Who Are We? Series: Becketwood Members are part of a diverse range of families and communities. In this ongoing series, we will get a deeper look into the lives of the Members who are willing to share their personal stories and experiences.
This episode by Audrey Bailey, Becketwood Member
My ancestral family on my father’s side can be traced back to records in 980 AD. The SUN family’s most illustrious ancestor can be found in the US Library of Congress as one of the scholastic Premiers of the Ming Dynasty in China. My father grew up on the family compound built on land granted and deeded by the emperor. My mother’s family were benevolent land- owners built on generations of successful commercialism. One of our childhood family lore was about how our maternal great-grandmother would lay down pearls meant for buttons for her blouses in friendly mah-jongg bets.
My parents met in primary school but did not reconnect until they were young adults, each striking out to make a life for themselves from under the post Sino-Japanese War in China. They married in 1948 and my older brother was born in 1949. After they relocated to Hong Kong in 1950 to take advantage of a company transfer, I and two other younger siblings were born there. We were taught to be aware and proud of our culture and heritage; and until the late 1960s our futures seemed predestined – graduate from high school, attend the University of HK; meet another worthy young Chinese person, start a family and have weekly Sunday dinners at my parents’ house.
1970 changed all of these assumptions. For reasons unclear to me even now, our parents allowed my older brother and then me to take on an adventurous path of going abroad and attending a small private college in St. Petersburg, Florida recommended by trusted family friends who taught there. During a then-required freshman year PE class, Dan and I met on the paddle ball court. Even though we were hopelessly bad at it we were nonetheless able to laugh at ourselves as relative strangers and the rest, as they say, is history.
On a home visit during my senior year in college, I blithely announced to my family that I was getting married the following year, not to a nice Chinese boy but an American of English and Welsh descent. The wedding would not be in Hong Kong but in St. Paul, Minnesota. We would be starting our careers in the US and not Hong Kong, and that we would most likely be building our lives and our family in Minnesota, not Hong Kong.
My mother cried; my father looked serious and no one said they were happy for me. I was disappointed that my very liberal and generally open-minded parents did not immediately embrace the idea of a Caucasian son-in-law and potential bi-racial grandchildren. At one point I even accused them of being racist and not open to ethnic diversity in their own family. What I failed to initially grasp, but did come to understand after three days of intense discussion and many tears, was that race had little to do with their trepidation. It was their deep-seated concern over my stepping into an America in the 1970s that was in the midst of a “breakdown in social and family values.” My parents had read about this issue in mass media and the US divorce statistics. They wanted me to be clear-eyed about the macro societal shifts in the US and to reinforce that family should continue to be a critical focus of my life. I in turn implored them to “trust “ me and all that they had imbued in me and reassured them that the Baileys were indeed people for whom family values were important. Suffice it to say, Dan and I did get married and the Sun and the Bailey elders became members of a mutual admiration society when they did meet; and discovered that the two families had much more in common than not despite great geographic distances and disparate cultural backgrounds. And of course the grandchildren when they arrived were treasured by all.
Our family story is not unique. Prejudgments based on race is not just an American phenomenon. What is noteworthy in our case is that understanding, acceptance and eventual fondness rose out of love and respect. Being introduced to and accepting differences does not come naturally to most of us. While misinformation and unwillingness to understand these differences can lead to doubling down on a parochial position and regarding what we don’t understand as inferior, the opposite can broaden our horizons and perspective, allowing for new experiences that can greatly enhance our own. We only need to give ourselves permission. Our family lived it and if they were still here I know my parents would tell you that the experience was absolutely worth it.