HOMELAND by April Xiong
My mother came to America two years after my father did, while already pregnant with my older brother. Last year, she reached the strange intersection of having spent exactly half her life in China and half her life in America. Years before that, she had renounced her Chinese citizenship to become a U.S. citizen, though not for any idealistic reason. It was purely a practical decision: having a U.S. passport would make it much easier to travel to Europe, a destination long dreamed of. Last summer, she finally got her chance. Having worked hard all her life, my mother is starting to take more of an interest in material pleasures.
My father, unlike my mother, has never given up his Chinese citizenship, and likely never will. He sings the old songs when he cooks. He tastes China in the hot steaming food he prepares out of the cold produce of our American refrigerator. He often takes business trips to Chengdu, returning to the land of his birth with a secret smile and a feeling of relief. To speak his own language again, to be with his own people, who understand him.
I do not understand him, though I try.
The story goes like this: my father came to America to earn his Ph.D. in mathematics at Ohio State University, the only place he was accepted. He landed in San Francisco in the dust of Chinese footsteps, two years before my mother, carrying my brother in her womb, followed him to our land of the free. He arrived in the city with only $50 and an enterprising spirit to his name.
The first night, he spent $35 of his $50 for a hotel room and a meal. Ever the mathematician, he quickly saw that he would have to increase his funds; the next day, he went and borrowed $300 from the Chinese embassy. With that princely sum, and with the $15 he had left from his original supply, he flew to Ohio to begin his new life there.
The trip used up all of his money, borrowed money included. Fortunately, he had a teaching assistant position at the university that paid for housing, food, and tuition. He lived in an apartment building near campus, and his room was very small—just big enough for a desk, a bed, and a TV. He claims he was very happy in those days.
He tells the story straight, as he always does. Straight, without embellishment. Everything must have been exactly the way he tells it—black and white, no grey. He demands the utmost clarity in everyone and everything around him. This inflexible quality is surely a byproduct of his mathematical background. So used to the perfect, elegant succinctness of equations and numbers, he must find this strangely-shaded world of ours a bewildering and inefficient place.
As for me—who staggers around in a perpetual state of obfuscation—he looks at me, always, with furrowed brows and a faint look of disapproval. In his eyes, am I a theorem waiting to be proven? Do I puzzle him as much as he puzzles me?
I wonder what my life would be like now if I had been born, and grown up, in China. Would I have the same values, beliefs, interests, dreams? Maybe I would be a doctor, like my mother, or a mathematician, like my father.
The truth is, I wouldn’t have been born. Due to the one-child policy, my parents would have stopped having kids after my brother. I wouldn’t be alive now if they had stayed in China; I owe my very existence to the fact of their immigration.
Grateful that I made it into this world at all—here I stand on my line of love, looking back-and-forth between two cultures, two nations. On one side lies the land of my kin, the land that my parents never truly left behind, the land that I long to know…on the other side lies the land of my fellows, the land that I can never truly leave behind, the land that I have known.
Here I find my homeland—here on this line of love.
April Xiong is a writer, director, and editor. Her short film "Drive," adapted from the poetry of Hettie Jones, was featured in the 2018 Visible Poetry Project. Having traveled the world in search of unheard stories, she is devoted to exploring the voice of the other in her writing and films.
**Special thanks to Ricardo Arechiga for his graphic design of the project logo**