SPLIT LEVEL


A HERITAGE CUT-OUT SET ---slightly condensed version


title page Split Level Iím Carmen. I was supposed to be named Quon-ming, but my parents Americanized me. Sometimes I dance the rhumba in my head. When I was young, I was insecure and made myself into what was expected. I was unaware of my innocence.


At age 50, Iím still not wiser than clever. The stew must cook a little longer.






China level/U.S. level

My parents were modern. Not long after the war, our family moved into a split level. The lower level was Chinese. The fake jade tree and the pictures of ancient relatives were entombed in the living room, a showplace for formal guests. We rarely stayed for long. In the kitchen, we relished the last vestige of our ethnicity---food. By age 10, we held the chopsticks near the far, square end. The bitter melon had started to taste good, too.

The upper level was American. We played, worked, and dreamed there. The TV broadcast pictures of our frontier heritage. Wholesome, typical families visited our home weekly. In our rooms, we devoted ourselves to our studies. When we needed a break, the top 10 hits made us wild.

There was symbolism in the American being higher and the Chinese lower, but my parents never admitted it.



splits

But we weren't real Chinese by then.
Only foreigners spoke my grandparents' tongue,
and we were apple pie.
Being split was part of being American.
Chinese avoided a fractured existence.



splits

blunt chopsticks---Sharp-pronged forks
firecrackers---21-gun salute
crowded dim sum Sunday brunch---Quiet Monday hot dog lunch

sweet to father---sassy to friends
studious---street smart
serious---affable
hard-working---politically savvy

obedience---vision
private secrets--true confessions



Kwei-lin Lum copyright 2001

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