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Entries in Chinese (2)


Something in the blood

My oldest daughter, Haley, is ¼ Chinese and in most estimation doesn’t look Asian in any way. But there’s a little something about her. That something was strikingly apparent when I saw this photo of my grandmother, Ethel, taken at roughly the same age.

My cousin was volunteering at the National Archives in San Francisco when he stumbled upon my grandmother’s passport application from 1931.

The accompanying letter is written by hand and reads:


Dear Sir,

I am writing to ask you concerning necessary papers.

I want to have a passport to travel from state to state but not out of the United States. I am going to travel with an American family as a companion in an automobile and I don’t want any trouble when crossing the state line.

I was born in Winnemucca, Nevada, Oct. 21, 1910. My parents have been in this country since they were children. There are seven boys and three girls.

My father passed away in the month of May in 1922 at the age of eighty-six.

(She then lists all of her siblings, their employers, and their cities of residence).

Yours very truly,

Ethel Chew

At the time, my grandmother did housework for a Mrs. A. Taylor, so I’m assuming she’s traveling with that family, but that’s all I really know.

It's so interesting that my grandmother identifies her traveling companions as American, even though she herself was born in Nevada. Cultural and racial identities are tricky things to pin down.


I used to be Chinese

ais.jpgI found my old college ID today. My first thought was "holy crap, I need to call the Hair Club for Men!" My second thought––was that I used to be Chinese. I’m not sure I am anymore.

My dad, George William Ford Jr.—was 100% Chinese. And despite the Western name (long story), he spoke fluent Cantonese. My mom on the other hand was Betty Crocker white. So I have a lot in common with Mr. Spock. We’re both half-breeds sporting bad haircuts. (There’s that hair thing again––calling Dr. Freud).

Growing up, there was no mistaking it. I was that one ethnic looking kid in all my class photos. I remember kids asking me things like "do you celebrate Christmas?" No, but Pearl Harbor Day is quite festive.

And when I graduated from the largest high school in Washington State, of the 400+ grads, there were only about ten of us that knew our way around a set of chopsticks. It was so bad that people on occasion mistook me for my good friend Rey. Keep in mind, I’m half-Chinese. Rey was Hawaiian/Filipino, six inches shorter, thirty pounds heavier and sported a mustache. Yup, aside from that it was like looking in a mirror.

I grew up in your typical Chinese-American home. We had decorative Buddhas all over the place, Chinese prints, Asian lamps and furniture. My dad ran a Chinese restaurant and taught martial arts on the side. If you ever go to an "authentic" Chinese restaurant, where the cashier is the only one who speaks broken "Chinglish", where little kids run around like they live there––that was me.

But now that I’m exploring adulthood I’ve realized how American I’ve become. My wife is blond (usually, shhhh, don’t tell). And except for my daughter Madi, who has Asian eyes so beautiful they could stop traffic, the rest of my family looks pretty much like their last name could be Von Yorgesbergerstein. Or simply, Ford.

With that in mind, I’m nourishing my roots through my work. You can catch a glimpse of it at Tribe’s Flashing in the Gutters.

There’s a little ditty entitled Dim Sum. Let me know what you think.