This Saturday is Chinese New Year, and as I grow older, I enjoy celebrating it and my culture even more. Many of you may know, but for those who do not, I’m Chinese and was born in Hong Kong. Long story short, when I was 6, I immigrated to Seattle and that’s how I ended up here!
I’ve always felt deeply Chinese, but my pride in its rich culture developed over time. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood, where I was one of the few Asian people at school. Most of my friends and teachers had a hard time pronouncing my last name: Yuen. “Is it one or two syllables? Yu-en? Yan?” Maybe it’s ironic, but I used to be an English language learner (English is my 4th language), and now I’m a high school English literature teacher. Sometimes my students think my husband is Mr. Yuen, but I always laugh and tell them that’s my dad and that my married surname is “Marino”.
I had a few reasons for not changing my maiden name when I got married. A main one was because I have a strong connection with the Chinese culture through my last name, and I didn’t want it to not be a part of my name. Since my parents had daughters, technically, “Yuen” won’t be passed down, so I wanted to have it with me. My whole family lives in Hong Kong now and we have a long-distance relationship. Keeping “Yuen” was like keeping my family, close, bonded, unbroken, like we are.
That’s why it was so perfect when Monica Vinader approached me for Chinese New Year and suggested that they could engrave a pendant with the Chinese character of my surname. I was so excited about the idea. In order for them to personalize the piece, I had to scan an image of my last name. As I wrote out the characters, I remembered how to write my surname, but I had difficulty remembering the strokes to the other characters in my name. The forgetfulness seemed symbolic, as I often struggle with the loss of my Chinese heritage and language over the years, which is why I value celebrating Chinese New Year more and more.
When I received the engraved necklace, I was so moved. The piece is stunning, in 18k gold with a diamond pendant. But the necklace will forever be special to me because I get to wear an emblem of my family and culture close to my heart, always.
Happy Chinese New Year. 新年快樂!
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