Written By GianCarlo Lobo
Photography By GianCarlo Lobo
In my piece, I tell the story of my immigrant grandfather, or my
Na-Gong, who first moved to America from Hong Kong, China when he attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1940s. To me, my Na-Gong’s story means a lot because it demonstrates the hardships of assimilating to somewhere new by remembering where you are from.
Like my Na-Gong, I came to college in Boston not knowing what to expect. Being from the West Coast, I had never experienced the tough-headed and strict culture which is Boston. I didn’t know what it meant to live in a new environment, one where people lack the unspoken love we on the West Coast have for our neighbors. My Na-Gong shared the same challenges I faced but on a much more intense scale.
During his transition to America in his early 20s, my Na-Gong did not know how to speak English. Caucasian-American students would often make fun of him for his ignorance and made racist remarks towards the kid fresh-off-the-boat (FOB). Ironically, my Na-Gong most probably arrived to Boston by boat and he fulfilled the stereotypical norm the majority of people had for international students of Chinese descent.
However, my Na-Gong does not tolerate scrutiny and he persisted. As a strong man, determined to make a name for himself, my Na-Gong joined the Hong Kong Club of MIT and earned a degree in manufacture engineering in order to grow our family’s company in the Chinese textile industry. At MIT, my Na-Gong befriended the few other students who came from Hong Kong as well and developed strong ties to fight institutional racism. In the process, my Na-Gong made a new life for himself and got to enjoy his new home despite the many hurdles he had to face.
In homage to my Na-Gong, I wanted to commemorate his courage of moving to a new world to provide for his family. In my work, I styled my subject with pieces which were all taken directly from my Na-Gong’s wardrobe. Each garment was worn when my Na-Gong went to college in the 1940s and all of them represent the cities of Hong Kong and Macau. Today, I wear mostly my Na-Gong’s hand-me-downs and they all fit me perfectly.
In short, I want to tell the story of my Na-Gong moving to America because in many ways, I find myself retelling his story through my own life. As a Chinese-American who grew up in a predominantly white community, I never celebrated my culture because I didn’t ever had anyone who resemble me to teach me it. As a result, I used to deter from my cultural history and wished I was white. In addition, when I first came to BU, I was perplexed on how many students there were of Chinese descent. Again, I faced cultural shock and struggled to adapt. Today, however, I love celebrating where I am from because that is what got me to where I am. I deeply appreciate my Na-Gong’s story and our shared Southern Chinese heritage because if I did not, I would not have multi-cultural identity I have today. That being said, in homage to my Na-Gong who went to college in Boston and who is about to turn 98 years old this December, Sankofa Na-Gong. This one is for you.
As a photographer, I look to capture the truth behind the mundane. Life is filled with so many great moments, yet many are left forgotten. My goal is to highlight these moments and celebrate the times in our day to day life which we tend not to remember.
My hope is that one day, my audiences will develop the patience to appreciate the small but special moments in their own lives, and perhaps seek to preserve them like me. Only then, once members of the new school of society can stop to understand and appreciate the world around them, we may revisit our roots and internalize where we are from in order to move forward. In doing so, individuals may immortalize themselves through mindfulness and have something to look back on in a future time. Like the romantics during the Italian Renaissance, maybe we too can beautify the mundane and thus have something of the past to remember.
I believe small moments like the ones I seek to capture are precious and can sometimes be the most significant opportunities for internal growth. Life is not always about focusing on our future goals. Life is about enjoying the imperfections of the now, remembering the lessons of yesterday, and suffering as we move forward. Therefore, let us take a minute to reflect and understand where we are in this very moment because the power of now is strong.