I started school, I have lived my life knowing I was different from my peers, and I often wondered why. I blamed it on my mother, because I am the product of a mixed-culture marriage. I believed the reason I was different was because my mother was Caucasian. Most of my friends were 100 percent Asian.
On my mother's side, I can trace my family back to before the Revolutionary War, which is mostly a good thing. However, my mother's family settled in the Deep South after the Revolutionary War. As my mother explains, they were therefore on the "wrong side" during the Civil War. Some of her ancestors owned slaves, so Mom is both proud and embarrassed by her heritage. This may explain why she usually tells people she is from Montana, which is where she lived when she met my dad.
My dad's family is Chinese. Ah Gung's (Chinese for "grandfather") family has lived in Hawaii for over four generations. My dad is either the fourth or the fifth generation depending on whether you use Ah Gung's father's or mother's side. On Ah Ma's (Chinese for "grandmother") side, I am only the third generation born on American soil. Therefore, Ah Ma expected all of her grandchildren to strive not just to do their best, but also to be the best at everything they did to make our ancestors proud because they had sacrificed so much to come to America.
If you have ever read the book or seen the movie The Joy Luck Club, then you have an idea of what it was like to be Ah Ma's granddaughter. If you have not, then suffice it to say, Ah Ma made me feel like I had to be the best at everything yet, she never told me why she did this. Because of the way she talked to us, there was competition among all of her grandchildren. For instance, if I told her that I was taking piano lessons, she told me that my cousin had just received a medal for swimming. If I got an A on my report card, she told me how many A's my cousin got. It didn't matter that I was older and the subjects were harder. She did this for everything.
Chinese culture is rather complicated. Honor and respect for family and family ancestors is important. Equally important is saving face. Face is how we appear to others. Outward appearances can sometimes seem more important than true character.
I don't believe it was Ah Ma's intention to make me feel less valued or less loved than my cousins. Still, this was how I felt when she always changed the subject to my cousins' accomplishments.
Because of cultural differences, my parents' marriage did not always receive full support from their families. Both families had concerns, and neither side understood that some of their values were the same.
Mom's parents told her that they would not be around if this marriage failed because they were older. Grandma also cried because Mom would be living so far away.
Grandpa even reminded Mom that it was once illegal for white people to marry Asians. Mom took offense to this, and Grandpa had to explain that he did not mean it that way. He just wanted Mom to understand that things might be hard because of this.
Mom told him that she and Dad had decided to live in Hawaii for just that reason. She assured him that lots of people in Hawaii had multicultural marriages.
Dad's family asked Mom questions about her Southern family like, "Did they own slaves?" Mom took offense to this since obviously she had never owned slaves. She grew up respecting all people. The implication that her family was racist just because they lived in the South was upsetting to her. Dad also told Mom that his mom always wanted him to marry a Chinese girl.
This alone would be hard enough for some couples to overcome, but to add to my parents' stress, God gave them me. Mom said I was a gift from God sent to teach her patience. My mom always loved me even during times when I was difficult to understand. Because Dad's family didn't openly show affection except to babies, it was harder for him to show affection as I grew up. This caused me to doubt his love for me.
Okay, I have given you a basic overview of my family heritage. Now I must start at the very beginning of my story, so you can really understand who I am.
You see, I was with Mom before I was born. I watched her from heaven for years waiting for her to have a child so I could be born.
I first learned about Mom when she was only twelve years old. She had many losses in her life that year, including her Grandma Laura. When Great-Grandma Laura died, she and I became friends. She told me how Francesca was such a sweet girl that she hated to leave her. She said she knew that Francesca was special the day she met her as a newborn baby. The two of them had a special bond. Great-Grandma Laura learned I would get to choose my mother. She begged me to observe Francesca for a time to decide if she should be my mother.
So unbeknownst to my future mother, I studied her from heaven. Great-Grandma was right; she was special. She had flyaway, silky, copper-colored hair and beautiful green eyes that lit up when she smiled. I observed how much she loved all of her family and her pets.
I remember one day in particular. It was a cloudy, cold day in early March. Francesca couldn't have been more than fourteen because I remember her little sister Angie was nine. They were sitting close together on the brown couch in their living room. The pretty, blue ruffled curtains that matched the color of Angie's eyes were closed. The only light in the room was from the TV. A scary show about vampires was on, and Angie screamed and buried her head in Francesca's shoulder. Francesca stroked Angie's honey-colored hair and told her it would be okay. Then, even though the show wasn't over, she got up from the couch to turn off the TV and turn on the lights. She pulled back the curtain and said, "Angie, you know it's just a show. It's not even dark yet. I see Mom and Paul coming up the driveway. You know our linebacker-built brother won't let anything happen to you. You are safe."
Francesca could have made fun of Angie's fear or refused to turn the TV off until the end of the show. Instead, she showed concern for Angie. This convinced me that I did want to be her daughter.
"Mia, I am glad you chose me as your mother. Now you need to let me tell my part of the story."