Searching for my Chinese grandmother through Jewelry

I have two pictures of my grandmother, Loy Tee. When I look at them, I so clearly see myself in her face, yet I never knew her. The only things I have of her are these photos and stories from my father. She died in Bangkok of a minor infection when my dad was 8 years old. I often wonder if I had a chance to meet her, what treasures would she have passed down to me? Perhaps a beloved piece of jewelry I would never take off until I was ready to give it to my own children?

As the second-generation owner of a sustainable jewelry company, the relevance of the pieces we make is a constant consideration. Where are they in 5 years? 20 years? Have we made jewelry that people keep and wear every day for decades, or disposable pieces that break and end up in a landfill? Are we making future treasured pieces?

As the rise in violence against Asian Americans continued to grow this spring, I felt hopeless and in search for relevant ways to show my support. I felt compelled to use my voice and resources for action.

From the connection I was looking for to my grandmother, and an urgency to do something for my own community, I wanted to create a collection that represented the pride I have as an Asian American. I began with the gemstones, and discovered that my dad had sourced beautiful green stones decades ago — jade, agate, and aventurine — that he never had the chance to use. I dusted off the old boxes and started to research their symbolism in Chinese culture.

I learned that my grandmother wore a dark green agate necklace, a stone that symbolizes courage and confidence. I thought about the courage she needed to immigrate from China to Thailand as a young woman. The agate we found for this collection is in a bi-disc shape, which, in Chinese culture represents the endless circle of life and longevity. It felt like such a natural tribute to her, and I now wear the necklace designed in her honor, knowing that she has always been here for me.

Pictured: Loy Tee with her husband and daughter and the Assurance Agate Pendant designed for Loy Tee

I now wish I had the courage to search for her earlier, but I recognize that growing up in America, I have always wrestled with complicated feelings about my Asian heritage. I come from three distinct and mixed Asian backgrounds — Chinese, Thai, and Japanese — and I have struggled to find my place in each of them. But when I just focus on honoring Loy Tee, and having pride in my heritage, I feel my grandmother’s love and that trumps all my other doubts and fears.

Pictured: The author with her daughters wearing the Assurance Agate Pendant

My hope for this collection is that as much as it stands as a tribute to the past, it stands as a call to action for the future. A call to let the love for our immigrant parents, grandparents, and great grandparents drown out messages of racism and violent acts against our community, especially our elders. A call to love what makes us different and unique and to advocate for other underrepresented voices within and beyond our AAPI community.

Pictured: The author’s mom in kimono before she left for America and the Harmony Jade Pendant

I speak up today to share a piece of my family’s story because it matters. Creating things for those who have felt underrepresented, and unable to express who they truly are is the very heart of what we care about. Today I encourage others who like me, have struggled to believe that their story matters, to share their stories too.

Pictured: The author’s parents with friends in Seattle and the Opportunity Aventurine Pendant

Through the end of May, Boma will donate 100% of profits from the Treasured Collection to the AAPI Community Fund. The AAPI Community fund aims to address the urgent issues that face the AAPI community as well as broader, systemic problems. Donations are collected through GoFundMe.org and grants are issued to trusted AAPI organizations working to rectify the racial inequalities in our society. To make a direct donation visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-aapi-community-fund

The Treasured Collection is available for pre-order at: https://www.bomajewelry.com/pages/the-treasured-collection

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