This photo was taken in New York around 1959. Four years later, my father Ying-chun Tan wanted to live in Chinatown, close to the Chinese community, but my mother urged him to buy their first home in Queens, NY, in a non-Chinese neighborhood because she wanted her family to ‘integrate’ in this new American society. Despite someone’s efforts to block the sale of the house due to our ethnicity, we became the first and only Chinese family to move in while I was growing up.
The day after closing on the new house, my mother went into labor feeling happy and secure about her family’s new future. That same day she passed away after giving birth to me at the hospital where she died from hemorrhaging due to the hospital’s negligence. My father was now a single parent raising three daughters in a new country alone with no other family members for support. I believe that while he was grateful to be Alive in America with means to raise his daughters, he never felt like he was home. Yet when he returned to China later on in life, he expressed uncertainty about “fitting-in”. I think he often felt like an outsider in America because of his being different; and yet when he returned some fifty years later, he realized that everything and everyone he had known were no longer the same, and he was once again, an outsider in his own country. I can only hope that when he passed away, he was comfortable knowing that home is wherever you are.
Ying-chun Tan was born in Sichuan, China in 1913, and passed away this year at the age of 100 years old. Having served as an American translator in Burma, now Myanmar, he came to the United States in 1947 as a graduate student with the intention of returning to his wife and infant daughter in China after completing his Master’s degree at NYU. But instead, due to twists of fate, he adopted a new home in the United States after China came under Communist rule in 1949.