I start teaching a new camp for UH Downtown called Wonder Words to rising fourth through rising sixth graders. After making name tags and self portraits, the students read a poem entitled, Where I’m From by George Ella Lyons, using it to inspire their own Where I’m From poem. I did this exercise last summer with younger students and wrote with them, but I didn’t have it handy this morning so I did a new one.
Where I’m From
I am from Tennessee and Taiwan,
Clear Lake and Chinatown.
I am from luck turned upside down,
red envelopes, and strokes painted with a brush.
(Black, thick, lines that never curve.)
I am from laughs that turn into tears,
Aretha Franklin on a radio with an antenna,
a bombshell hanging in my mother’s bedroom Elton John called a candle in the wind,
the great oak tree from which I swung my legs as my dad mowed the grass.
I’m from rocketships and language,
from Wei-Chen and Lisa Brown.
I’m from NASA engineers
and housecleaner turned Montessori teacher turned medical equipment saleswoman turned English teacher,
from Never call me Sir! and Only call me Ma’am!
I’m from living a life of awareness and having a global sense
and remember to be a good person and stand up straight.
I’m from the Middle Kingdom and the country,
dumplings and biscuits and gravy.
From the grandfather my mother never knew,
the hearing my father lost when he blew a rocket next to his ear,
the loud voices both my parents used in delight and anger and passed on to me.
In the shelves of our study stood photo albums,
gathering dust, losing their connectedness from the number of times I opened them,
or stole them away to my room
in the middle of the night with milk in a real glass,
not the Styrofoam cups I was permitted to use.
There I looked for some answer to the mystery
that was my life, torn between two cultures, two sides, two factions,
doubled with a twin sister and split between a Chinese man and an American woman.
I am a collection of both of them and everything they represent—
I am half-Chinese.