Story Collected by Phoenix Chen
My mom, Jin Rong Ye, grew up in a village located in Guangdong, China. Her home was surrounded by trees, rivers, and rice fields. Her family raised chickens, pigs, and water cattle. She started gardening and farming at age nine, during which she also learned to cook, clean the house, and take care of the animals. On normal days, she would feed the animals and clean out their living area. She would cook for the family and complete her long list of cleaning duties. She would also wash clothes by the river and hang them in the sun to dry afterward.
During the planting season, my mom would work with her parents planting rice, which was the main crop grown in China and was eaten as a staple food by the Chinese people. During the harvest season, she would help her parents harvest the crop and separate the grains from the rest of the rice plants. Throughout the year, my mom maintained her family’s vegetable garden, making sure to water the vegetables daily and taking out the weeds often. Although she did not get to decide the kinds of vegetables that would be planted, she still enjoyed planting and taking care of the vegetables, treating them as if they were her own little babies.
After immigrating to the United States, my mom’s love for gardening increased. Living in an urban area doesn’t stop her from turning her backyard into a vegetable garden. Every year, my mom plants all kinds of vegetables, with winter-melon being her favorite and the most common. She exchanges seeds with her friends to make sure she has a variety of crops in her garden. She often saves seeds from the harvested plants to be used in the upcoming years. Sometimes, she requests seeds to be sent from China. Other times, she buys seeds from the grocery stores in Chinatown. For my mom, having a vegetable garden in her backyard is like having the best part of her homeland in her backyard. Her garden comforts her and eases her fear of living in a foreign country, where she doesn’t understand the American customs or speak the American language. It serves as a temporary escape from reality by teleporting her spirit to a peaceful world, where she can simply be herself and do what she loves without worrying about troubles at work or the difficulty in satisfying her family’s needs.
Aside from gardening, my mom enjoys doing almost everything else by hands or by feet. Whether it is going to work or running errands to the grocery stores, my mom prefers to walk. Sometimes she carpools with my dad or her co-workers. She doesn’t have a driver’s license and doesn’t see the need for one. She also doesn’t like to take the public transportation, saying that it is unnecessary to spend extra money when her own two feet can simply take her anywhere she wants to go. She hates to rely on others, whether they are people or machines. Although we are living in a city, surrounded with resources and advanced technologies, my mom still prefers to wash clothes by hand and hang them out to dry in the sun. This is her stubborn way of declaring that she can do what machines can do. The only difference is that her work is free while the work done by machines usually come with a price, such as the cost of gas or electricity.
Growing up in a village has taught my mom the importance of manual labor, which never fails to give her a sense of accomplishment every time she completes a task. Her experience has taught her how to rely on herself and take care of others as well as the environment in which she lives. The significance of labor and nature has been ingrained deeply into her mind that she finds it difficult not to continue with the sustainable ways of living that she has grown up practicing. As for me, I grow up learning about the values of labor and nature from my mom. Slowly but consistently, I am putting my knowledge to practice and hope to be half the eco-friendly person that my mother is.