Happy Memorial Day and Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
Memorial Day usually marks the beginning of summer. I am happy to say that this Memorial Day will also likely be the first holiday since the Pandemic that we can celebrate with friends and family! Just as exciting, graduations and weddings and other special events can also be in person. I hope you can all enjoy the holidays with others.
May is Asian American Pacific Islander month…so designated to recognize the cultural contributions and influence of Asians on the history and culture of the United States. As most of you know, I’m 100% Chinese. My family emigrated from China and I was born, raised, and educated in the Mississippi Delta before going to college in California.
In the spirit of the Asian American Pacific Islander month, I would like to share excerpts from an article by Bradley Chow. Bradley’s grandmother, Mrs. King, was one of my mother’s very best friends. Bradley’s story is typical of many Chinese Americans, and similar to mine, even though I’m a few generations older. Like Bradley’s family, we had a grocery store, though we did not farm. I’m still close friends with Bradley’s parents, whom I call “cousins”. Here is Bradley’s story:
Growing Up Chinese American
By: Bradley Chow
No matter how much my parents tried to help my sister and me to “fit in,” there was always a small part of me that felt, “No, we really don’t fit in.”
I’m a fourth-generation Chinese American who grew up in the deep south region of Mississippi, where I looked different than 98% of the people around me. To say that I felt like an outsider is an understatement. Starting at a very young age, there was no shortage of kids jeering at me in school, pulling at the corners of their eyes to make them squinty and shouting “Ching Chong!” The strange thing was, it was both White and Black people who would do this to me, even at the grocery store.
A History of Service
My great-grandfather came to the States around the turn of the century looking for opportunity. When I was young, I didn’t understand that my family had worked for over 100 years to provide a better life for its subsequent generations.
Bradley with his Great Uncle, Pap Pang at his 105th birthday. Also pictured is Bradley’s father, Gilroy Chow, and Bradley’s son, Jack (foreground)
Our family settled in the Mississippi Delta area because the climate suited us. It was very similar to the climate of our homeland: the Canton southern region of China. The fertile soil in the delta was conducive to growing Chinese vegetables. My great-grandfather farmed them and shipped them up north. As his family grew, he opened small community grocery stores. These small stores played an important role in the segregated south. While other stores would only serve the White community, my family’s businesses would serve customers of all races.
My grandmother was the oldest of ten siblings, and after my great-grandfather died, she ran the larger store in Clarksdale. She would often extend credit to Black customers when others would not help them. Even though she died before I was born, I feel so much pride when I hear stories of how much she was respected in the community for standing up for what is right.
Seventy miles south in the small town of Inverness, my wife’s grandfather ran a store. Back in the 1950s, when the town was raising money to build a swimming pool for the community, he donated a large amount of money so his six kids could have a place to swim during the sweltering Mississippi heat waves. Little did he know that once the pool was built, his kids would be denied entrance to the pool because they had a different shade of skin.
Being Asian American Today
I think things have gotten better since then, but as I reflect on the 3,800 acts of violence that have occurred in our country against Asian Americans in the past year, I do wonder, has it really improved?
Just as my great-grandfather, grandmother, and parents have done, if we try to do what is right… is that enough to make a difference?
In my family, I’ve seen generation after generation make a difference for their descendants. Today, as my wife and I raise our nine-year-old daughter and twelve-year old son, we educate them about our past so we can move forward. We like to get together with family for all special occasions and holidays. For Chinese New Year, we try our best to cook family recipes of dishes that have been passed down for hundreds of years. I feel a level of responsibility to pass that along to my children. We frequent a local authentic Chinese restaurant that serves dim sum, which the kids love. We pass out “Hong Bao,” which are little red envelopes filled with money for good luck.
Bradley enjoys going to Mississippi State sporting events.
The Chow family at a baseball game this spring in Starkville, MS.
(Left to right: Bradley, Jennifer, Jack, Emily)
As I think about being Asian American today, I’m probably most proud of being known for hard work and dedication.
If we get knocked down, we get back up and fight for what is right. We work extremely hard to get what is needed to give the next generation better opportunities than we had.
I think of the long hours my ancestors put in farming vegetables to sell. I think of the long hours at grocery stores that they maintained as they raised their families.
There is a stereotype that Asians are smart. What I see are children who work extremely hard to make good grades, get in better schools, and become adults with rewarding jobs. In my family, we work hard to raise our kids to not just fit in, but to stand out, so they will have the opportunity to continue to create a better life for the next generation.
Bradley’s extended family celebrating a wedding.
(Left to right: Jennifer, Bradley, Sally Chow (Bradley’s mother), Emily, Jack, Gilroy, Hugh Mallory, Smith Mallory, Lisa Chow Mallory)
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