immigrant /ˈiməgrənt/, n.

Since I officially moved away from home, I’ve tried to make a point of visiting my parents at least once a month. Ideally, I’d share a meal (or three) with them and we’d have time to catch up about life—our respective work, house plants, and thoughts on family relationships.

This past weekend, I ended up visiting on a day that my mom was, in her words, “very sadded.” (“Saddened,” my dad corrected. My mom persisted with “very sadded.”)

Before I stopped by, my mom had spent the day cleaning out letters she’d received from her family and friends in Taiwan after she’d moved to America for grad school in the 80s. That was how she rediscovered a letter her dad had written and sent to her during the year my mom would marry my dad.

That year, my grandfather—my mom’s dad—was the same age my dad is currently.

In the letter, my grandfather had written about his worries for my mom, how his greatest hope was for his children to be happy and healthy people. These sentiments are ones that my parents often share to me when I go home to visit.

My mom never realized so precisely how she and my dad worried about their children in the same way that her own parents had.

Rainbow over Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
Rainbow over Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall | Photo by Courtney Cheng

My mom’s story evoked memories of a recent conversation I shared with some Asian American/Pacific Islander folks. I was the youngest of the group; the oldest was likely in her 40s, based on her children’s ages, and the rest were scattered fairly evenly among the decades between us.

One of our group members had just returned from a trip to Taiwan with her mom, where her mom had emigrated from and a large portion of their family remained.

At one point, she said, “It was really nice to see family again, because I hadn’t seen them in many years, and I knew this would be the last time I would see most of them.”

“Why?” someone else asked.

“Because they probably won’t be there anymore by the time I go back to Taiwan again.”

And when she said that, we all, collectively, around the room, nodded in agreement and understanding. Because we all knew. We—or our parents or someone else close to us in our family—had all, at one point, actively realized that our “bye” was the last goodbye we’d ever say in person to some of our family members.

Songshan Cultural and Creative Park
Songshan Cultural and Creative Park | Photo by Courtney Cheng

The weight of this realization only hit me a couple weeks later, as I was retelling this story to my partner. As I told the story again to my parents and witnessed their responses, the weight became even heavier.

As a daughter of immigrants who has now spent a fair amount of time processing these thoughts; watched her parents miss their parents, friends, and homes; and listened to her parents’ longings for her brother to move back closer to home—I don’t know how I can find it in me to actively move away from home without experiencing intense regret.

I try to avoid using “it”, but here, I use “it” specifically because I don’t know what those emotions would even be. Would “it” be courage? Foolishness? Strength? Lack of resolve? All of those emotions, or maybe, none of them at all?

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