I dream of my ancestors when the moon is full. I dream of my mother. The day I was born was the first and last time I saw the woman who held me in her womb and brought me into this world. I wonder about her every day. Who was she? What kind of woman was she? What was her story? I know she was Zhuang because I am Zhuang. I know she was from Pingnan because I am from Pingnan. I look for her face in mine. With my breath fogging the mirror, I analyze my curving dimples, my little beauty marks dotting my skin like kisses, my eyes that kiss in the corners, and I wonder if hers look the same. Her history is my history, and I have searched for our history my whole life. I used to blame her for abandoning me, for selling me overseas, but now I wonder if she even had a choice. Was I taken from her, ripped from her arms while she screamed moments after my birth? Has she been looking for me, too? Does she look for traces of her face in every girl she passes the same way I look for my face in the faces of the women on the street?

I wonder about the cultural and historical inheritance that the one-child policy stole from me, too. I wonder about the knowledge of my ancestors and the culture that she might have taught me. I think of how the Zhuang language might have curled around my tongue as I learned it as a child. I think of what milestones and ceremonies might have marked my life as I grew up. I try to imagine what I would have worn, the songs I would have sung, the dances I would have done, the joys of my heritage and culture and community I would have felt. I never can. I can feel the loss in my soul, and I grieve for it. I wonder if she grieves for me, too. I dream that she will find me. In my dreams, she holds me in her arms, and I can feel myself becoming whole.

I have read the work of Xue Xinran, and within her stories about unknown Chinese mothers, I hunt for my mother’s story. I look for my story too, and the stories of hundreds of my sisters across the globe. We live far from our home and culture; we are Chinese, but not quite. How many of our existences are still Chinese and rooted in our homeland? How can we be both Chinese and something else, while simultaneously being neither? Xue once wrote, “As the ancients said: when oranges from the south were transplanted to the north, they were still oranges, even if they tasted a bit different. I believe that even though these girls have been brought up in a foreign land and a foreign culture, the blood of their Chinese mothers still runs in their veins.” I think about the blood of my Chinese mother every day; it is all I have left of her. Other girls have family heirlooms: a ring from a grandmother, a necklace from an aunt, and a diary from a great-grandmother. My family heirlooms are the blood in my veins, the bones in my body, and the heart in my chest. I am proud of them; I treasure them because I am sure they served her, and I know they will serve me, too.

Illustration credit: Lisa Wakiyama


  • Vera Jiā Xī Mancini is a proud Chinese American woman of the Zhuang ethnic minority, born in Pingnan and brought to the United States as an infant by an adoptive white family. She is a junior at Smith College, with a Women's History major and a Book Studies concentration. Vera finds healing through words.

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