Other Voices: A woman ahead of her time

My mom was a woman who was way ahead of her generation. For a woman born in China in 1914, she was bold to have defied her mother’s desire to play matchmaker for her with a son from a wealthy family. This was definitely not the norm for Chinese girls during her days. She had already met a young man she thought had ambition and drive. She married him, my father, and chose to get a secretarial job to help with the finances.

I was too young to know much about the early years other than my father having to settle his father’s debts before he managed to transition into a shipping business after the war. Once the family finances were secure, my parents made sure that we had a quality education and engaged home tutors in Chinese, calligraphy lessons, plus piano lessons for all the kids and ballet for the girls. My mom took on the task of visiting boarding schools on the East Coast before sending my brother and me to prep schools.

My younger sisters went to an American private school in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Eventually all of them, except Loretta, went to college in the U.S. and earned professional degrees. Loretta married her sweetheart in Brazil soon after graduating from high school. She went to the University of Sao Paulo, which must have been a difficult transition, as she went through an American high school program where all the subjects were taught in English. Loretta was smart, and with her determination, she made it through the Brazilian university and earned her degree after her children were grown. My sister told the story that on the first day of college when she entered the classroom, all the students stood up, thinking she was the professor.

As we moved to Brazil after the communist takeover of China in 1949, my parents helped many relatives emigrate from Shanghai to Brazil. In Brazil, my parents paid the tuition for many of the relatives’ children, especially Dad’s nephew, George, who lost his father when he was very young. George and his mother emigrated with us to Brazil, and he was sent to prep school and college in the U.S. Mom was even the matchmaker for George and found him the love of his life, Wilma.

Mom was truly avant-garde, as she came up with the idea of carrying a pillow in the car as a passenger so that in case of a car accident, she would be protected. This was decades before Detroit installed air bags in cars. She had impeccable taste; even though she never had interior decorating lessons, our home was tastefully furnished. She had natural instincts for selecting beautiful fabrics, jewelry design and fashion.

I owe everything to my mom for who I am. Looking back, the piano and ballet lessons have long-term benefits. As I age, playing the piano keeps my fingers from getting arthritis and provides mental stimulation, pleasure and an emotional outlet. Ballet lessons instilled in me an appreciation for ballet and dance. Ballet seems to make it easy for me to pick up other dances.

My mom was always conscious about healthy eating, and I have developed similar interests. I have written a cookbook, “Easy ‘n Healthy Cooking,” and I am now creating nutritionally healthy recipes for seniors with supplements and natural foods that are good for the skin, hair and digestive and circulatory systems.

Educating a child is equivalent to educating a family. So I have to pay tribute to my mom, who spared no expense in giving me the best educational opportunities, which have greatly enriched my life. I owe everything I am today to my mom. In turn, my husband and I try to provide the best education for our children with the expectation that they will pass on the same tradition. Education is the best investment and gift we can give our children – a good upbringing, a profession and a taste to enjoy the finer things of life.

Diana Chan is a published author and Los Altos Hills resident.

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