My Grandmother's Home

in my 婆婆’s house,

things are never used for

their intended purpose.

her oven is filled with

plastic containers,

styrofoam takeout trays,

old yogurt cups.

she does not clear them out,

never turns on the oven,

does not cook there.

the space between the metal

racks are for


my 婆婆’s five children

were all children once.

some grew up

fast —

left in Hong Kong,

or stayed clutching her pant leg,

waiting for the jet bridge to lower


to new lands.

in california,

the kids were kids sometimes,

caretakers others.

after some years,

each one escaped the house with

the oven and its plastic


and yogurt containers that held


squash, bok choy,

whatever else that needed


they walked out of the house,

closed the door,

heard it slam behind them as they

drove away.

my 婆婆 still kept the containers.

waited night and day

for children that rarely called,

made 冬瓜 soup for grandchildren

that complained.

this was not supposed to happen.

those containers

with scribbled Chinese characters

on yellow stickers

placed haphazardly over English

printed words

were supposed to

save us,

shelter us,

give us a place to call


years later,

we watch 婆婆 shuffle around her


the one my mom bought for her.

the children installed a camera

to make sure 婆婆 is safe when

no one is with her.

i always thought that 婆婆 loved

her things:

her plastic containers, her orange

shag carpet,

her hair curlers that used to

belong to my dolls.

i think though, if given the choice,

she would gladly throw away

those things,

if it meant filling up her home with

children who were not there

out of obligation

and grandchildren who could

speak 台山話 back.

Christina Ong is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research interests span womxn of color in social movements, transnational feminism, and theories of race & ethnicity. She is currently working on her MA thesis that traces the development of Asian American identity through New York’s Basement Workshop, the first pan-Asian political organization on the East Coast active in the 1970’s.