She was of short stature and stout, with a head covered with curly white hair, but her presence and disposition were the most intimidating that the three-year-old me had yet met. Now, in the sixty-three years that she’d been alive before I was born, my grandmother had amassed — sometimes for the better, others for the worse — a myriad of exciting experiences and meaningful memories. Naturally, a woman with so much character and personality seemed to, at first, scare the young me. Looking back though, perhaps my grandma was the strongest female figure I had encountered at that point, and remains so, to this day.
Born in 1934, my grandmother grew up during World War II and lived through China’s Cultural Revolution — two of which were possibly some of the most trying times in modern Chinese history. During the war, she lost her grandparents and all of hr family’s possessions. Yet after the war, at the age of eleven, she managed to talk her way into continuing her education at school, even though her family could not afford to pay the fee of two carts of rice. When the government de-privatized all schools, she was able to excel in her education — becoming student body president of her school and a member of the city council student board while breaking gymnastics records in the gym. In every way, she embodied the feminist ideal: strong, proud and loud. One of the earliest lessons she had instilled in me was to use my voice: “You have a mouth, so use it to do what it’s supposed to do: speak.” And speak she did, through spoken and written words, about right and wrong, justice and injustice. She had, and still has, an incredibly clear moral compass — never do anyone wrong, always do what you believe is right, and never fail to lend a helping hand.
After graduating, she became a college professor, teaching the Chinese language. Imagine that — a female college professor in the 50s and 60s when even some US schools didn’t let women attend college. And that speaks volumes about her strength, her preservation and her dedication to what she believed in — herself and her goals. All the while, she was financially supporting her own parents and mother-in-law, along with her three children.
Once she retired, she returned to her first true love — art. She began teaching various art courses at the community center, eventually bringing that to the United States when she began visiting my family on a yearly basis after I was born. She taught four to five classes every weekend at the TAMU Chinese School, and it was through art that I formed my first clear memories of her. Each day, she would never fail to sit next to me as I was hunched over a sheet of paper, attempting to draw something of resemblance to a cat. She watched every stroke with pride, and every once in a while, would help steady my hand. From her, from the countless hours we spent indoors and outdoors drawing anything and everything in sight, I learned to draw fairly well. But it was during those times, where when we sometimes got tired and she would share stories about her life, that I learned what it meant to be a good person, and how to be the best one I could be.
Be proud. Be loud. Be strong. Be someone who, when your time has come, you won’t regret being.
Since I’ve left for college, I’ve started talking to her more and more over the phone. It would sometimes be over trivial things — boys & what happened over the week — or more serious things — schoolwork or my future. Although it’s been more than sixty years since she had walked this path herself, her stories hold immense value that transcends time and space, and her experiences deserve to be heard by all.
[中文版 ｜ Chinese Version］