When the exhibit went up at Peachtree Center, the Chinese of Atlanta flocked downtown. Jews had been in Henan so close to forever, they weren’t seen as foreign. And we had found an exhibit on China that wasn’t old vases. Jews were Chinese in more ways than food. Migration was not always out of the places our families had fled; it had once been to. Our pantries were “ethnic” not just for the shrimp chips and wood ears, but as well for the matzah. Maybe, when asked, Do you celebrate Christmas?, we were not being checked for Zen or the Buddha. We didn’t say it in so many words. The line between Asia and Europe had blurred.
In all the early photos of my life, you are wearing a long skirt. It is pleated, with an elastic waistband, patterned with purple and red Japanese flowers. I imagine you purchased it from one of the consignment stores in Lincoln Square, their window displays nothing more than dresses and shirts hung on latticed wood wound with fake ivy. I imagine you kept wearing it because the polyester didn’t need to be dry-cleaned and you preferred not to shave your legs.
Outside, on my grandparents’ back lawn, which rolled off into an alleyway, I would crawl between your ankles. I did not want to be near the dog, or my cousins with their large chins and black eyes. My father would tell me to run through the sprinkler, or to play with the peeling block puzzle that had been scattered across the grass, the same one he had played with as a child. But I wanted to be inside, on the quiet, humming floor of our kitchen, so I tried instead to hide beneath your skirt.