They tell me that this generation does not honor their elders and that Christians do not venerate their ancestors. But these are the people I come from, and I am proud to be their descendant. We are the Tse and the Chu family from Sunwui, the Leung family from Shekkei, and the Hua family from Shanghai. Though the legend is that we were Ming generals, the more immediate truth is that Grandfather Tse was an orphan, with even his adopted father kidnapped by pirates on the Straits of Sumatra and lost in a subsequent heart attack. Grandfather married Grandma Chu, a village girl who was so brilliant that though she could not read taught herself math. Grandpa Hua fled from his home on the outskirts of Shanghai, first from Japanese fascists, then from Chinese communists. Grandma Leung, who is still with us, had cheese growing up in Guangzhou because of her father’s store in Peru, and when her medical studies were interrupted by civil war, she became a kindergarten teacher and ascended the ranks to become a revered Methodist school headmistress. They all ended up in Hong Kong, the city I am not from but where my history leads. A woman from that island metropolis married me, her family descended from that very fishing village named Fragrant Harbour and also from that other place that became known as the Home of the Overseas Chinese, Hoisan.
I am descended from scholars of everyday life, people who beat ideology to make lives for themselves, women whose careers were far more successful than their men, teachers in common spaces, men of letters whose useless heads for commerce made them remarkably loving fathers who imparted stories of justice to their children and grandchildren. On this day when our sisters and brothers in the West celebrate this Day of the Dead, I from this younger generation venerate these ancestors of mine, hoping that someday I will be as wise as they and pass on their practices to generations to come.