The first house I lived in was on the subtropical island of Taiwan, a faculty unit of a private school where my parents taught. It had a dark hole in the back for the WC. I was too afraid to go inside, lest I fell into the pit, so my mother made use of a spittoon for me to do my business. Snakes as thick as my arms crawled beneath wild azaleas or under our beds, seeking shade from the heat.
The gates on both sides of the Taiwan Strait had clanged shut after the Communists takeover of the Mainland. It was hard to enter Taiwan, but harder to leave. By the early 60's, the population on the island had increased, and the government was willing to let people like my father go abroad to study, Yet my mother and I were kept behind as virtual hostages to ensure that my father would return to bear arms, should the Communists launch an attack.
Home 2: 1965-67
But my father was able to find sponsorship for my mother as editor of a Chinese journal in Tokyo, and we joined him a year later. A traditional Japanese woodhouse with a moon terrace in Nakano-Ku, Japan was my second home. We rented one room. Homes were measured by “tatatmi” and we lived in an 8-tatami space. Upstairs, a Chinese family of three; next door, another immigrant family of 4. We could hear screaming upstairs, the wife jealous over our purchase of a mini-fridge and babies bawling next door. All of us sharing one squat toilet. In the summertime, eels I had caught would catapult out of the miniature pond my father made out of an old sink.
Home 3: 1967-68
Japan considers itself “racially pure,” so my family could not remain after my father finished his graduate studies in International Relations at Meiji University. We were fortunate: in 1965, the passage of the Hart Cellar Act, signed into law by Lyndon Johnson, did away with discrimination in immigration law. A quota of 20,000 was set for each nation outside of the Americas. We arrived in San Francisco with 11 cardboard boxes during the height of the Vietnam War. Our studio apartment at 636 Bush Street, as green and skinny as a lime Popsicle, had a Murphy bed, which flipped out of the wall. I slept on the couch, but I had my very own desk to learn the abc’s of my third language. We had hot running water and a private bathroom for the first time.
(I wrote a picture book, "Hannah Is My Name" about the long wait for our Green Cards, which would allow my parents to work legally in the United States.)
Home 4: 1968-1971
In a year and-a-half, we moved south to our third residence, which was the manager’s unit of the El Camino Motel in Mountain View, California, where my mother was hired to run the place. There were drug addicts, divorced, solitary men and mothers and children in transition. The buzzer could wake our family when a drunken guest arrived way past midnight. I had my own bedroom. I drilled a hole in the ball wall panel of the office, so I could peer out with a big stick in hand to protect mom when Dad was working late at a Chinese restaurant. In suburbia, my English improved dramatically, and my parents gave me a green Schwinn Stingray bicycle, which I rode to buy bing cherries from the neighboring orchards.
(Dig those 60's bell bottoms)
Home 5: 1971-1975
Three years later, we moved farther south and lived in a rented house in Carmel, California, two blocks from the beach. The landlord lived in the unit behind us. She was a night nurse and we didn’t dare fall asleep before 10 P.M., the hour she left for work, because the engine noise of her Thunderbird would wake us. Artist Nancy Johnson, who resided across the street, befriended me. During the summer, she took me in her green VW bug to join her retirement age students in sketching and painting watercolors all over the Monterey Peninsula. My parents ran a gallery for 17 years, which sold my father's art, in downtown Carmel.
Final Home: 1975—until the end of our days
In 1975, my parents were finally able to buy a house on the sunny, south-facing slope, overlooking the cotton woods along the Carmel River. Our first private residence. Today, the birthday of America, is the 33rd anniversary of our move into the house. The bank no longer has its claws in a single splinter of its sidings. The Big Sur Mountains is our backyard. I’ve traveled through Europe, Asia and the United Sates, but this is where I always return. When I lived in Beijing during the bad ol' 80's, I was so afraid I'd die anonymously on the crowded streets of the Chinese capitol, and my American bones would never be identified and shipped back HOME. My beloved parents are here. Home is where you rest your weary bones.
We've been on a permanent holiday ever since we attained America, a refuge for immigrants.. We are on a enduring vacation from hunger, poverty and repression.
Wishing you all an Independence Day weekend of contentment and peace.
My father carved this 3' x 5' "bian." It hangs over our door and reads "Dwelling Deep in White Clouds."
Old folks at home (reading, of course!)
Please check out a little bit of the art and story from Hannah Is My Name
Causes Belle Yang Supports
826 Valencia Street