Family Portrait From 1975 in Hunan, China

Tam family 1975

I grew up in communist China from 1970 to 1979 before coming to the United States. This photo is a rare photo of our family together.  This is the time when China just opened their immigration policy to allow people to leave China.

My mom was a pediatrician, my dad was an architect. I have fond memories of a community who worked hard, all paid equal amounts (around $75 a year) and surround by people who were liked minded.

My vivid memories before I was 9 years old were

  • walking to get breakfast with food ration tickets
  • getting up early for a morning run with all my classmates at the crack of dawn
  • doing morning exercise routines and eye exercises to keep our eyes healthy
  • raising silk worms
  • trying my first cigarette and choking and swearing I would never again
  • huddle together with the family to try a rare pot of molasses and twirling it with chopsticks
  • waiting for my dad to come back after a 3 month business trips, he was gone most of the time
  • eating roasted hot peppers that my sister gave me as a prank
  • cheering my sister on as she competed in jump rope competition
  • getting my first red scarf after being induced into the little red army while holding the little red book of Mao
  • making our annual coal blocks to burn in our cooking stove using a metal stamping tool
  • huddle together with others in a dorm to watch the only TV in the whole building
  • bringing empty toothpaste tubes to trade for candy
  • bring a bowl of rice to a cart outside to get pop rice
  • reading Chinese hand written letters in cursive from my relatives
  • watching my dad do Chinese calligraphy
  • looking at the hand drawn architecture plans my father finished that night
  • running away from boarding school and crying until my parents took me out
  • head lice, falling down into a sewer, falling flat on my back from an elephant shaped slide
  • sleeping on bamboo beds and my mom fanning me to sleep

In the backdrop, my parents did struggled with their friends who were re-educated and committed suicide under enormous pressure from cultural revolution.  As a kid, the events of the cultural revolution just seem to be normal events that I hear my parents talk about.  They ultimately made a choice that my sister and I didn’t have a future in China and were able to come to the US through immigration because my grandmother was here since the 1960’s.


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