Chinese matryoshka dolls

To my mom, my blog entries are complete gobbledygook. She understands not a word. Mom rarely makes her way to my little web patch, so I feel pretty safe about sharing my plans.

As a CTC Vista, I’m hardly raking in large sums right now, at least not enough to get my mom a sumptuous birthday present. Besides that, she regifts most of the presents I buy anyhow. With these facts in mind, I’ve decided to make her next birthday gift: customized nesting dolls, starting with my great grandmother.


Mom was the second born in a six-kid line-up, but she was the eldest daughter. She was very close to her mother, who died at a relatively young golden age of lung cancer (she was in her early 60s; I was 14 at the time). What I remember of puo-puo was something of a social butterfly, generosity, and internalizing the pain from her eldest daughter’s failed marriage (divorce was still unusual in Chinese society), 15 hours apart and nearly 7,000 miles away.

Mom in her late 20s. Her favorite descriptors for herself—loosely translated—are "carried herself well" and "Jennifer-full-of-grace."

Unfortunately, there are very few likenesses of my great grandmother, photo shoots being cost prohibitive at the time. However, there are many of my fashion maven grandmother. My favorite’s resolution is too low for my project, but I want to celebrate it anyway:

Grandmas in the foreground. Im not sure how old she was in this photo. Mom likes to describe grandma as having a dignified beauty.

Grandma's in the foreground. I'm not sure how old she was in this photo. Mom likes to describe grandma as having a dignified beauty.

You may have realized by now there are five nesting dolls and I am one of four women. But don’t worry—I am not fool enough to give my mom a reason to start nagging about a granddaughter. To sidestep this suggestive fifth figure, I am cutting out a photo of my childhood bear, who still goes everywhere I go today.

Me & my Cosby.

Taken shortly after my stint with Peace Corps. Me & my Cosby.

I know this is just coincidental, but I really like that my puo-puo, mom and I are all the second-born of our families. Now that I think about it, too, the two generations before me were technically immigrant generations. My grandparents are from Shanghai and fled to Taipei prior to the communist revolution. My mom was the first of her direct family to move to the States, her older brother taking suit almost 20 years later to Canada. While I’m not an immigrant, my mom laments how I’m always trying to move away from her: Ithaca, NY; Oxford, Ohio; Urbino, Italy; Chicago, Ill.; Menkhoaneng, Lesotho; Portland, Ore.; and, in July, Grand Rapids, MI. And from my travels, I’ve come to sympathize very much with issues of assimilation, identity, community and shared culture.

Remember: Mum’s the word.

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Filed under: Ethnicity, Immigration, , , , , , ,

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