I wrote an essay “Why I Write in English” several years ago. At the time I gave all my reasons, with an old family photo. Since then, my grandma passed away at the age of 93.
I realize there is more to that narrative. I was born in Jiangsu province with ancestral roots at a seaside village in Zhejiang province. My name was recorded in the Huang family tree book. Ironically, my children and spouse aren’t recorded, because I am a woman. My children don’t bear my last name, so I am no longer part of the Huang family, despite that I kept my maiden name.
Here is my family: the first photo of our family of four alongside the latest. My elder son was pegged to be an engineer at the age of three. As a baby he loved to play with toy trucks, trains, and grew up playing baseball and soccer. Unlike me, he’s a good athlete. I rarely saw him do homework until the 5th grade. Now in the 9th grade, he’s bound to the books, laptop, and even has a new ambition: studying to become a lawyer.
Call it the teenage whim. We were puzzled. Both my husband and I are computer engineers. We can help him, if he wants to become an engineer. But no, he has to choose a profession that we know nothing.
This reminds me of someone I know: his mother! Two decades ago I decided to write in English, an impulsive decision that bewildered my parents and friends: What? Why?!
I gave my reasons in the essay, but that’s only the logical answer. There is also an emotional side of the story. I have to begin with my ancestors. The couple who started the family tree were originally from Fujian province. The woman was the young daughter in a wealthy family. The man was a hired hand working for her father. She fell in love with the tall, handsome, and penniless young man. Her parents disapproved of him, so they eloped to Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, and settled at the secluded seaside village surrounded by green mountains. Her family set out to look for her (only a wealthy family could afford to conduct an extensive search) but failed to find them, who were determined to elude her family. I have often wondered: did the brave woman miss her parents? Did she reach for her mother’s hand when she cried out with birth pang?
For more stories see my Chinese blog 《温州家乡的奇事》
Now the Huang clan has more than 2000 families, and the family tree is a thick book. My brother's son, born in Canada with last name Huang, is included, but my Berkeley-born children are not in the book. No matter, all of us descended from the hot-blooded ancestors who ventured out for a new life, their hearts brimming over with love and hope.
That is why I write in English.