Communication Studies at Edmonds Community College
Sara was having another nightmare. Her bad dream always started out with her in the middle of a whole group of people who were celebrating her birthday by singing and giving her presents. It was her party and everyone expected her to be happy. Instead, for Sara, it was a nightmare of not belonging, of not understanding, of feeling out of place, and of feeling like a traitor. She woke up with a start, stared slowly around her bedroom and tried to wake up.. Her bad dreams seemed to start on her return to the Edmonds from Taiwan. She and her family had taken a vacation to her family's small hometown that they had left ten years ago. Sara had been born there, and almost all of their family still lived there.
The next day, at school, Sara had coffee with her friend Kaitlyn. They had been friends since high school.
"So how was your trip back home?" asked Kaitlyn.
Sara told her "Everything had changed. I didn't remember anything. They have more houses. But the houses are small. And the food. I couldn't stand the food. I would have come all the way back home just for a hamburger and French Fries. There was a McDonald's, but it really wasn't like here."
Not that "home" in Edmonds was all that comfortable. No one called her "chink" anymore, like they did when she first moved here, but she was pretty isolated at school. Her best friend, Annie, had gone to Iowa to school in the fall. Sara had liked Annie because she would ask silly questions, like "So, do you have beds in Taiwan?" and the girls would fall down laughing. And Annie would tell people that Sara was from Tibet, that she didn't speak any English, and sometimes she'd pretend to translate for her. They made up a silly language between them that meant nothing, but sounded vaguely Eastern. Sara missed Annie.
Sara hadn't had any serious romantic relationships yet. She had met some interesting new people at college. Kaitlyn had a boyfriend and she occasionally invited Sara to come with them to do things. But Sara always felt uncomfortable with that. Kaitlyn and others kept introducing her to math geeks, as if she would appreciate them, but she had nothing in common with them. She didn't like math and she didn't do well in it. She wanted to be a journalist. Just last week she was trying to explain to Reiki - another math geek she was supposed to get along with: "But I like it when a camera looks at me. I feel alive when I have an audience in front of me. And I love the excitement of telling people about things that are happening around them." Reiki was unimpressed. He looked up from his book and said something like: "You are getting to be too American." Then, he returned to his math problems.
Sara had moved to Everett when she was 12. Her parents still spoke Mandarin at home. Her mother worked as a clerk at the drycleaners at James Village. She spoke enough English to be understood at work. But Sara's father had resisted learning English. He said he was too old. He kept looking for work at Mandarin-speaking businesses. Currently he was working at a small market. But he couldn't progress there nor did he have much job security. The market was a family-owned business and the owner's oldest son had started to manage it.
Her father often said how proud he was of the girls. But, really, Sara knew, he was proud of his own sacrifice She would never accuse him of being self-righteous. The family had moved here so the girls could have a better education. Win, Sara's older sister, had finished high school in Everett. Sara had graduated, too, and now she was going to college. She knew her parents were proud of the girls, and had made the sacrifice to leave their home and family willingly. But Sara was afraid that her parents expected her to move back to Taiwan with them after she had graduated from college. How would they feel if she decided to stay here - and she was sure she wanted to do that. Sara's father talked often about going back to Taiwan - and not just for a vacation. When he started speaking that way, she pretended she couldn't understand him. So the visit back to Taiwan had been a difficult one., Sara had to admit that her parents were happier there. This was the first time they had been back to Taiwan since they left ten years ago. Both her mother and her father seemed more relaxed than she had ever seen them. The people in the town all seemed excited to see her and her family, but she couldn't understand a word they were saying. She just wanted to go home.
Aunts, uncles and cousins she barely knew came to her grandmother's house to see them. Her grandmother looked just as Sara remembered her - small and wiry - proud of her "high rise" vegetable garden and her "American family." But Sara worried that her parents would begin to remember the good times with friends and family and want to move back immediately.
So Sara wasn't comfortable in her grandmother's house. All the places she remembered from her childhood were gone. The wooden bridges she had played on as a child had been replaced by a two-lane highway. No one walked anywhere because of the heavy traffic through the town. Her family's house had been replaced by condominiums - where her grandmother now lived. Her grandmother's herbs and vegetables were now grown in containers on the small patio. No one spoke about money, but it was clear that the family's status was higher than when she had left.
"Did you get to speak any English at all?" asked Kaitlyn. "Well, yes. The husbands were eager to speak English, and so would make a point of talking to Win and me. That was good because' I was having trouble speaking Mandarin. I remembered phrases of it, but I can't read it anymore, and my words sound strange." She could hear the difference herself. She missed most of the conversation around her and her mind would wander. She wondered if her aunts and uncles and cousins knew that. "Did everyone know how out of place she felt at home? Can they tell?", Sara thought.
Sara told Kaitlyn, "Everyone thought we were so wealthy. I just brought jeans and T-shirts, but they really liked them. Everyone asked where I bought them and how much they cost. I thought they were wearing costumes, but Win told me later they were wearing their best clothes. She loved her family, but they were so removed from her present life. "I wish I had never gone." she told Kaitlyn. "The whole thing was a disappointment. I kept wishing I could go home and leave my parents there. I felt like such a traitor! I still do."