None of my extended family lived in the states when we were growing up. (well, there are some half-cousins in California and New Jersey, but I’ve only seen 4 of them once) Later on, one of my older cousins moved to NYC to go to grad school and lives there now, but that’s about it. We came back to HK a lot when I was young – 78, 83, 84, 87, 91 – but then had a big gap til 2005. Last time, it was great to get to know my aunts and uncles as an adult, and get to meet cousins that were just babies when I was last here. That’s the main reason I wanted to come to Hong Kong this year – to continue to get to know family.
Last week Dad and I traveled with my uncle and aunt (dad’s older sister) for 3 days in Guangzhou – a city of 10+ million about 3 hours away from Hong Kong. It’s where my dad lived until he was 6, but he hadn’t been back for a visit since oh… 1960? Anyway, we heard lots of stories those several days all about the family and Dad and I both learned lots that we didn’t know before (I obviously learned a lot more than he did, but there were still some big things he didn’t know).
Last Friday night we went to dinner with that aunt – she just turned 70! We had already heard so many stories, I just wanted clarification on one or two things, especially about my grandmother. Somehow though, we got to talking, and she was talking about how dad’s grandfather’s family was actually pretty wealthy before. And we were like, “oh, how?” And she said, “Oh, because my great grandfather went to Gum San to work!” Gum San is the old Cantonese name for San Francisco. And all this time we’ve thought Dad was the first of his family to come to the States.
I’ve been interested in Asian American history for awhile now, but this definitley puts a personal spin on it. My great great grandfather and then my great grandfather’s brothers went to San Francisco to work in orchards and fruit picking. Much of the village had gone – he probably went in his late teens and probably came back every once in awhile to bring back money, for a total of about 30 years. My great grandfather didn’t go with his older brothers because his mother wanted to keep one son at home. Later on, my grandfather decided to follow his older brothers to the Philippines to work instead, it was closer and they had seen others come back with money.
Somehow, knowing that my great great grandfather went to the States to work makes a difference in the way I think about my family history and myself. I’ll let you know when I figure out how exactly it changes things, and how to explain it. 🙂