My grandmother died last year in September. It was a ten year battle with a disease that attacked her white blood cells and eventually she just became weaker and weaker. Ultimately she passed away with an infection in one of her organs that spread throughout her body. The night she passed, I was the only one by her side in the hospital because of Covid regulations. Before she passed, I ate my dinner and went up to her and told her for the last time that I finished eating. She looked at me, too weak to speak, and nodded. She closed her eyes and not too long after she took her last breath. It was like she was waiting for me to eat before she left.
I wanted to just share with everyone how beautiful my grandma was. I know a lot of us struggle with our Asian identities because of our diasporas. We might feel like outsiders, too ashamed of our cultures to wear it on our sleeves. I never felt like that. I was always so so so proud of who I was. My favorite color was red because of the chinese flag as a child. I begged to go to China every year. My dad brought home Chinese flags for me whenever he would go back. I was so proud of being Chinese. I owe all to my 婆婆。
She taught me all about chinese culture, the beauty of who we are. All the amazing foods, the holidays, the values, and culture. She taught me chinese poetry that I can still recite to this day. Once, she even asked her friend from China to ship over a red scarf that all the students wore in China so that I could wear it. She made me proud of who I was. This translated into every sector of my life. I’m queer and I was never ashamed of it. Kids used to bully me for being feminine and loving the arts but that never made me give up.
I remember when she would take me on the buses of NYC, she would talk loudly and wouldn’t care. When we went grocery shopping, we would lose each other and yell across the store to find one another again. Some of our fondest memories were shared the in the kitchen when we would make radish buns together. She was the sweetest woman I’ve ever known yet strong and hard. Always said thank you but never took anyones bullshit.
She was one of the first female pharmacists back in her home town in China. She took care of her mother all on her own for many years. She saved my grandpa from suicide. She raised two kids and three grandkids in a strange world where she didn’t speak the language. Yet she never let go of her roots and never even tried to assimilate to American culture.
I owe so much to her. Without her, I wouldn’t be as strong as I am today. Everyday when I am proud of who I am, I thank her. When I feel like an outsider, I am ashamed of feeling that way. I miss her everyday.
For all of you out there who are afraid of being proud, remember your families. They left everything they knew for a better life for you and for them. They endured so much hate and struggle. So if you ever look in the mirror and are ashamed of your identity, just remember those who came before you. They think you’re beautiful. You come from strength and beauty.