My parents came to the United States in 1990, six years before I was born. Three years after they moved, my grandfather passed away. Although he died before my birth, he was extremely proud that my father and mother made it to the United States and was anticipating the arrival of an American grandson. After I had graduated high school last June, my parents decided that it was the perfect time for me to take a trip to my grandfather’s grave so that he could finally meet his American grandson.
The car pulled over on the dirt road next to a large field of newly planted corn. My brother and I followed my aunt, uncle, mother and father through the knee-high sprouts. Looking around, I could see a range of mountains to my right and the little stone houses of the village to my left. As we walked, my father explained to me that up until the communist party began to collectivize the land, these fields had been passed down through the generations of our family. It was reiterated to me, that I was the first Wang not to have been born on this farm.
The rows of corn eventually gave way to a looming black tombstone that stood at the head of a large mound of dirt. The six of us stood in silence in front of my grandfather’s grave. My aunt, uncle, and father all took turns in saying a few words to my grandfather. The three of them then proceeded to pour out shots of baijiu (traditional Chinese rice vodka) on his grave and set out the dishes of fried chicken and dumplings. My aunt set down a bouquet on top of the mound and had me light a cigarette for my grandfather. We took turns kneeling and kowtowing at the head of my grandfather’s grave. As I knelt, my aunt spoke to my grandfather: “Father, your American grandson has finally come back to meet you. Look how he kneels for you. You passed before he was born, but he’s already a high school graduate. He’ll be heading out for college in a few months”.
When we were through paying our respects, my uncle brought out a stash of yellow papers and started to burn them in front of my grandfather’s mound. It is our tradition to burn these papers for the dead so that they may have currency to spend in the underworld. As the ashes of the paper flew in flurries over our heads, and the heat of the flame made us perspire on our brows, I started to think about the tiny village that my family had come from, and all the generations of sustenance farming that lead to my father coming to the U.S. How likely it would have been for me to have been born in that village without the opportunity to go to a prestigious American college, and how absurd it is that I grew up in Minnesotan suburb rather than working the land that all my ancestors had before me. On this trip, I realized not only the importance of my existing family, but also how appreciative I need to be of my ancestors and of the opportunity I have that they were never given.
The trip I took this summer was my coming of age; now not only do I fully understand how fortunate I am to have the opportunities that I’ve been afforded, but I also possess the necessary pride and appreciation in my ancestry and family that will ensure that I take full advantage of those opportunities.
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