Thursday, June 2, 2011

Going to a New Place

Lately, I have been writing about coming to Portland and to be honest feeling pretty good about having the courage to do it. Then a relative reminded me that my mother traveled from Peking to the United States and prior to coming here she lived for five years, from age 15 to 20 years on her own in China until she got the papers to join her older sister who had married a U.S. Navy officer and had moved from Peking to the United States. Afterwards, when her husband had to serve on a ship during World War II, she traveled from San Diego to Grants Pass, Oregon on a bus looking for a home for them. When she settled in that city she knew no one. She had gotten sick while traveling on the bus and stayed in a motel until she got better. Then looking at Grants Pass, she decided the city was exactly the place she was looking for. My uncle took her at her word and came back from service and lived there for the rest of his life. He was from Austria and had joined the U.S. Navy when he was 14 years and worked his way to officer, a tremendous achievement. My own father was from Waldron, Arkansas and had joined the U.S. Army during the Depression and served at Fort Rosecrans, California and settled in San Diego where he met my mother.

According to the science of genetics, all of us modern human beings started from a band of Africans in East Africa thousands of years ago. Then slowly scientists following our DNA traced the paths as we traveled different until we settled in all parts of the world. Going from Redding, California to Portland, Oregon is not such a long trip as human beings are concerned and even as my family is concerned. Even as this country acquired land as it did when President Thomas Jefferson added the Louisiana Purchase, people decided to start anew and head out west following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark or the foot steps of ancestors who were there already.

In some countries, it is against the law to move and take residence in a new place or tradition is so strong it is hard to move away from your family and people. However in many places, moving to better oneself is something we humans do. Rural populations often move into urban areas for employment and for educational benefits for our children. It is the way we human beings are. I was not striking out and doing something new. I was following a age old practice.

It still felt scary although I was not going someplace that is not settled. Living in Korea was hard as I was always faced with the possibility that I could not be understood by the populace. I did not speak Korean and few Koreans speak English. Many are trying but English is not an easy language to learn. I went to the main bus stops because I was not assured I would get on the right bus if I went to the smaller ones. I never rode the subway because I could not figure out the system. I never rode the trains alone as I could not figure out when to get off the train. Buses were easy as they went from one place to another.

There are always people who want to make you feel as if you are an outsider. They exist in every culture, society, city. I grew up with them. I was the first in my family to go to college and I felt ever slight, real or otherwise, as deep cuts. I was a first generation American and it was a time of McCarthyism. The hearings were on television and my family were given a bad time. Coming to a new city and community is as they say, a piece of cake. I have been welcomed in Portland and I have met many who have come from other areas especially from California.

To be honest, I am tired of traveling right now. I would like to stay put for a while. I love the idea that I can go anywhere and everyone is going to speak a language that I can understand. I still carry my passport though. It seems there are new laws everywhere that create the necessity of proving one's an American. In order to get my Oregon driver's license, I just can't have a valid California license. I have to have proof that I am an American and in order to vote I have to have proof of the same. I carry around my renter's agreement so I can prove that I now live in Oregon. It's not Oregon only who is doing this. These laws are the latest bunch of laws from state governments. I shudder to think what I would have done if I did not already have a current passport.

When my aunt first came to this country from China, she had a bunch of papers she would keep with her all of the time. It was 1928 and in this country, she did not have to have so many. She came into San Francisco and had to surrender those papers for just one. She said it was one of the hardest things she ever did. Now, when I run around Portland, I carry a bunch of papers too although probably not as many as my aunt did when she came but certainly more than she exchanged her papers for. Well, as the old adage says: Thing change.

I was reminded that my move here was nothing new. Human beings have been doing it for centuries. In Ancient China, some archeologists found evidence of some Celtic People even with evidence of their tartans. I am not Irish, but I can understand the need for people to want to go someplace to get away from some place else and start anew. Their genes were absorbed by the people there and there is no present day evidence of their lives except their graves. I did it and others will be doing it when I am long gone from this earth.

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