Grandma

Part of 5 of in
by Jason Chu
photography by jack yu
Jul 01, 2015 | min read
0 0 Snaps
0 Snaps
0 Snaps
0 0 Snaps
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

"Wo zhu le Niuyue yi nian. Hen weixian; nali you hen duo herein."

“I lived in New York for a year. It was dangerous; there were a lot of Black people.”

She says to me as we do the dishes.

Grandma’s a little racist.
(But just a little bit.)

I nod, because that’s what you do when a woman who birthed three sons —
buried two husbands —
moved halfway across the world —
and spoke 19 years of awkward English to a Chinese-school-skipping grandson —
tells you that Black people are dangerous.

You nod, and you dry the spoons.

Grandma’s racism isn't “you can't eat here".
It’s not “don’t date my grandson".
It’s not even “cross to the other side of the road”.

Grandma’s racism is an old souvenir tee:
a thin gaudy reminder of a place you’ve been, to never return.

Grandma’s racism is the bits of bone in the steamed fish at her 90th birthday banquet:
thin splinters, undetected until one sticks suddenly in your throat.

Grandma’s racism doesn’t deserve to define this
Chinese-Thai seamstress
who arrived in America in the ‘70s
with three sons in tow
and zero English in mind.

Grandma was born before MTV played Black artists.
Grandma was born before MTV didn’t play Black artists.
Grandma was born before MTV.

Over steaming handmade dumplings, she asks, what does your music mean?
And I say, Grandma, I tell our stories.

”Wo wei ni hen jiao’ao”

“I’m proud of you.”

And I think, this is how it should be:
this woman who walked through death and hope
birthed a man who had a son who learned his craft
from Black men and women who spoke of concrete and roses.

Grandma’s racism comes from a world that never touched me.
It tried, but couldn’t reach, because she moved halfway across the world
so her grandson could skip Chinese school
because he spoke English
so he could go to a university
where professors taught him about race and class
using words this Malaysian-Chinese seamstress never heard.

And how can he ask her to be where he is, when he hasn’t been where she was?
But maybe she was where she was, so that I can go where she hasn’t.

So I nod, and put the plates in the drying rack,
and we sit on her couch while she watches her Mandarin news.

And I sit here, using words and beats I learned from Black men and women
whose voices I hear and whose lives I read.
And I tell our stories.
For her.

Grandma
Read the rest of the series
No items found.
0 0 Snaps
0 Snaps
0 Snaps
0 0 Snaps
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Jason Chu

Jason Chu is a rapper on a mission to speak hope and healing in a broken world. He tells stories of a generation wrestling with fear and joy, greed and hope, hurt and healing. For more information, visit jasonchumusic.com and youtube.com/jasonchumusic.

Jack Yu

Jack Yu is a business major at the University of California, Irvine. His creative spirit drives his passion for photography and blogging. You can check out his work at jackyuphotography.com.

Like this article? You can get it in print:

Inheritance is a nonprofit that is made possible by readers like you. Donate to fund Asian and Pacific Islander faith stories.