A collection of photos on origins and immigration
By Grace Rogers and Kristen Chiu
Chiu Feng Jia tried to defend Taiwan from the Japanese when they invaded. Although he failed, his status became that of George Washington for Taiwan. His name became a symbol and his son began a tradition using his poem or directive. That now serves as the basis of all our names.
There are deep philosophical threads in our family from the Hakka side. The Hakka are perhaps the most heavily persecuted Chinese minority in the history of China, even though we are presumably genetically identical to the Han Chinese. Like the Jews, the Hakka experienced a diaspora; but unlike the Jews, we never had a homeland. The Hakka made no attempts to make themselves known and lived in obscurity, but were proud all the same. The word Hakka/ Ke Jia literally means ‘guest people.’ They were considered guests and servants wherever they went.
My first revelation of Hakka being something different was finding that my father's mother did not have bound feet, a tradition common for normal Chinese women born to families with money. My father told me that people made fun of him because he was Hakka.
There is a famous quote that was made when Chiu Feng Jia defied the emperor to defend Taiwan.
It went something like this,
‘The government may have forgotten Taiwan, but the people have not.’”
-Han Chiu on the origin of place and name
Of all the places my immigrant grandparents could have met, they met in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It was 1955 at Oklahoma State University, and they were there to study chemistry. She came from a Chinese community in the Philippines, and he came from South Korea. My grandpa recalls sparks at first sight, though this may have to do with that fact that he was “the first Asian guy she saw.” Since knowing this, I like to think I owe half my DNA to the racial homogeneity of Stillwater, Oklahoma.
My mother was born in the Midwest in 1962. Her birth came just months before my grandmother received her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Northwestern University. A classmate of Rahm Emanuel, my mother was the sole Asian student when she entered her elementary school. She once was so badly teased—for her slanted eyes and her strange pronunciation of some words—she threw up from embarrassment on her desk, right in the middle of class. On International Women’s Day of this year, my mother was the keynote speaker at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
I like to think of the first time my grandparents came to New York, heavily documented with gorgeous sepia photos. I like to think of the time my mother came to New York to dance at Studio 54 in a gold sequin outfit, a trip I wish was heavily documented, but of which no photos remain. I like to think of all the places I’ve walked that they’ve walked too, and of all the lineages tied up in the streets of this city.
When I look as these photos, I see passionate, brave, intelligent people. I see the power in being an outsider.