Wednesday, October 07, 2009

It's been more than a month. A lot has happened. The New York Film Festival has been having its press screenings; the opening night was very different, in that there was no afterparty at Tavern on the Green. It's been hectic, and i've only been able to see about half the films.

Yesterday, i had to attend the funeral service for my uncle Edmund; he was my father's younger brother. Over the summer, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Perhaps it is strange to say, but the wake and the service and the dinner after were all incredibly... warm and familial. Growing up, my uncle and his family lived out on Long Island, and so it wasn't that easy to see them.

When we were growing up, we were surrounded by my mother's family, not just because she had such a large family (in all: there were 15 children), but because they lived near us.

Last week, the New York Times had an article about the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas, which has just opened in its new quarters on Lafayette Street. The article was about the Hom family, one of the families profiled in the museum. (Thomas Hom is our family dentist.) And that reminded me that my father had wanted to collect material on the Chin and Tom families (Tom was my grandmother's family) for the Chinatown History Museum (which evolved into the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas). My father and his friend Robert (whose nickname was Smokey) had volunteered to help collect data on New York City's Chinatown for the Ellis Island project. What my father wanted was to document that society of Chinatown in that period from the early 1930s to 1965, before the immigration laws changed and there began the flood of Chinese immigrants from other parts of China. Previously, the majority of the Chinese in the United States came from Canton. And the Cantonese in the various Chinatowns (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, New York City) lived in very restricted areas (when i was growing up, Chinatown proper consisted of about six blocks, centered on Mott Street from Canal Street to the Bowery, with Mulberry, Pell and Doyer Streets within the Canal-Bowery limits also included; we lived on Baxter Street, which is one block over from Mulberry, but it was enough so that we weren't officially in Chinatown). It wasn't as if Chinatown in that period grew so rapidly: it couldn't, so there was an enclosed quality about Chinatown. And that was what my father wanted to document.

Ever since my mother had her mini-stroke in August, i've spent a lot of time with my family, and it has provoked a lot of memories and emotions. And sometimes there were amusing realizations. Yesterday, for example, i realized that my sister and i knew our great-grandmother (my paternal grandmother's mother) but my cousins and my younger brother didn't, because my great-grandmother died when we were about four, so either they were just born or weren't born yet. There are photos of my sister and me with our great-grandmother; i remember that they lived on the second floor of 65 Mott Street (my grandparents lived on the fifth floor).

My father's family is fairly transparent, in the sense that we certainly knew my grandmother, but my mother's family is rather mysterious. Not because we didn't know our aunts and uncles (we certainly did) and our cousins, but because our grandfather was a nonexistent character in our lives. We never seemed to have met him, even though he died after we were born. But there are no photos of him with us. And he's not at my parents' wedding. In fact, we were under the impression that he must have died before our parents' wedding. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

I'll have to give some of my impressions of the New York Film Festival at another time.


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