May 8, 2019

Families, Reimagined: "What do you call....?" by Christina Tran

In celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we are proud to launch our "Families, Reimagined" art series! Organizations like APANO have long recognized the diversity of families and have been working to expand definitions of family in legislative policy. To explore this expansive notion further, we commissioned six artists to create original artwork responding to changing definitions of home, family, and community. Our first piece of original writing comes from artist Christina Tran. Read on and join us in celebrating Asian and Pacific Islander artists.

"What do you call....?"

I tell a friend that I’m going back to my hometown of Houston for a wedding.

“Who’s getting married?” they want to know.

…What do you call Nancy, a person you’ve known literally their entire life because your parents were friends before either of you were born…?

After a beat, I settle on “someone I grew up with.”


When we arrive at the church, Nancy’s mom greets me by asking when I’m getting married and then ushers me inside the chapel to say hello to another family we know. We catch the wedding party heading out of the courtyard for pre-ceremony photos, and there are some brief hellos and introductions.

One of the groomsmen asks me, “How do you know the bride?”

…What do you call Nancy, someone with whom you shared 18 years worth of Sundays: dim sum lunches and Sunday night dinners and playing games upstairs while the parents gossiped downstairs, every single week, without fail…?

“We’re family friends,” I say.


That evening, we all convene again in the part of town where we grew up. Half the restaurant is curtained off for the big Chinese wedding banquet, and the ten-course set-menu is the same — sharkfin soup, garlic butter lobster, peking duck, fried rice, wedding cake — the same as the countless celebrations our parents had been invited to within our extended community throughout the years.

To kick off the meal, an emcee honors the family of the newlyweds by announcing their names and where they have traveled from. As he acknowledges each part of the family tree, a cluster of people half-stand and smile-wave to the crowd. I do not have to stand and wave; as chosen family, I am merely another guest.

Over dinner, I turn around to strike up conversation with the table full of work colleagues, fishing for stories about Nancy.

“She’s quiet. And a hard worker,” one of them tells me before asking, “But how do you know her?”

…What do you call Nancy, daughter of those aunties and uncles whom your parents chose for you, when war meant being two generations removed from homeland; when refugee camps dispersed blood relations across Germany, Canada, America, Taiwan, Vietnam, and China; when diaspora meant shared-language and similar-story were reason enough to go ahead and raise your kids together in this new land of Texas…?

...What do you call Nancy?

The simplest answer is: “We’re family.”

Christina Tran makes tender, autobio comics and essays that pull us toward a more compassionate world. She has been making webcomics since 2014 and self-publishing zines since 2015. Her artmaking is influenced by her backgrounds in design, teaching, and community work. Find her online or in-person at the renegade community art space called Mt. Caz.

Artwork by Ameya Marie

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