Double Blossom xx – Week 1
Here I am at the age of somewhere around one.
My parents used to love to tell me the story of when my mother took me shopping at Lord & Taylor’s, our local posh department store. She lifted me, nestled in a baby seat, onto the checkout counter while she searched for her wallet to pay. I was quiet and very still. No one noticed me until I sneezed a little baby “atchoo”, which gave all the shop ladies a fright because up until then, they thought I was a baby doll.
The Chinese have a word, “gwai”, that means well behaved and obedient. When I was little, I would beam with pride when my parents told the story. I took pride in the fact that I was “gwai”, the ultimate in being the perfect Chinese daughter.
Now, when I play this story back to myself, I think, “How strange? Had I been a white baby, would the shop ladies have thought I was a doll?” Hartford, Connecticut, 1962. I think I might have been the first Chinese baby the city had ever seen. My parents were part of the early wave of immigration into areas of the US outside its major cities. Just a few years before, my father had been told he couldn’t rent an apartment because he was Chinese.
And so you see, I think this feeling of objectification, experienced my whole life, has very early beginnings. By objectification, I mean a sense of feeling “other”. Did I always feel this? Is it an inherent part of my personality or did I absorb through my skin because others felt it of me. My guess is that like all things, the answer lies somewhere in between.
So I realise now that my whole life, I have always been walking this fine line of trying to accept me for myself but then not really knowing who I myself was. Even at the age one, I was watching, always watching. As if I knew even then that I wasn’t like the others; not quite fitting in and trying to work out what was required of me to do so. Fifty-eight years later, I wonder if I was always as serious as this photo suggests I would be. I certainly have very few memories of experiencing pure, unrestrained joy. Whatever I was doing or thinking, I was always wondering if it was “right”.
With love, Xtine
P.S. I look at this photo with my own objective eyes, and TBH, if I don’t mind saying so myself, I was pretty darn cute. That little bowl haircut with those chubby, chipmunk cheeks, anyone could be forgiven for thinking I looked like a doll.
The above post is part of Double Blossom xx an Instagram project I started with photographer Christina Wilson Elms during lockdown. Each week we post a photo of ourselves and write a letter to the other on an agreed theme. If you are interested in reading our stories, you can find us on Instagram at Double Blossom xx — Two London sistas share stories about being Chinese in the UK and the US. Same age, same name; almost.