As any typical three year old, I don’t remember much about the early early years of my life. What I do know is passed down through pictures, stories told laughingly, nostalgically over holidays, and bits and pieces of memory that seem to be fragments of dreams in a detached state, not quite a memory that disappears as soon as you try to grasp onto it.
I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and one day my dad left for a trip. It seemed like he was gone forever, but I guess in the mind of a three-year-old, the elapsed time from lunch to dinner often seemed like an eternity. Then one day, my Mama and I boarded a big airplane. I could sense my Mama’s nervousness, as any parent would taking a toddler on a 15+ hour flight and can imagine her reassurances and promises of seeing my Daddy again. I remember seeing my Uncle and Grandparents and going to Disneyland, but I’m not sure if those are memories or just yellowed images imprinted in my brain of old photographs that I loved to look at over and over while growing up. I remember a little dingy apartment and playing with kids that my mom babysat, visiting my dad while he worked long hours learning how to cook in a tiny Chinese fast food restaurant. I remember starting school, with very little knowledge of the language in a little retirement town where no one else looked like me. By mid-year, I could understand what these strange light-skinned, light-haired people were saying to me. But still, I looked different from everyone else.
In junior high, my parents started the process of earning our American Citizenship. I remember both of them studying Chinese-English books, going over and over questions about our government. My dad listened to tapes on his breaks from work and flipping through his well-worn study book, painstakingly copying sentences, methodically and carefully as to not make any mistakes. When I was 17, I too was given a study book, which I turned my nose up to, arrogantly stating that I was getting an “A” in government and had no need for study materials as I knew it all already.
I remember my parents nervously driving to the testing site and then coming out confident, knowing they answered all the questions correctly. And the proud moment when we stood saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of our new country, so different and so much more meaningful when surrounded by people of all sorts of races, in broken English, than the drudgery of standing every single day in a classroom, rotely reciting in a monotone voice.
Many years ago, my parents left everything and everyone they knew for new opportunities and a better life in a strange new world. This world, now our country, our home. My dad’s proudly displayed American flag sticker on his car, his key chain and the flag-waving proudly in front of our home, all reminders of a country we love and the sacrifices made to call this place our home.
This Memorial Day, we remember those who sacrificially serve our country in the past, the present and in the future so that everyone can have the freedom of new opportunities and a better life. And we simply say, Thank You.