My culture has always been a complicated story. I am the daughter of an Asian father and a white mother. My family has always described me as a Heinz 57. I love being what I consider quite multiracial, but at the same time, it is often hard to largely identify with just one culture. I am very proud of my Chinese culture, but at the same time, I am also very interested in my Irish, German, Swedish and English history. Unfortunately, my father’s mother died before I was born, so all the Asian culture I know comes solely from my father, aunt and uncle. I love having Chinese traditions like taking my shoes off before I enter my home. On the other side of my family, my mother’s mother has always had a great impact in my life. I have never looked at her in a particularly cultural or historical way, but during this project, I did learn that her family emigrated from Sweden and that her grandfather was poisoned by a jealous co-worker shortly after the Civil War. One thing I have always known is that my grandmother is a very strong female. I believe that my strength comes from a long line of strong women, and for this assignment I really wanted to focus on that. I learned about just how important family and community are in tough times. While my mother and grandmother are fairly traditional women who come from largely male-dominated worlds, I have seen how their own amazing spirits have made them more than just faces in the background of my family history.
My grandmother, Emma Louise Allen, is one of 12 kids. She is the middle child, and the middle daughter of the family. She was raised with five brothers and seven sisters, and has lived longer than any of them. At “going on 91,” my grandmother is still kicking – literally! She likes to show people how high she can kick and often puts to chairs together to swing in between them. Although she was terribly bashful when she was a child, she is the exact opposite now. My mom and I always joke that she’s never met a stranger. She always has a story to tell, if only someone will listen. When I first told her about this assignment, she was a little apprehensive. She thought that she wouldn’t know the “right things” to say, but after our interview, she admitted that I made her think about things she hadn’t talked about in years. There is always something we can learn from the people who have come before us – we just have to pay attention.
My grandma describes her mother as a very patient woman – and she had to be raising so many children. She was also a very good cook. Born in Oklahoma City and raised primarily in Mississippi, my grandma remembers eating country food like corn bread, black eyed peas, fried chicken and boiled peanuts. She says that she ate about a gallon’s worth of boiled peanuts before she had her first child and thought that her stomach pains were just from eating too many peanuts! She believes everything was more natural in her time. She says the ground is so polluted with pesticides and other things now that everything just tasted better in the past. Her family raised their own chickens, chilled milk in wells and churned their own butter. She remembers helping her mom in the kitchen, but also says that her mom would send her out to do yard work and other chores while she was cooking. When my grandma wasn’t helping around the house, she says she was kind of a prankster and a tomboy. She played ball with the boys and swung on ropes as if she was Tarzan. Some of her fondest childhood memories are those of the May Day dances. She started school late due to the severity of her eczema (a skin condition that my mother and I also have), and was actually in the first grade with two of her siblings. She jokes that if they had been held back again another sibling would have been right there with them.
Growing up during the Depression wasn’t easy by any means, but her family never stopped giving. My grandma says that they always had company, even though at times all they had to eat was bread and milk or biscuits and gravy. Family was very important. My grandma jokes that she felt like she was adopted because she wasn’t treated like everyone else, but I think that just says something about how incredibly unique of a woman she is. Talking more seriously, she says was closest to her sister Midget and had a good time growing up despite getting into the occasional fight with her siblings. She added that her mom never really had a chance to get to know her own siblings because she got married when she was 16. Her parents didn’t approve of her mother’s marriage because she was so young and her husband was 10 years older.
When my grandfather returned from overseas in World War II, my grandma came to Colorado on what she thought was a visit to her in-laws, but has been here ever since. At first, she really missed her parents, but now Colorado has become home. Despite coming from a very large family, my grandmother never really thought of having children of her own. “I never even thought about having kids. I never really planned on it, but I’m proud of all of them,” she said. She had her first child at 25. She has four sons (one of which died when he was 20) and one daughter (my mother). To this day, my grandma worries about how she treated her kids. While she was raising five children of her own, she was also helping raise her sister Virginia’s kids. She thinks (as was apparently suggested by her oldest son Jeff) that she was more lax on Virginia’s children than she was with her own – a point that my mom completely disputes.
Beyond her memories of being a mother, my grandma really remembers working in a factory attaching buttons to men’s shirts. She says that at first she had a really hard time getting the hang of it, but then she got so good that she actually overproduced. She still has a paystub from when she worked 88 hours and made 29 dollars. She says that she really learned most of what she knows today from simply experiencing things. She says that everyone is a type of “tater.” She describes herself as a common tater (even though in my opinion she is far from common) or a sweet potato (a food she loves).
My mom, Marsha Horn, describes her mother as a very giving person – a characteristic she also has. Another thing the two women have in common is their tomboy nature as children. Growing up with all brothers, my mom liked to play rough and tumble. She wasn’t afraid to get a little scratched up and bruised. When she wasn’t playing around with the boys, she took on a motherly attitude towards her younger brothers. My mom is one of those women who was born to be a mother. She says that when she first got married she was afraid she wasn’t ready because she didn’t know how to cook. She doesn’t worry so much about that now, saying that a caring nature is the really most important part of being a wife and mother.
I have always felt like I have something to live up to. My grandmother and mother are some of the purest, most giving women I know, and I want to be like that too. I feel extra pressure being an only child. My parents tried for quite a while to have children, and finally they had me. While some kids joke about being accidents, I know that my parents consider me to be a miracle. That kind of faith is something that will always be engrained in me.
After having so much difficulty having a child, my parents were well into their forties when they had me. As a child, it was hard having older parents, but now, I truly appreciate it. I love having parents who went through so much. My mom explains that because she has a mother who lived through the depression, commodities and possessions are not something to take lightly, and that’s why they hold on to so much from the past. Beyond this, my mother lived through some of the most exciting decades, including the 1960’s. She still remembers staying home from a bible study to watch the Beatles on television and finding out about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. My parents have experienced so much in their lives that I know I can always go to them with my issues. My mom told me that with every generation, each of us is different due to our evolution with the changing world.
My grandmother, mother and I have always been a close knit group. There have been times when I have gotten annoyed by spending so much time with them. But looking back, I see how much I have learned from them. I can take something away from everything that they have been through, and can only hope to be half the women that they are. I hope to carry the loving, giving nature and amazing drive and spirit of the women in my life to my daughters one day. My grandma always reminds me how much the cards and little letters I’ve written have meant so much to her. She has always been there to support me and I hope that this assignment is just another way I can show how much she means to me.