My Mother’s SecretsRoundup
tags: books, family history, Chinese history, Mao
Ms. Zia is the author of the forthcoming book “Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution.”
Growing up in the 1950s as one of the few Chinese-American kids in my New Jersey town, I was so often told to “go back where you came from” that I wondered about this place called China, where I had never been. But whenever I asked my mother about her young life in China, I always received the same curt answer: “That was wartime, unhappy memory.”
Over time, I stopped asking. Until one day, when she was in her 70s and we were having dinner in her small apartment, I lapsed into my childhood mantra. “Too bad you can’t tell me about my grandparents in China,” I muttered with no expectation of a reply.
But this time my mother put down her chopsticks and said: “All right, you want to know? I’ll tell you.”
I listened, transfixed, as my gentle mother launched into a tale with such clarity and force that I sat mute, fearing any sound from me would disrupt the narrative unfolding like a storybook that had never been opened:
One day in 1935, my 6-year-old mother climbed onto her father’s back in their dirt-floor cottage as they prepared to go to Suzhou, about 60 miles away. She was known only as Little Sister, and she was overjoyed because Baba had chosen her, not one of her brothers, for the special trip.