Day Seven: The Long Road Home.

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If you could be people, or wolves, which would it be? I want you to have that choice.

I was seventeen when I first learned what diaspora meant.

My parents have never liked anime. They’ve often viewed it as childish, mundane, and nonsensical. Cartoons is something you grow out of, just like you would with Barbies or video games – and for them, my continuing love for anime was nothing but an ugly reminder that I was a stubborn and spoiled child who eagerly clung to her own childishness. Luckily, being 23 and living with my parents again has allowed me to bridge some of these gaps. With time as a healing factor, slowly, my parents became tolerant to my anime hobby. My mother especially was calm about it – a change I had not expected, as my mother and I rarely got along before I left for college.

A year ago, I had watched Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children in theaters when it released in the U.S. The story had mesmerized me on an emotional level, but it took me a while to understand why. It was only when I came home one night that I realized how similar my mother was to Hana. Earlier this year, I showed her the trailer, in the genuine hope that perhaps that she’d watch it with me. And to my surprise, she did, just two weeks ago before finals.

It’s hard to capture the kind of feelings we both felt as we watched Hana struggle to raise her kids. My mother, when married, always believed that she would stay in India, with her family and close friends. To her, America was a strange land, filled with the shadows of uncertainty and cultural barriers. When my father proposed to move there for a better life, she was confused. She already had my sister, who was only four years old, and she barely understood English. We had no family there, and barely any friends.  Even if that weren’t the case, what could she possibly accomplish with a simple Bachelors in Economics?

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And then there was the matter of me. I came into the world unluckily, my mother said. My fetal position and unfortunate circumstances led to my mother losing 3 and a half liters of blood – an almost fatal amount. My father had left the country by the time I was born, hoping to finish his residency in the U.S as fast as possible to create a warm welcome for us. My mother only had four weeks to barely recover; she came to the U.S with tubes inside and out of her body, holding me in one arm and my sister in the other. Our home was a motel for the next six months, as my father worked long hours to create the income necessary to support a half dying wife, a newborn baby, and a four year old child.

My mother had no means of understanding the people around her. She barely knew English, and had no time to manage a job while looking after us. Since had no relatives in the United States to lean on, all my mother had was determination. “I don’t know how I braved the days,” she told me after the movie. “I just had to believe that the next morning would be better.” As we went from motels to apartments ranging from New Jersey to Florida, my mother had little time to get used to the land around her. If she wasn’t bearing the pain her medications could only temporarily alleviate, she was making sure my sister was attending school and teaching me how to talk and walk (which in itself was a trial, as I only started walking at the age of 2, and didn’t say my first word till 3 1/2).

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Sibling fights can be tough. My sister and I almost never got along, and my mom was the one who always had to clean up the mess.

But that wasn’t enough. Whereas Hana had to take up farming in her new world, my mother had to learn accounting and billing in hers. One day, the nurse running my father’s office vanished in thin air. He desperately needed someone to make sure his patients were up to date on their checkups and needed someone to file their information. Having no one else to turn to, he called my mother in while I was playing with toys and asked her to come in. What usually took most employees at least 3 weeks to learn, my mother had to learn in less than four hours. Bills and health insurance forms – words she had little understanding of – became her daily vocabulary as she took up the job for more than three months while my father frantically searched for a new nurse to hire.

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When my sister was 9, she fell off a rocking chair and crashed through a glass window. For a good day, my mother wasn’t sure she’d make it, and almost fell ill waiting at the hospital.

From there onward, my mother’s life intertwines deeply with Hana’s. I could tell them all, but they go on and on, ending up in the home and family that Yuki and Ame find comfort in, and the home that I’ve returned to after five years. I’ve heard stories about the kinds of challenges my mom faced when she first came to the States. But Wolf Children was finally able to put things in perspective. It brought me and my mom a little closer – a thing I’ve dreamed for years. Yes, Wolf Children isn’t exactly the tale my mother told me. It’s true that Hana is a single mother, and my mother did indeed have the support of my father at times. But to me Wolf Children isn’t just a story about motherhood. It’s a story about immigration. It’s a tale about sacrificing everything you’ve ever felt familiar with in the hopes that there will be a better tomorrow. “If you build it, they will come.” My mother’s success – just like Hana’s success – is not in the form of trophies, awards, or a better job. It’s in the form of her breathing, proud children, who remember their roots and raise their heads to respect what was done for them. And it is a reminder for me to raise my head at times and look at the superhero in front of me, a woman whose strong will and determination pumped sweat, blood, and tears and gave me the opportunity to be better.

This one is for you, mom.

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2 responses to “Day Seven: The Long Road Home.

  1. Meant to post this earlier, but…
    As an immigrant child, I completely understand where you’re coming from in this post.
    I’d like to add another aspect of the immigrant experience that this film touches on: the child’s identity.
    You must have experienced it too, just like Ame, Yuki, me, and every other immigrant child. That uncertainty. Do I assimilate? Do I hide my old country’s heritage? Or do I embrace it? What is my heritage anyway? Who am I supposed to be?
    And at the end, like both Ame and Yuki, you (hopefully) find the identity that you can accept. The one that works for you.

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