Recap of Part 1
This is the story of a little girl who lost her parents and beloved grandmother in a violent event, and now she can go to sleep only when she imagines her grandmother’s voice singing to her.
In the school where she goes she has a new teacher. In first grade they are learning to read and she knows the English alphabet, so she is not behind. Her parents made sure she would be ready if they could leave their homeland, and she is staying with relatives who are kind, but she still does not know them well.
Her new teacher asks her about her name. “Jia?” she says, and she says it very closely to how it should be said.
Jia, shy, mumbles “You can call me Joanne.” Her real name is Jia An, but her relatives have said that it is better sometimes to have an English name. Joanne is close, for an English name.
“Joanne?” Her teacher frowns. “Hmm. I like the name ‘Jia’ better.” She smiles. “Let’s call you Jia.”
When her teacher says her name, Jia thinks of how her mother used to say her name: Jia An, little flower of peach and beauty. The story of her name goes back to her grandmother. Jia’s parents wanted to honor the grandmother by giving Jia her grandmother’s name. But the grandmother said, no, my name is too common a name. Choose a name that is more beautiful. Her parents decided on Jia An, and in that way they would honor the grandmother.
Jia liked her mother’s name because she thought it meant “courageous.” She wanted to be fierce. But her mother only said, you have a different path from me. Your name means beautiful peace: Jia An. You can be beautiful and be strong.
And now this path has brought her to a classroom in an English-speaking country that her parents longed to be in. Each day her teacher leads the class in learning to read. Each day she calls Jia by her own name, not the English names her cousins use in their classrooms. Gradually Jia discovers that she is good at reading in English, and gradually she reads so much that books are her secret world, a world into which she escapes, a world in which she is safe. In books she can explore the worlds of strange places and new ideas.
Eventually she becomes a writer. She writes stories of traveling across space to visit far-off worlds like the planets of the solar system. Her grandmother’s voice has faded, and instead she falls asleep thinking of the book she is reading, and of the travails of its characters. She never forgets her parents and her grandmother. They are there with her, in her heart.
Dedicated to my friend and neighbor Joanne Ko.