There are probably very many reasons my parents would give for uprooting our family from the southern crawl of Oklahoma to the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the East Coast, specifically to the Connecticut suburb of Westport, and I am thankful for every single one of them. A better job market, the proximity to New York City, and filial piety all seemed to play a part, but I’m pretty sure my paternal grandmother’s presence there was the determining factor.
I flew to John F. Kennedy Airport with my mother and my toddler brother, David. My father had decided to drive a U-Haul truck the whole distance with a family friend so we wouldn’t have to pay a moving company ourselves. It wasn’t that hard to pull off. My family hadn’t accumulated that much stuff at that point in our lives. I remember arriving in Connecticut to the welcoming arms of strange relatives I’d never seen before and anxiously awaiting for my father to arrive with more familiar furniture. For some unbeknownst reason, I remember a very palpable fear regarding his safe reunion with the rest of his family.
The only family I had known before was the Bible study group in Edmond that I had grown up a part of. My parents may have taken me back to Taiwan when I was younger to see my maternal grandparents and other relatives, but if this had happened, it was at too young an age to have created any sort of lasting impression.
All of a sudden I was being thrust into a familial structure foreign to me. What was the hierarchy here? Who was the top dog? How exactly am I related to these people? It was quite overwhelming for a mere five year old boy. So many new faces were presented to me at one time, but I could always take comfort in the crinkled and affectionate gaze of my grandmother.
To call Westport, Connecticut a mere suburb would be an understatement. It is not the classic image of the suburb one might get when imagining white picket fences and cookie-cutter houses, mainly because of the lingering influence of ‘old’ (or settled) nouveau riche in the area. In fact, F. Scott Fitzgerald had lived in Westport, Connecticut at one point in his career and had loosely based the classic novel, The Great Gatsby, on the life he experienced in the small town off the Long Island Sound. Westport gained some more notoriety when Ricky and Lucy of I Love Lucy moved to Westport in their attempt to flee the rigors of city life and fall back on a lifestyle they considered to be synonymous with classic suburban living. Residents of Westport never fail to mention that Martha Stewart, a woman that has become almost a national emblem of all things suburban, has a residence in Westport (in fact, she was placed under house arrest at this residence during that whole insider-trading fiasco in 2005) and that she’s not really all that nice of a person – an interesting insight into the repressed reality of the modern suburban existence.
Every house in Westport is different. Different shapes, different styles, different colors, different acreage, and even different mailboxes. The town is about history, and every house has a different and unique story. Westport had been the point of entry for the British in their invasion of Danbury during the Revolutionary War, and to me, it always seemed like Paul Revere’s hoofbeats were still echoing in the archaic streets of Westport. With about as rich a history as one can get in the United States, there was a lot of pride to be had in living in Westport, Connecticut. Unfortunately, such pride can only be underscored by exclusivity and internalized racism, which I would experience firsthand for myself soon enough.