Readers Write Essay:
Published: Dec 29, 2010 02:00 AM
Modified: Dec 28, 2010 02:50 PM
"I am like a blind person and you are my stick," my father said with a faint smile that belied his sorrow.
I had just announced to my parents that I was moving to Japan on a fellowship. My mother had taken the news less well, personalizing my conscious decision to move nearly 7,000 miles away.
My family had come to the United States by way of China, Hong Kong, and Peru. After harrowing experiences trying to build a life on three continents, the last thing my parents had encouraged in their children was to venture far from home. They had worked their entire lives to achieve stability. I was established professionally and had a tight community of friends; they couldn't understand why I would "throw away" everything to go to a place they had worked so hard to leave behind.
As the firstborn, from childhood on I had played the role of interpreter and cultural ambassador to help my parents navigate life in the U.S. In return, they worked combined 140 hour weeks under frequently grueling conditions to give my brother and me what was too late for them to enjoy in this lifetime: a good education, comfort and choices.
These privileges included the luxury of choosing to experience life abroad. Craving independence and a chance to stretch beyond the safety net of my family, in 1999 I traveled to Japan sight unseen with an $11,000 fellowship and two suitcases. Each year my parents asked when I was coming home, as my one-year stay turned into eight. I had received a career promotion in Tokyo, married a Japanese national, and become a mother.
Two years ago, I did finally come back, and made my home in Chapel Hill with my husband and son. I understood then what it was like for my parents nearly four decades ago. The future takes on a different urgency once you have children. For my parents, finding a refuge they could call home was a matter of physical survival. Where could they raise their children to live free of political and physical danger, to receive a good education, to not know hunger?
When my husband and I made the same decisions for our family, the question was no longer a matter of survival but opportunity. What country's values and ideals best match what we want for our child? In which country could our son enjoy the resources necessary for him to realize his fullest potential and to give back as a citizen? We were not trying to escape the villages of China or the slums of Peru; we were choosing between one economic power and another.
For three generations my family has migrated the world in an attempt to find home. I had grown up a hyphenated American with simultaneous feelings of pride for and frustration with my country. Having stepped away for nearly 10 years, I immigrated once again. This time it was my choice, and I chose to come home.
Cecilia Wu lives in Chapel Hill.