Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Eight Promises of a Mother

I chanced upon this online article (in Chinese) introducing the book, THE EIGHTH PROMISE: An American Son's Tribute to His Toisanese Mother by William Poy Lee (Publisher Rodale Press, February 6, 2007). According to the article, the author is an ABC (American Born Chinese) whose mother migrated from a rural village in China to US in 1950, a time marked by tumultuous political upheavals in China.

A graduate of UC Berkeley, the author subsequently received a law degree from UC San Francisco and has been practicing law since then until several years ago when he decided to write a memoir about his family, realizing that amassing wealth is not what he wanted to live for.

He went back to his roots, learning first-hand how his ancestors had lived, including interviewing his mother on how she coped with the war-torn neighborhood. And he decided to portray that experience via a dual voice format: his own and his mother’s.

The result is “a beautifully written evocative memoir of a relationship between a mother and son – and the Chinese immigrant experience”.

I have not read the book, so I’m not in a position to offer any commentary. Rather, I would like to relate the genesis of the eight promises, highlighting the 8th that is used as the title in the process, as found in the online article.

Apparently the eight promises were made by the author’s mom to her dad when she was about to leave for US, after she got married to an American Chinese from San Francisco. Here they are, or rather my translation from the online article:

1) Educate the children to become Chinese, understanding Chinese language, culture, and history. When the hard times in the rural village had come to pass, they can return to continue living there [I thought the last part sounded odd, especially vis-a-vis the 3rd promise below. But I guess those days the attachment to one's homeland was still very strong, despite the dire circumstances.]

2) Look for potential husbands for her two younger sisters so that they too could join her in US as soon as possible.

3) Become a US citizen so she could petition her parents and two younger brothers to immigrate to US.

4) Instill in the children the philosophy of Sun Yat-sen [often referred to as the “father of modern China”].

5) Foster link between the children and folks at the rural village in China.

6) Maintain relationship with other sisters from the same clan in US.

7) Eat Chinese meals at home, and prepare nutritious soups for good health.

8) Always have compassion for people both within and outside the home.

And the 8th promise of the title refers to the last one, a constant reminder from his mother to be compassionate toward everyone. And that constitutes the uniqueness of the author’s experience, unlike the bulk of Chinese immigrants who prefer their children to embrace the local customs so as to fit into the mainstream. Instead, his mother had taken the admonitions from his grandfather to heart and brought him up as a Chinese who understands and values his cultural heritage.

I find that very admirable, and are thankful to my late parents, who also emigrated from China, but to Malaysia, and who made sure that I was brought up knowing my roots, speaking my mother tongue, writing in Chinese, and imbuing the Confucian values of filial piety, loyalty, respect, humility, and the Buddhist worldview of compassion and wisdom.

I can't wait to read this highly acclaimed work, his very first, by a fellow clansman and Berkeley Alumnus. Go bears.


Kitty Girl said...

I will immediately request this book from my library! It's always a learning experience and fun to learn about other Asian immigrants' experiences (I remember The Joy Luck Club from when I was younger, and other Amy Tan books).

Speaking of teaching the kids to embrace their cultural heritage, I remember how quickly I went from only speaking Mandarin to acquiring fluency in English, complete with an American accent... Well, actually, I don't remember all too well, just that I started speaking more English and less Mandarin. I do wish now that I had a better command of Mandarin, and that I hadn't been so hasty to avoid learning Mandarin (Oh, how I hated it back then when Mom pulled out my Chinese text and I had to stay in to read instead of going out to play!!!). Back then, though, I didn't understand that we would be going back and I would be in a Mandarin-speaking school. Ah, well. At least I can look back and laugh about it all now.

I sometimes think I'm too American for other Malaysians, yet too Asian for other Americans, and some confusion would ensue. However, I'm learning to accept that I am what I am. Either way, I think I was brought up well, and try to practice the Confucian values you listed in the last paragraph. I plan to imbue Confucius' values into my future kids as well as the ability to speak and understand Mandarin--however, I will need you and Mom's help!

Say Lee said...

We will be there. In fact we insist, but not impose.