Family History Textbook (2005)

I brought my video camera with me when I went to visit my family in the winter of 2004. I just thought it’s time for me to record some family footage. I asked each family member to sit down and tell me a childhood story. I was surprised by how little I knew about their childhood, especially that of my sister. My mom and stepfather’s stories are closely tied to nature. My sister revealed how my father’s death impacted her. Nancy, who came to Beijing from California in 1989 to teach English in my high school and has become a family member for the past two decades, recounted her memory of World War II, including mistreatment of a Japanese-American classmate and her family. My nephew, who immigrated to Canada at the age of 6, described a dream of adventure with cartoon characters in English. Lastly, I read my biological father’s description of his childhood, included in his Application to Join the Communist Party written in 1968.

It took me several weeks to transcribe the stories, and add pinyin and English to turn it into a textbook. Since I had to listen to the sound files over and over again (at one point, they were in my MP3 player and I would listen to them while falling asleep), it became natural for me to imitate my relatives’ voices and re-tell their stories. Lastly, I wrote stories about each family member and interlaced my stories with theirs in the companion book.