“I have a small family.”

The title of this blog post is the title of my mother’s short essay she wrote in one of her English classes.

On the page, she wrote about her family: her father, mother, older brother, younger brother, and her sister. My heart hurt when I read the line, “He passed away.” My mother’s penmanship is lovely, it’s remained the same as long as I can remember. She writes legibly while my handwriting looks like smeared lines.

I’m crying right now as I type this post.

As I read more, I found that she wrote about my grandmother, who had not yet passed away when my mom wrote this piece, and I became even more emotional. As I finished reading her paper, I cried. I felt guilty. Guilty because I did not know about my aunts and uncles. Guilty because I was never curious and seldom asked. Guilty because I stopped talking to my grandmother over the phone when I found out she neglected and abused my mother when my mom was younger. Guilty and ashamed because I eventually neglected my own culture, spoke less Cantonese, and became more Americanized. Guilt has taught me a lot.

When I was in high school, my mother had started taking some English classes at a local community college. I remember she would be at our dinner table, late at night, past dinner time, just practicing her writing. English is my Mom’s fourth language. She can speak Vietnamese, Chinese, and Mandarin. I recall the times I got frustrated translating for my mother, wishing she would just be able to understand English so I wouldn’t have to translate for her anymore. But now, I look back on my selfish behavior with immense shame. I hardly can even speak Cantonese properly and I was becoming annoyed with my mom trying to learn her 4th language.

Thankfully, I’ve learned to appreciate my mother and her broken English. I used to frown but now I smile because my mother is trying – how could I ever ask for more?

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you so much, I truly cannot picture life without you. I know that in life, there are inevitable passages we all must one day walk. The day that we must walk different paths is a day I hope I have your strength, resilience, and courage to continue to make you proud. I may be genetically 50% you, but you’re my 100%.

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