The New York Times

My Mother's Secrets

SHE THOUGHT SHE WAS PROTECTING HER CHILDREN BY NOT TELLING US HER HARROWING TALE OF FLEEING CHINA.

Growing up in the 1950s as one of the few Chinese-American kids in my New Jersey town, I was so often told to “go back where you came from” that I wondered about this place called China, where I had never been. But whenever I asked my mother about her young life in China, I always received the same curt answer: “That was wartime, unhappy memory.”

Over time, I stopped asking. Until one day, when she was in her 70s and we were having dinner in her small apartment, I lapsed into my childhood mantra. “Too bad you can’t tell me about my grandparents in China,” I muttered with no expectation of a reply.

But this time my mother put down her chopsticks and said: “All right,

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