How can our end of summer journeys help us better understand our families’ stories and the world?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
Every August, our high school music program takes the children away to the woods for Band Camp. They spend a week intensively learning music, learning to march, and getting to know each other in order to get a jump on the year’s music program. A week later, parents make the long drive up north (four hours) to hear an amazing summer concert in an outdoor pavilion on the shores of a beautiful lake.
It both winds up the summer and jumpstarts the new school year.
I always feel out of my element as I venture into the woods. The long drive. The trees. The middle of nowhereness. The complete lack of Asian Americans. So for me, it is a personal challenge to make the long drive by myself. I load up my devices with Ella Fitzgerald music, I fill my cooler with drinks and snacks, I pack a little work that I can do without wifi or a computer (always optimistic), and I drive. By myself. To remind myself how to be brave. I both dread and look forward to it every year.
This year, nobody up north is wearing a mask at any of the gas stations or fast food places I stop at along the way, and I worry that my mask and black hair might make me even more of a target than usual.
Still, once I finally make it, with only five minutes to spare no matter how early I set out, plus the relief of seeing all my neighbors and Chinese school friends I have not seen all summer, time stands still for a few hours as we are all reunited with our children in the open air, feeling safe, and enveloped in music.
Then I see the horrifying images of Afghan parents who are so desperate that they are passing their babies with U.S. passports taped to their bodies up over the razor wire into the arms of soldiers inside embassy compounds. I listen to the stories of Southeast Asian American friends about their perilous journeys to America at the end of the war in Vietnam and the Secret War. I realize that all the stories I have been told about my own family’s journey on the “last boat out of Beijing” and those who stayed behind are the sanitized children’s versions which left out all the chaos, danger, dust, and fear.
Our Asian American families know too well about war, the end of war, and starting over again.
And being brave.