The Duty of Remembrance

My most vivid memories as a child are the summers I spent in my grandmother’s house in Xinzhou, China. She spent those days making sure her grandsons – all of my paternal cousins are male – were happy, and more importantly, full. Every immigrant child thinks their grandmother makes the best food in the world, and every immigrant child is right. I only ever remember my grandmother being joyous. Her tears and her anger are wholly unfamiliar to me.

However, at a certain age, I began to hear stories of my family from long before I was born. The first story I heard was of an uncle I never met. When my father was a child, he had a younger brother, but when he was seven, a nurse used a dirty needle and he died of an infection. All my life, I referred to my aunts as Aunt 3, 4, and 5; it was not until I learned about this lost uncle that I discovered the missing number two.

Years later, after learning about Chinese history in the 20th century, I asked my mother about family stories from the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. I was floored at her casual answer. My grandmother was the only one of her thirteen siblings to survive past the age of eighteen. Both my father and my mother remember starving in their childhoods, and spoke of eating dirt to feel something in their stomachs.

I have since returned to my grandmother’s house twice. My family’s hometown has taken on a new color wherever I walk; I imagine my dead uncle walking the same road along the river I have so many times; I wonder what my grandmother’s siblings’ favorite foods were. Since then, I have stopped acting irritated whenever my grandmother says, “Child, you are so skinny, you need to eat until you are more than full.”

Migration is not only the story of movement; it is the story of forgetting. What memories my family decides not to pass down to me will be lost to time. I am only one generation removed from the Cultural Revolution, yet I will never fathom its violence and brutality that killed members of 外汇开户 my family. That does not make it less important to know what has happened to them. The role of future generations born on strange soil is not to feel, or even understand, what their ancestors did. Rather, our duty is to be a sieve through which they, and their stories, can be remembered.

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