On trips back to China, locals would rhapsodize my bilingualism.
But I didn’t feel worthy of envy.
The Sichuan dialect I grew up speaking
was an old photograph fading in the California sun,
its diphthongs sitting wrong on my tongue
and its syllables spilling out awkwardly in terse phrases.
As the language became more distant,
cultural discord with my family grew louder
and the Chinese words from my lips
dwindled to hushed obsolescence.
I don’t want to lose connection to my culture.
So I dusted off the Chinese storybooks on my bookshelf,
whispering the pictorial characters in secret
as I am afraid of how terrible my skills have become.
Although fluency is a long road ahead,
I feel a renewed sense of determination
to communicate with my parents and relatives in their native tongue.
And navigate the crossroads between my identity,
hopefully embracing the East and West,
both the street vendors selling lamb skewers and the California palm trees.