A Chinese-Filipino family history

My grandfather died, so I read his memoir.  It had been published when I was 11. You will not be able to find this book, and anyway it’s not the sort of thing that is of interest to people outside of his family. But I found it valuable to understanding my heritage, and there are some interesting historical bits I’d like to share.

My grandfather was born in the Philippines in 1929. He was part of the Chinese-Filipino minority, which entailed going to a separate school that used Chinese as a primary language. Like many Chinese-Filipino people, he came from a Fukien background.

When he was 6, he moved to Shanghai. This was because of Chiang Kai-shek’s “New Life” campaign, which (among other things) sought to attract Chinese expats back to China to build its industry. My great-grandfather owned a tobacco company, so he moved to China to start a Chinese branch. The cigarette packs explicitly advertised that they were made by returning overseas Chinese—a patriotic cause.

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Participation trophies

My husband, an older millenial, asked “Were participation trophies ever a real thing?” He never got any–at most he got some participation ribbons. But yes, participation trophies were absolutely literal physical objects. Myself, a mid-millenial, got a few of the things.

But in the public conversation, the metaphor of the participation trophy has overtaken their physical reality.

Yeah, I got a few of the participation trophies, back when I played soccer in grade school. I was awful at soccer. In retrospect, our whole team was bad, being composed of a bunch of kids who may or may not have been forced into it by their parents. But at the time I felt like I was particularly bad, like I dragged the whole team down, and I didn’t understand why I was there at all. I got a trophy for doing that, every year.
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Things that make vegetarianism hard

I’m flexitarian, that means that I prefer to eat vegetarian, but I don’t commit to it. I think there’s a good case to be made that eating meat is bad for the environment and animal welfare, but I don’t translate that into a behavioral rule, more of a guiding principle. Also I don’t really like meat that much.

I don’t really know enough about vegetarianism to argue about it, but my personal experience gives me familiarity with some of the pain points in vegetarianism–situations that make it particularly difficult to eat vegetarian. I imagine that committed vegetarians need to make major changes in their lives to get around these issues. But for someone like me with a very low level of commitment, it’s easier to just eat meat.

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Giving thanks

I’ve always celebrated Thanksgiving more than once a year. Once with my dad’s family, and once with my mother’s. My dad’s family, who is White, would have these relatively traditional gatherings around a big table, where we pass the turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes in a sort of ritualized cooperation. My mother’s family, who is Chinese Filipino, would treat it like yet another pot luck, with with the traditional Thanksgiving foods present but not playing a central role in the mix of Chinese, Filipino, and American dishes. People would line up to put food on their plates, and unceremoniously scatter across three or four tables of various shapes and sizes.

Once I started visiting my husband’s family, we started alternating Thanksgivings. One year, we would visit his parents, and the next year we would visit mine. My mother was always disappointed by this, so we formed a new tradition: early Thanksgiving. Now we celebrate two Thanksgivings on different weeks, with different sides of the family.  I’ve already celebrated my first Thanksgiving this year.

When I started reading atheist blogs in the late 2000s, I observed another kind of Thanksgiving tradition. I’m not sure readers today would be familiar with it, because it might have died with the atheist blogosphere. But basically, atheists would write in defense of their celebration of Thanksgiving.

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My grandfather

cn: death and homophobia. I do not recommend reading this if you are one of my relatives. I do not desire, and will not respond to any expressions of condolence, or general concern for my personal wellbeing.

My grandfather grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Very conservative, very religious, and his neighbors were Amish. He left his background behind, moving to California, becoming a professional scientist, and–a point of family pride–an anti-racist activist. Specifically, he spoke at many churches against California’s 1964 proposition 14, which would allow people to discriminate by race when selling housing.

At the time I became an adult, my grandfather was openly nonreligious–the only other nonreligious person in my family that I knew of at the time. He called himself a deist, believing in a god that does not intervene in the world, and which does not require any worship. Perhaps for that reason he was the only relative who took extended interest in my blog, which was more atheism-focused at the time. Despite several disagreements, we had many positive interactions.

But over ten years ago, I came out as ace and gay, and then I learned that my grandfather was homophobic.

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The pandemic: 1 year later

This month, we passed our pandemicversary, or as I like to think of it, our annivirusary. This occurs on a different day for different people. For me, it’s when March Meeting, the largest physics conference in the world, was cancelled on March 2nd. The pandemic caused major changes in many of our lives, often not for the better. But, I’d like to reflect back on the lighter and more positive aspects.

1. I started exercising. At first, it was because my husband could no longer use the gym, so he bought some home gym equipment. Later, my mother started teaching Zumba online.

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Blogging and ambition

When I started blogging in 2007, I had ambitions of being popular blogger with a certain amount of authority. Those ambitions burnt out within a year or two, as I realized I did not actually want to be a famous blogger, and would rather satisfy my own preferences in blogging. Why did I have such ambitions, and why did they burn out? More broadly, how do other creators experience ambition, and are there differences from my own experience?

Okay, so 2007. Towards the end of the Bush administration, when Bush reached peak disapproval. New atheism was just getting rolling, and blogs held a particularly important place in the conversation, much like lefttube or twitter hold an important place today. I was an undergrad, and had been reading blogs myself, starting with Phil Plait, Hemant Mehta, PZ Myers, and branching off into many smaller ones.

My ambition was to become as well-known as the big names, or perhaps at least one of the smaller ones. It’s hard to remember why I had this mentality, especially since I now see it as irrational. I suppose I had a lot of opinions to share, and believed my opinions were the Good Ones that would transform how we thought about stuff and resolve all the issues that bloggers argued about. I have always been very modest, and though nobody throughout my education would ever let me forget that I am “smart”, I have never felt that my opinions are super valuable just because they are my opinions. Nonetheless, in my experience reading blogs, there were countless places where I thought bloggers and other readers were missing something important, and I felt I could supply that something if only people would hear me.

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