(Original Title: A Change in Direction: Bringing the Ancestors Home)
For the Chinese, the exchanges between the living and the dead represent a reciprocal relationship. Through the presentation of food and other observances, the descendants hope to insure a good life for themselves in the form of wealth, health, good harvest, and offspring.
Historically, it was the wish of most Chinese who came to this country for work in the gold fields, railroad construction, farms, or other jobs, to be buried in the homeland. As far back as the Gold Rush and well into the 1930s and even later, literally tens of thousands of individuals who were buried in temporary graves throughout the west were regularly disinterred and the remains shipped back to the native villages. The total will never be known. From Sacramento alone, the bones of 1,200 Chinese railroad workers were sent home in 1870, and it is estimated that the bones of 10,000 individuals left the United States in 1913. As late as 1937, the remains of 850 Chinese were disinterred from a single cemetery in Los Angeles. Women, infants, and victims of violence were less apt to be removed.
In years past, part of the yearning for return to the ancestral land resulted from the prejudice, isolation, and hostility experienced in America. In recent years, the...