The Village People

By Meagan Lee

“We are village people,” my parents would say to explain, to brag, and to joke. These village people traded labored language across the dinner table, never quite agreeing on the “right” way to say literally any of their “Taishan” words. Growing up, I also heard stories from my Popo of catching a fly in mid air with her bare hands. Stories of riding on the bottom of the boat to America, fully pregnant — a vicious combination of morning sickness and sea sickness. Stories of walking to school from the village — uphill both ways in the snow. Stories of training to be a nurse as a young woman in China — something unheard of.

These are the stories of the village people. 

When it was time to leave the rehabilitation center after suffering from a stroke, my GungGung looked at the teenage form of my brother and me and said, “Take everything! If they ask if I need a walker, say yes. If they ask if I want the water bottle, say yes. If they ask if I need a cane, say yes. Wheelchair, yes!” Wagging his finger at us with a tilt in his head, half laughing and half lecturing, he continued, “Don’t say you don’t know. If they ask if I need anything, you say yes. You take everything, okay?” Stifling smiles and muffling our laughter, we assured GungGung that we would indeed take everything. Many years later when he did need the wheelchair, it sat waiting in his garage ready for him. I guess GungGung was right.

Apparently, we are “take everything” people, and this is the ingenuity of the village people. 

Recently, a rock was thrown at Popo’s house, shattering a window. A couple days later, another rock was thrown, shattering it even more. My mom, dad, and brother went to go board up the windows, painting the wood a conspicuous green to go with the trim — as if these boards were intended to be there. Apparently, PoPo was truly not that scared. In reference to the teens who threw the rocks, she uttered in Taishan something to the effect of, “dumb kids aren’t even smart enough to do it right.” Apparently, PoPo had gone through much worse things in her days of owning a grocery store. Apparently, she’d had a gun pointed at her, and this made it so that these recent events were no big deal.

Apparently, this is the resilience of the village people.

Amidst a snowstorm in Texas rendering homes without power in frigid weather, my mom called Popo, “Do you want me to come pick you up?” Popo scoffed, “You crazy, I’m okay here.” As power restored, the next generation of Taishan women texted to compare notes of waiting it out in the cold. My mom chalked our survival up to being village people and called us the “ride it out family.” My sister responded, “Maybe it’s in my genes but I was suppressing it.” 

Apparently, this is our deep, ancestral connection to the village people.

When I show signs of my Popo as I stomp on a cockroach while everyone screams and runs the other away, I boast that it’s because I’m a Taishan woman. It’s not that I even have a deep connection to our motherland, or that I even consider myself to have a motherland. But, it is in the way I see glimpses of my Popo and GungGung surface in me. This is my connection to the ways that generations of village people before me have told their stories, resilience, and ingenuity.

Apparently the power of the village people is somewhere in me, and I believe in us.

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