Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 24.2&3 (2003) 132-139
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My maternal great-grandmother, great-grandfather, and grandfather were born in Canton, China. They all migrated to Mexico at different times y ahora descansan en campo santos in Monterrey and Tampico, Mexico. Though there have been books and articles written about the Chinese and Asian presence in Latin America, there are very few written about the Chinese in Mexico. Two years ago, my research partner Marco Iñiguez and I went to Monterrey to conduct a series of oral interviews with family members, their colegas , and friends. Each interview introduced me to another family and another world, and I soon discovered that this project was bigger than my family or me. The paisanos , those born in China, are dying, and with them, their stories. Telling our stories is a radical act. Memory is a form of resistance.
rasgos asiaticos , a forty-minute multi-media performance piece, is a collection of different voices, artifacts, and memories based on research and oral interviews conducted in Monterrey and Tampico. The performance is an installation of different altares that include original photos, letters, papers, and a collection of Chinese records from the 1920s. I use the music, photos, and stories to weave a history of three generations of women—grandmother, mother, and daughter—as they explore shared stories of identity, violence, and love. rasgos asiaticos moves in and out of these three voices throughout the piece but is performed by a single artist.
The excerpt below is a small piece of the larger work and was developed in workshops with playwright/poet sharon bridgforth, writer/director Daniel Alexander Jones, and director Adelina Anthony. I have performed it as a staged reading at the Esperanza Peace& Justice Center in San Antonio, Texas, the Mexican American Cultural Center (Red Salmon Arts) in Austin, Texas, and at Project Reach, New York, New York. An earlier version was also published in La Voz de Esperanza. [End Page 132]
Your grandfather Manuel Yee was a successful businessman, my mother used to say. He and your tío Andrés had the best puestos in all of Mercado Colón, the old marketplace, the one they tore down in the fifties—green shoot and bean sprout merchants in the mercado in Monterrey—titles and deeds signed in the name of their Mexican wives half their age. The fruits and vegetables they sold were from Tampico, adopted home of your great-grandmother, and they would buy from Angel, Carolina, and don Carlos Lee en el Mercado Asbastos. The Chinos from the lodgia masónica wouldn't buy their produce from anywhere else. Rafael Lee owned a yerbería next to your grandfather's puesto and Luis Wong owned the Zapatería Justicia. And we lived in a big red two-story house en el centro.
but that's not the Mexico I knew
My grandmother lived in a gray cinderblock house
en la colonia central
behind the bus station
calle Simón Bolivar
the metro cuts through the middle of the neighborhood
and all the houses shake when the train passes by
Do you remember when your grandmother was indian ? my sister once asked me. She was indian
before she was chinese she tried to explain
and I tried to imagine my grandmother
with trensas [End Page 133] [Begin Page 135]
gray cinder-block house with dirt floors when the light creeps through the windows in the living room it's like magic the way the dust floats in the rays of sunshine but mostly it's dark and you choke on the dirt I feel like I can't breathe sometimes earth in my throat and I imagine the desert y sé I know that I have to go I never wanted to stay here tengo que irme
en la secondaria my mother pulls me out of school so that I can work my father died and we need the money so I work cleaning houses like my mother...