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Chinese American Students Discover Their Roots in China

Roots 2015 Tour
Roots 2015 Tour

By Louis Chan
AsAmNews National Correspondent

Ellis Luk knew very little about her family’s history or ancestral village. As she put it, “knowing the history of my family beyond my grandparents was something that was a mystery to me.”

That changed for the second generation Chinese American following her yearlong participation in Roots: Him Mark Lai Family History Project.

Luk was one of 11 interns who together visited ancestral villages and historical sites in the Pearl River Delta 珠江三角洲 and Chaoshan region 潮汕, and experienced the diverse food, culture, and languages of those areas of Guangdong.

The trip to her family’s village in China had a deep impact on her.

“I had visited my maternal grandparents’ village once when I was much younger, though I do not remember anything from that visit,” she said to AsAmNews. “Being there, many years later when I’m more self-aware, allowed me to peek into my ancestors’ history, what’s left of it, and bond with my granduncles and grandaunts who still live there. I got confirmation that my maternal grandparents were from the same village, and that I had a maternal great grandmother (on my grandfather’s side) that I wasn’t aware was still alive until 2010.”

Luk’s journey to discover her family history began in the San Francisco Bay Area even before the two week trip to China. The group visited the National Archives, the Angel Island Immigration Station and participated in various seminars on Chinese history and the Chinese American community.

Luk’s discovery then continued after the China trip. She compiled her family tree, wrote essays about her experience and prepared an exhibition and presentation.

“My family history research for the Roots program consisted mostly of learning some oral history from my mother, who also helped relay some stories from
my maternal grandfather,” she said. “I also had my parents help vet the names of relatives from their generation for my family tree.”

She said having these conversations with her mother together with the seminars on China history helped her draw parallels and connections between her family and what was happening in American and Chinese history. Luk’s maternal grandfather was formerly a chemistry professor before the Cultural Revolution and was later sent to a labor camp for being a scholar. After being released, he moved his family to Hong Kong where he worked in various jobs such as shoe and watch repair and his wife worked in a department store.

Roots 2015“Rather than seeing the last 100 years of history as unrelated events to me, I’m now viewing those types of events as circumstances that also affected my family. Being Chinese is a big aspect of my life in terms of customs, values, and mindset.”


Luk along with the other Roots interns from 2015 will share their experiences in a free presentation and multi-media slide show Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton San Francisco Financial District, 750 Kearny Street. The presentation is free.

Luk would recommend the trip to anyone interested in their family’s history.

“You don’t know what you don’t know about your family history. This program opened up opportunities for me to hold these types of conversations with my mother (and indirectly, my grandfather). Although she seemed more reserved about why I wanted to know these stories, she still shared a side of their lives I would not have known otherwise.”

(AsAmNews is an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. You can show your support by liking our Facebook page at  www.facebook.com/asamnews, following us on Twitter and sharing our stories.)


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