We simply called her Auntie and never used her name. Subconsciously, there would never be anyone that could fill her shoes. There are too many memories of her in my life to count. I’m sure after this is written, many other memories will surface and be equally poignant. She holds the ultimate love ❤️ and respect in my heart. I didn’t know how much she became a part of me until a relative sent a letter from a lawyer questioning her estate and demanding an accounting weeks after she passed away. The lack of empathy and respect for her beloved sister and family put a rage in me that I didn’t know I had. I realized at that moment that my aunt is in me. I knew how she felt. I spoke on her behalf. She has been and always will be one of the most significant and influential persons in my life. The memories will never fade away. When I think of her my heart cries of love, laughter, joy, and sadness but my memories remain crystal clear.
Be Personable: A distinct memory of Auntie Emily was my first airplane ride to Los Angeles. I couldn’t believe soft drinks on the plane were FREE. My aunt was a junior sportswear buyer for Joseph Magnin, a cutting edge women’s clothing store and was on a buying trip. We went to a vendor’s showroom who asked us if we would like a drink as we sat down? Another free soda 🥤. I was enjoying this business trip😀. The fizz of the drink could not keep me awake and after several nods and headshakes I fell asleep. Being a buyer is not as glamorous as people think….the endless racks of clothes never ceased to roll out from behind a fabric partition. After my aunt’s order was “finally” done – the vendor commented that she needed to “up” her presentation skills because she noticed we were not impressed. Glad I was helpful to her career. But when we left the building, my aunt – reprimanded me because I didn’t say “Hello” loud enough and didn’t say “thank you” with enough gratitude to the person giving us the drinks. Falling asleep didn’t help either. I never forgot that talk. Lesson 1: Be personable with everyone even if they are boring. Always say hello so people can “hear” you and show your gratitude with enthusiasm 😃.
Hits the spot: My next memory of my aunt is taking me to Lake Tahoe to learn how to ski 🎿. After ski school, she would take us up the intermediate mountain and we would follow her as she led us down the hill. I am a creature of comfort and the cold weather was not fun. BUT, when we got off the chair lift with the cold wind blowing in our face, my aunt pulled out a Snickers Bar from an inside pocket in her jacket. OMG – it was the BEST candy bar I had ever tasted in my life. It was SOOOOO good. To this day, I can still taste the caramel, milk chocolate, peanuts and how good it was. Lesson 2: Comfort Food warms the soul and can take you to a place where you forget how cold it is outside and put a big smile on your face😀.
Theater: My aunt was notorious for taking me and my siblings to see Asian Americans in theater. Every time there was a new play by David Henry Hwang, Philip Kan Gotanda, or Lane Nishikawa, she would buy tickets we were forced to attend. I started going to the theater with her when I was 10 or 12 years old. They were boring especially when it went into history. Despite my reluctance to attend the plays, I learned a lot about my culture especially since the only thing I learned in my California Education about Asian American was that the Chinese built the railroads. My aunt would scour the predominantly non-Asian audience and say, look Julie – Aisans need to support Asian Americans in the arts. She was proud to see Asian Americans sing, dance, act, and claim their voice. She instilled in me a sense of pride in my culture and a love for the arts of all genres. Emily not only loved Asian American Theater in San Francisco but Broadway in New York. She combined plays, theater, and opera two times a year on her buying trips to the Big Apple and when there was a show she wanted our whole family to see like Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, The Lion King or Hamilton – she bought us all tickets (Lodge\Orchestra) when they came to San Francisco. Lesson 3: Know your history and be proud of your culture. Support the Arts 🎭.
Social Justice. My aunt loved to watch the news and read the New York Times 📰 from cover to cover. At the dinner table she would tell us about Wen Ho Lee. A Chinese scientist who was unfairly prisoned because the government thought he had ties to China. When Maya Lin won a blind competition to design the Vietnam War memorial – she was discriminated against because she was Asian American. My aunt always talked about the injustice of Asian Americans. She discussed how Chinatown was changing from Chinese immigrants to Southeast Asians. She said the community needs to support newcomers from Vietnam and Cambodia. “When you cross the bridge, you don’t pull up the drawbridge. You leave it down and help others come across” regardless of which community they come from. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years and scheduled to speak at the Oakland Coliseum my aunt asked me if I wanted to hear him speak. She said it was going to be an epic event and a once in a lifetime opportunity. I said yes and we experienced the grace and awe of Nelson Mandela amidst 58,000 other people. Lesson 4: It’s not an option to support your community, It’s an expectation. When one group suffers, we all suffer. All boats rise and fall with the tide. My aunt lived the words of MLK: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Truffles: My aunt loved to travel and she took me to many places around the world. She had a fetish with Truffles. She took my sister and I to Florence, Italy specifically to eat Truffles. We stayed at a hotel that served Truffles for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. We went to restaurants recommended to her and ate – fresh truffles from the appetizer to the main course. Thank God the Tiramisu was Truffle Free. My aunt loved to eat. She was a foodie before the word was even a word. She did not cook so every time she had a craving for something – she would buy fresh lobster or crab – to my mom’s house to cook. Emily organized big family Chinese New Year Dinners with cousins, aunts, and uncles. After every Chinese banquet – we would hang out at my grandfather’s house and later my mom’s and Emily would be MIA (Missing in Action) only to return with ice cream�. Next to Truffles, my aunt Loved Ice Cream. On special occasions she took us to Swensen’s to get a Hot Fudge Sundae 🍨 with whip cream and nuts. One time I picked her up after over a week in the hospital. Most people would like to go to their favorite restaurant and or eat a home cooked meal. Not my aunt, she asked me to take her to Swensens Ice Cream for an order of Coffee and Strawberry on a sugar cone. Some people eat to live, my aunt lived to eat. Lesson 5: Let food bring family and friends together to create memories that last a lifetime.
Treat Yourself: My aunt was a buyer by profession. Whenever we would go shopping she would say, “if you like it, buy it”. And if I couldn’t decide which color to get, she would say buy both. Lesson 6: It’s ok to treat yourself. If you work hard, you can play hard. Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed.
Generosity: If my aunt had a middle name it would be Generosity. My aunt always treated us when we were with her. She was quick to pull out her credit card and get the bill every time. She gave me money for my first car. She gave me money to go on a dream trip to Israel. She paid for trips to New York, Italy, and Korea with her. She gave me money to go out to dinner with my friends in Michigan when I got my Master’s Degree. She gave lots of money💰 to her favorite charities: Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) and The Chinatown YMCA. She gave frequent flyer miles to her neighbor so she could get the best chemotherapy treatments in another state. She set up college funds for her grand nieces and nephews. She took our family and cousins houseboating and the Disney Cruise. She supported political candidates. She was honored by CAA during the 2015 Celebration of Justice for years of service, support, board duties, and generous donations over 50 years. Lesson 7: It is more blessed to give than to receive. “You make a living by what you get; You make a life by what you give” – Winston Churchill.