I recently had tea with my grandmother, and I love talking to her and discovering who this woman is beyond being my grandma. She was born under Japanese occupation in Taiwan, and was barely four years old when Japan initiated WWII in the Pacific after invading China. Her war stories have always fascinated me, because I couldn't understand why so many of her generation felt so close to Japan, and why they didn't hold any animosity against Japan. They were forced to speak Japanese, Japan exploited Taiwanese resources, and hindered their freedoms. Yet, Japan and Japanese culture is deeply rooted and entangled in this generation's own culture. My childhood is filled with memories of her singing Japanese songs and karaoke.
I learned that Japanese was actually my grandmother's first language, not Chinese or Taiwanese. That makes sense when you realize my grandmother, born in 1933, was born and raised in roughly the last decade of Japanese occupation. Every time I talk to her I learn a little more. And this time, I realized why it's difficult to piece together the whole picture--she was so young, she didn't know why there was a war. For her, that was just life.
I asked her if it was scary under Japanese occupation, and she said no. I always had this iamge that it must be, if even the language you spoke at home was controlled and could potentially be a risk to your life. However, she said that she went to school, and school was safe. That's all she knew. When the war came to Taiwan, and she and her family had to escape to the countryside, they just did what they could to survive. She and her family were caught in a particularly difficult situation. Under Japanese occupation, she and her family received Japanese education, spoke Japanese, and her family was well regarded by the Japanese, so they were safe. During the war, they were no longer safe. The Japanese wanted to take her junior high aged brothers into battle, so they had to go deep into hiding. The Taiwanese didn't trust them, because they spoke Japanese. Her mother was an ObGyn, but couldn't practice during the war, because her license was in Japanese so it was taken away from her. Then there were the Americans, "the enemy" as they were told, dropping bombs on them.
At the end of the war she said there were a lot of American soldiers, and they were all very nice. That gave me some comfort. I asked her though, what made her want to come to America? When she met my grandfather, she wanted to learn English so that she could come work in America. I was curious. If America was the enemy, and dropped bombs on her family, why would she have such a strong desire to come here? She said, because America was safe.
I realized for her, it was all about being safe. I'll need to have another tea with her to find out if she thought Taiwan wasn't safe anymore, or if she just simply saw America as safe and secure--a place where her family could grow healthy and strong. Perhaps she was worried that her little island could be susceptible to war again. I'm not sure, but I will try to uncover her truth behind that thought.
I cannot believe what an incredibly resilient and fierce woman she is even after all the trauma she has been through and witnessed, and I am so proud to have her blood flowing through my veins. I never would have known, from the way she helped raise us, and the way her zest for life infected me from a young age, that her childhood was riddled with dead bodies strewn across the lands, starvation, violence, and fear. Because her brothers were at risk of being taken away and turned into soldiers before they were even done going through puberty, she had to be the one to travel from the country to the city and back, or wherever it was her parents needed her to go. Can you imagine being a six year old girl, and the safest option to send out as a messenger? In some places she would have been at risk for human trafficking and sexual assault, in such a situation. Perhaps she was, and she was just lucky. Who knows? When I asked her if she was scared to walk by herself back and forth from the country to the city, she said yes, but she was the only one who could do it. She said it wasn't fair that her brothers could be taken away and sent into battle--they weren't trained, they were just boys in middle school. She says that so assertively and upset that they would do that.
This made me think about the children of war in today's world. It's not fair. I oft wonder what is going on in their heads now? What do they know about what's going on? Are they scared? Are they angry? Do they have hope?
My grandmother's family came out alright after the war. Some of her siblings became Ivy League educated, and well-regarded members of society--American society in fact. She raised a beautiful family, traveled the world, and continued the innate tradition it is in my family to be globally-minded. I didn't know until this conversation, that studying abroad and being global citizens was the mindset of my family for generations.
But not all children of war make it out the same way. Some may become bitter. Some may develop psychological issues due to the trauma. Talking to my grandmother though, gives me hope for all those children currently trying to survive war and violence. It's not fair, but hopefully they will possess the same kind of will and vigor for life my grandmother does. She begrudges no one and lives only in the present. Hopefully they will all know love in their life. Hopefully those children who survive war find the opportunity to become strong and smart individuals so that they may help build their communities to be strong and smart.
More to come on this.
BIG LOVE & HUGS