Happy Thanksgiving, American Dream
Found Dad’s old passport from when he first entered the United States. The cover is a deep blue cloth with lots of hand written information in Chinese characters, written with a fountain pen or pen and ink. Probably a fountain pen. The entry stamp is dated October 31st, 1947 and the port of entry is San Francisco. Dad came by boat and if memory serves me, he told me it took three weeks.
As I look at the passport and wonder about what the passage was like, even more questions pop up to add to the list of questions I wish I had asked him, questions like: How exactly did you propose to mom? (I know it happened on Christmas Eve, but I want details), How did you feel the day I was born? How did you make the filling you put in the won tons that you made by hand for my entire life? Why did I never ask these things?
Oh well, je ne regrette rien. The truth is, you can go on forever and a day and still not know everything you wish to know about the ones you love. I think that is the way it should be. Something about infinity. Love has infinite depth. Infinite mystery. You can just keep on going forever and still not know it all.
Here’s another detail from the inside of the passport which has many interesting stamps and marks and writings. The central red character is old style, I have my grandmother’s name stamp and the characters are similar, rendered in a curvilinear manner.
I’m sharing this on Thanksgiving because this is a holiday that leads to the American Dream that my dad was often talking about throughout my childhood. For him, this was a real thing, not just a concept. He loved America, democracy, particularly the concept of freedom and civil rights. Hand in hand with that, he always talked about the importance of education. For democracy to work, you need an educated, informed population.
When I was in sixth grade, I asked Dad to teach me Chinese. He wouldn’t. You are American, you need to know English. Never mind the other children spit in my face and called me chink in the schoolyard. Don’t be angry, he told me, feel sorry for them instead. They just don’t understand what they are doing. This from an atheist who took me to church every Sunday so I could learn from people who were striving to be good.
I don’t want to get too deeply into politics because I am alarmed at how polarized our country seems to be right now, but I will say that I remember dad watching the news, particularly during the second term of the Bush administration, groaning and calling out things to the television set like, What have you done? You are ruining this great country! and You have set America’s reputation back decades!
Enough said about that. I’m grateful that my mom and dad lived with us for the last six years of their lives. They were like living museums of history, their cells were permeated with the places they had lived, the political and social events they had witnessed and experienced, the music they danced to. If you have any octogenarians, nonagenarians or centenarians in your lives, don’t forget to ask a few questions.
Images: Dad at 28, passport snapshots, Dad at 92 in the garden a few weeks before he died.