August 2, 2015
I’m on a trip to LA. While I’m here to take a grad-level course and visit friends and family, it seems an opportune time to explore my roots. As we did introductions in my course a couple of days ago, I mentioned that I live in Honolulu, but used to live in Northern California and have roots in Asia. One woman inquired afterwards, “So where are you originally from?” To which I replied, “I don’t know…” and gave a more exhaustive account of the various places I have lived over my 29 years.
“Well, I was born in Pasadena, but had my first birthday in China and then spent 7 years in Hong Kong, 10 in Taiwan, 10 in Nor Cal, and I’ve lived in Hawaii for the last year.” She said, “Oh, so you’re from Pasadena.”
“Mmmmmm….not really. Well, my mom was born and raised in Tokyo, and my dad in Michigan to a German immigrant.” The more I talked, the more complex it seemed and the less likely I could give a clear-cut answer. I should’ve asked her what she meant by originally. I’m not even sure how I would define origins… the place I was born?
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit the place of my birth. I was grabbing dinner with my uncle at a delightful organic Belgian restaurant in Old Town Pasadena, and mentioned that I wanted to explore my roots. After downing our soup & salad, we navigated the residential streets ’till we found a gray and blue two story home on the corner of Michigan and Mountain and I gasped, “This is it!” I’d seen it on google maps “street view” a day or two prior, but now, for the first time I could remember, I was seeing it with my own eyes.
I rang the doorbell and knocked a few times, but there was no answer. Around back, someone was sanding the deck. My “you-hoo’s” were drowned out by the drone of the electric sander. When he took a break, I knocked on the back gate and took the opportunity to introduce myself, “Hi, sorry to interrupt you, but I was born here 29 years ago.” (Yup, I said it, just like that!) Thankfully, the Latino man was very friendly and after shaking my hand and my uncle’s hand invited us to see the inside. Within minutes, I was standing in the room where my mom labored (with a midwife standing by) and my dad “caught” me and gave me my first bath (he likes to remind me of this at any and every opportunity!).
It was like walking through a museum of my own personal history, but at the same time it is someone else’s living history. The beige house was re-painted gray, some steps were removed and a split-level duplex was remade into a single-family home. I tried to imagine each room as they were when my family lived there a few decades ago. By a stroke of serendipity, the room held a crib, a changing station, and other baby paraphernalia, and the man explained that his baby girl is expected to arrive in 3 weeks! Wow. How exciting, another first-born girl is going to spend her early days in the very same room as I did 29 years prior. I prayed a blessing over soon-to-arrive Baby Stella, took in the moment, and took a selfie (why not?).
Out front, the owner explained more about the neighborhood which is known as “Bungalow Heaven.” A wikipedia search yielded a short informative entry of how this neighborhood of early 20th century middle-class bungalows were preserved as historic homes of Pasadena. Now, what was once an average community neighborhood is a gentrified landmark district of 800 homes that run
home tours once a year. A few of the neighbors have taken on the responsibility of neighborhood historians and were I to sit down with one of them, I just might see my parent’s name on the list of former residents of the home on Michigan & Mountain.