Thursday, January 2, 2020

#52. 'Ming Ho / Munn Haw (Beatrice)'. 77" x 77". Chinese brush painting, Japanese folklore, and Hawaiian flora designs. I knew mom as 'Beatrice' all my life. She was in her 90's when I took her to get a state ID. Only then did I find she was born 'Munn Haw' (Cantonese) and changed her name to 'Ming Ho' (Mandarin) when she married. In elementary school she was told to go home and come back with an English name. (1920's Territory of Hawaii.) NFS


It was serendipity to return from seeing Li Huayi paintings at the Honolulu Art Museum and find among my hoard of fabrics a cloth decorated with prints of Chinese brush paintings. How it got to me in the mid-west I haven't a clue. It was printed in Honolulu too. 

'Munn Haw' (Cantonese), 'Ming Ho' (Mandarin) each translate to 'Day & Night' or 'Sun & Moon', poetically meaning 'Bright'. Add one more character for 'River' and it refers to the Milky Way. 

Ming Ho

Munn Haw


                          I thought I knew Mom’s name. 

Mom and Dad, (with dementia), no longer had current driver licenses and needed State IDs. I thought we might have trouble taking them to apply for Dad's, but it was Mom who had difficulties. The name on her social security card didn’t match her old drivers license, or her birth certificate. The clerk sent us to get her marriage certificate from another office, perhaps that would help, but that brought into play a third name! Apparently, when she started school in the 1920’s it meant being told to come back with an English name. The teachers (haoles/caucasians) couldn't handle all these "foreign" names. Mom was given a Cantonese name of 'Munn Haw' which is recorded on her birth certificate in 1918. She changed her name to ‘Ming Ho’ when she got married. (Why mom, why?! Because it's prettier...) But everyone knows her as Beatrice, her English school girl name. The trick was to come up with an ID that would match her signature of all these years and satisfy all these documents.  


Everyone has layers of identity. Mom could dress up in a silky red cheong sam for a night out and be Ming Ho, while also be Beatrice in a floral Hawaiian print dress as a Kindergarten teacher. Ming Ho / Munn Haw / Beatrice...she will always be Mom to me.