In the middle of our first night in our new home, I was awakened by a presence in my room. It was my father. Despite the dark, I could make out his shape. He was in tears. I couldn’t quite figure out what he was murmuring. The corner of my eye caught him kneeling down by my side. He surely was ruling the decision to leave behind the glorious, 3-floor penthouse in Taipei we used to call home. That home had an Italian leather sofa, a private patio, a view of mountains and rivers from his study. Two weeks later, in mid-September 2000, my father left Canada. My mother, my sister, and I were to remain behind, in our home under a house, in grey and cold Coquitlam.
My family was what academics would call an “astronaut family”. They see it as a migration strategy, in which the household is literally split across the ocean, with one or both parents return to country of origin after immigration, leaving their “satellite” children in Canada. My family and I weren’t alone. Approximately 42,000 other Taiwanese came to Canada around the same time as we did, between 1990 and 2000. This exodus, as I’ve said, was driven largely by fear of political instability, but every immigrant family has its own reasons for leaving, and he U.S. and Australia were also popular destinations.
One sunny afternoon on my way home from SFU, I received a phone call from my sister. She was crying. She had just been bullied and was now walking home. The incident occurred at Centennials’ parking lot, where eight Vietnamese girls from her school circled my sister and one of them slapped her in the face. I braked, pulled over, and asked her where she was. I made a U-turn and rushed to Coquitlam. When I caught up with my sister on King Albert Avenue, tears were all over her face her eyes looked almost swollen. Right away, I took her back to Centennial and insisted on meeting the Vice Principal immediately. I pretended to be calm the whole time but I wasn’t. I swore, in fact, at the end of the meeting — just once. I had no idea what I was doing. I was not a parent. I was only 20 years old. How was I supposed to demonstrate any authority in front of a middle-aged, grey-haired white male in charge of a high school of 2000 students? It didn’t matter what I knew or how old I was. At the time, none of my parents was in the country. I was all my sister got.
That was a typical sort of moment in an astronaut family, according to research findings of Clara Mulder and Marieke J. van der Meer from University of Amsterdam Department of Geography. The farther family members live from each other, the fewer the face-to-face contacts and the less support each of them is able to receive. In some cases where one particular family member lives far away, there might be other family members who live closer and who can jump in to help in times of emotional crisis. In some other astronaut families, where there are no parents or other children living close, siblings fashion a mutual dependence that, for better or worse, must substitute for more traditional ideas of family ties.
A couple of weeks later, my father flew into the country to handle the bully. Although the girl who assaulted my sister was underage, we still pressed charges and insisted on having a warning documented on her criminal record. She never bothered my sister ever again. To this day, I am grateful to my father for seeing justice was done on behalf of my sister. I would not have been able to pull that off alone.
Did I mention I was 20 years old at the time of the incident? I just turned 26 on Wednesday (Friday today). Time flies. So much has happened and changed throughout the 26 years of my life but one thing that has remained the same is I am all she’s got, she is all I’ve got, we are all one another’s got.
“I carry your heart. I carry it in my heart.” – E. E. Cummings