I was born to Chinese immigrants and raised by my grandparents in their home province of Zhejiang. Growing up, I watched Nai-Nai dance her brush gracefully across xuan paper to create mesmerizing works. Calligraphy(书法) is a prized traditional art, and some of my favorite childhood memories were learning Chinese calligraphy, paper-cutting, and silk embroidery from my grandma.
After I moved back to the US in middle school, I traded calligraphy classes for ESL and stopped speaking Chinese for years. So when I tried writing again during quarantine, I was relying on pure physical memory, struggling with strokes I’d written easily thousands of times in the past.
To anyone who has ever felt neither American nor Chinese/anything enough: our experiences are valid. I am now a foreigner admiring an ancient art, a Chinese-American drawing inspiration from tradition for my lifelong creative practice.
Calligraphy has given me a healing ritual, a vessel to reconnect with ancestral language, poetry, and history. It has also been daunting. I never feel “good” enough, that I am doing the art justice, that I can ever attain perfect fluidity in my arms as I’ve lost fluency in my tongue.
But I don’t seek to emulate traditional Chinese calligraphy, the craft that my grandma practiced for decades. Rather, by respectfully synthesizing it with my own experience, I hope to create something authentic and beautiful in its own right.
Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat believed all immigrants are artists—“re-creating your entire life is a form of reinvention on par with the greatest works of literature.” Art is the way we find belonging, make meaning, and survive. My hope in sharing this journey is both to hold myself accountable and to connect with anyone who relates. If you do, I hope that my works makes you feel seen in some way.