[Pulled from a ‘shared’ picture on Facebook]
The picture above speaks volumes of truth for me.
I remember when, 9 years ago, I immigrated to the United States and spent my first Christmas with the family that welcomed mine with open arms into America. I spend almost every holiday with that family. Since I first arrived on American soil, the Lee’s have provided shelter, food, community and love. Mrs. Lee treated me like her daughter – a princess, considering that I was the only girl in the household. Our families lived together for one year before my family moved out of the Lee household and neighborhood to another town, but my parents willingly drive an hour every holiday – Chinese or American, to make it to the Lee house.
In the year of my first Christmas in the States, I remember writing a Christmas wishlist with the two younger Lee brothers (the eldest was in high school and “too cool” to join us, at least I thought so) and my own younger brother under the Christmas tree Mrs. Lee set up. It is a special and precious occasion, as it is both my first Christmas in the United States, and my first time writing a Christmas wish list – that was something neither I or my brother did in New Zealand, the country we immigrated from. As I wrote my list carefully, doing some erasing and crossing out of things I didn’t think I needed on my Christmas list, I felt truly happy. I was blessed to be in the company of those boys – all brothers to me, and I felt a camaraderie and bliss in writing our secret Christmas wishes, all of which would be fulfilled, not by Santa but by the adults.
A year later, my family would move out of the Lee household and discontinue to write Christmas wish-lists with the Lee brothers, but instead our families took turns inviting each other over for major holidays, not just Christmas. Together, our families celebrate Christmas, Chinese New Year, the Lunar Festival, Dragonboat Festival, Thanksgiving, the 4th of July. Together we talk of triumphs and misfortunes, joy and sadness amongst the adults over cards after delicious dinners of dumplings, glutinous sticky rice, steamed fish, home-made brownies, buttered corn (to name a few dishes) and celebrate our shared Chinese-American diaspora and identity.
The Lee parents, like my parents, are from China, however the Lee brothers are 2nd generation Americans and my brother and I are 1.5 generation – born in another country, specifically our country of ethnic origin, but immigrants of New Zealand however native English speakers and assimilated into American culture. Both our families celebrated the eldest Lee brother’s going to college and moving into his own apartment as well as my acceptance and departure to college almost two years ago. We exchange gifts at our triumphs and words of sympathy for a sick relative and mix our Chinese heritage and words into our American identity.
Going back to the picture, what I would really like for Christmas this year is to join the Lees in celebration, however the middle Lee brother, like my own younger brother, are writing their college applications and both their family and mine are hanging onto the suspense and pressure of the application process. Perhaps we will get to spend New Year’s at their house, or we will go to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate the end of the year. Best of luck to the both of them.
As for myself, I realize the importance of community and family – spending holidays with the Lees all these years has furthered my love and respect for Mrs. Lee and the Lee family. Many of my friends spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with extended family, however my family spends it with the Lees. They are family to us.