A Love Letter To My American Father’s Chinese Accent

COURTESY OF KIMMY YAM The author and her dad.

Dear Papa, 

I can’t recall a time I’ve ever written to you. It’s probably because the written word feels too serious. Yet I don’t think I could express my sentiments today any other way. After all, at my very core, I am culturally Chinese through and through.

There are some things we feel too heavily to audibly invoke. There are some spoken words I do not have.

For a few weeks now, I’ve replayed a conversation we had years ago in my head. To you, it was likely a passing blip in time, as inconsequential as a nod to a stranger. If I described it to you now, there’s little chance you’d have any recollection. But it’s weaved in and out of my consciousness of late, and recent events have made it impossible to ignore. 

A few birthdays ago, I came home to see you. Like we do every year, the family waited until around 11 p.m., just after you closed the restaurant. You finally burst through the door in your oil-stained shirt, redolent of the scent of pork fried rice from hours behind the wok. There was cake, and candles and food. You, though tired, did what you always do: You mustered up all your energy and filled the house with your booming laughter.

A couple of shots of Jack in, you began to reminisce about how you spent your prime, roughing it in 1980s Chinatown. How you animatedly shouted Cantonese in the kitchens. How you refused to shut up, like a real Chinese person.

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