My roots and a red dress

When I was young, my mom gifted me a beautiful red traditional Chinese dress, called a qipao. Qipaos are of Manchu origin and are typically slim-fitting with a high neckline and have intricate designs woven in. I wore mine everywhere: to formal dinners, holiday gatherings, other special occasions, and I even threw it on to strut down our long hallway (starting the trend of borrowing my mom's clothes from a young age). My dramatic walks down the runway were a weekly occurrence.

Until they weren't.

One day my mom was dressing me for a fancy dinner, expecting me to wear my usual. To her surprise I quipped, "I don't want to wear this anymore," with my hands on my hips. I was 5 going on 15. I remember the rush of negative thoughts that filled my mind like a sudden storm rolling in. Why couldn't I wear what others were wearing? Gone were the days of pride, confidence and love for my qipao. My mom moved onto another outfit, likely with some lingering sadness.

The recent Lunar New Year brought back a flood of happy memories regarding my Asian heritage. I can picture my siblings and I making dumplings in the kitchen, visiting my cousins in China, and learning about my grandma escaping just ahead of the Communist takeover. I am immensely proud of where I come from, a far cry from my shy 5-year-old self. When thinking about my relationship with my Nai Nai, I can't help but think back to my silk qipao and its intricate stitches. I can't help but feel that these stitches represent the threads that bind us so tightly together and represent all the love I have for her.

If I am fortunate enough to have a daughter one day, I want to give her a qipao to wear around as long as she'd like. I hope that she learns about the power of accepting who you are and carrying both family and ethnic pride. I think the Lunar New Year served as an important reminder to me in this respect. I tell myself I have great fu, or fortune in English, to be my grandma's granddaughter.

What is your family's red dress?

- Isabella Terry, a senior at Hinsdale Central High School, is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].