This is the prologue for my memoir, I'm Not Chinese: The Journey from Resentment to Reverence. Click the following to Listen to an audio produced by T.G. LaFredo, a fellow MFA graduate from Antioch University LA: Audio Recording
The first thing you need to know is I’m not Chinese. My name is Raymond Wong and I stopped being Chinese at the age of five.
Twenty-eight years ago my mother left my father in Hong Kong to come to America in search of a better life. Don’t ask about my trip to the US. I don’t remember.
What I do know is I’m American. In school, children are cruel to those who are different. Speaking Chinese made me different. I don’t speak Chinese anymore.
It’s not a big deal. I live in San Diego. My stepfather, Roger, is from Pengilly, Minnesota. Speaking Chinese would only make me an outsider and that’s something I’ve struggled against my whole life. Kids at school used to always ask me what I was. They really wanted to know if I ate with chopsticks.
My answer: British. True. The British government has ruled Hong Kong for over 150 years. My response never failed to bring a puzzled frown and this gave me great satisfaction.
Still no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fit in—even in my own family. Though I refused to speak Chinese, it didn’t bring me closer to the man my mom married when I was six. Roger called me his son, but the words were empty, like a birthday spent alone.
He tried. He really did. It’s just something you can’t fake. Either you love someone as your own or you don’t. When my brother, Michael, was born, the difference became apparent in the way Roger looked at him.
My sister, Renee, is two years younger than Michael, and almost thirteen years separate us. Michael is close to Roger. Renee has my mother. I’ve always taken care of myself.
My mom, how do I describe her? A woman who never graduated high school, yet learned to manage property and recently sold a thriving restaurant. Successful, determined, always right. One thing she hasn’t been able to do—get my stepfather to quit drinking. But not for lack of effort: fighting, baiting, even blackmail. She hasn’t given up.
Her number one goal in life is to get me married, preferably to someone Chinese, so she can show off her grandchildren. Call me stubborn, but this fish isn’t biting. The word marriage isn’t in my vocabulary and being a father is the furthest thing from my mind.
Above all, my mother is a mirror. I see the Chinese reflection and turn away.
So it was with more than a little reservation that I consented to accompany her on a trip to Hong Kong. I’m not sure why I agreed to go. She had asked many times before, but she might as well have spoken in Chinese. This time, a sense of urgency in her voice told me it might be my last chance.