With arms wide open: Chinese culture embraced

A Chinese-Canadian girl and her aunt, who married a Chinese man, reflect on being part of two cultures.

I got to know my husband, Herb, mostly through letters. It was a courtship of words – deep and sweet – and one that grew quietly over two winters. We hadn't seen each other for two years since our first meeting, but when we did, our love blossomed quickly, and within three months we were married.

Although my friends and family knew little about the whole emerging relationship, they embraced us quickly. But it wasn't until the night before the wedding that I met any of Herb's family.

In the weeks leading up to our wedding day, though, he had begun to prepare me. I hadn't really thought about the culture of Herb's family or background, but it was beginning to dawn on me: Chinese-Canadian, with a bit more emphasis on the Chinese part.

When Herb called late one night to see if I would change the wedding date to a Monday because his mum had told him it was a "lucky day," I knew I had to quickly get my bearings.

My answers came in deep silence that night – no specifics really, just an assurance that everything would be OK.

From that point on, I no longer felt afraid to meet Herb's mother.

The night before our wedding (a Sunday), we drove to their hotel for me to meet his family.

When we arrived, his sister, Wendy, opened the door, and from across the room came his mother, five feet tall, in an all-out sprint, arms open wide – running to embrace me.

Like my niece Lisa, whose essay is below, it has taken me a while to feel at home in Chinatown as a non-Chinese woman.

Herb's mum runs interference for me over dim sum – choosing food she knows I will like.

My brother-in-law, Mike (Lisa's dad), and I joke over who will be the first to try the chicken feet.

We all watch with joy and bemusement over how tenaciously Herb's mum fights to pay the bill. It is a matter of both love and honor for her. She is a matriarch in the most generous sense of the word: She loves her family, and she has an uncanny sense of understanding – fueled by a heart of compassion.

I've learned a great deal from this Chinese-Canadian family. While emotions are kept somewhat at bay, feelings run deep – heightened by stoicism and restraint. It has taught me steadiness and discipline, poise and strength borne of fidelity, and how to live a life without apology or complaint – all of which, for me, translates into palpable love.

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