It’s Will again. Beth and I have had a rather surreal first leg of our trip to Tai Shan province, the birthplace of my grandfather. Before we get into this strangeness, I think it’s important to tell a little about what has brought me here, about the strings connecting me to this young fellow on the left.
My memories of Grampy are few and far between, as he passed away when I was only a little older than he was in this photo from his immigration papers. I can barely remember him cooking dinner for the family in New Jersey, yelling at the grandchildren as we ran screaming through the house, and slipping out of his lap as he fell asleep, his snores vibrating the floorboards.
His name is written in shaky characters on the photograph, possibly the work of a young boy writing his own name - 黄偉利, Huang Wei Li, which translated to Willie Wong upon his immigration. Grampy had a part in my being named William as well, and in my first semester of Chinese class I added my family name to a translation of my first name, and so I came to China with the name 黄卫, Huang Wei.
My grandfather was an illegal immigrant, entering the United States under false papers like the one shown above, the pretend son of another Huang. As his family was comparatively wealthy in his village, they were forced to flee during the Communist revolution. My grandfather was proud to be American, and did his best to raise his children as such. He loved things like McDonalds and microwaves.
Grampy lived his entire life knowing that he would be deported from his home if he were discovered as an illegal alien. He corresponded with his real family with letters like this, detailing events at home and, more importantly, aligning a lifetime of falsified facts, dates, people, and places, fearful lest immigration services should ever question him further.
|Grampy and his dad in California|
82 years ago he left this place and never looked back, but now there is again a Huang in Tai Shan. Tomorrow Beth and I are going to go look for the village where he was born, which almost certainly no longer exists.
Yet sometimes, it is what you don’t find that is most interesting.