It’s not a book about Africa, but it’s a keeper. Tea with Milk by Allen Say should be part of every TCK’s library. The pictures are wonderfully emotive, the words delightful, the story one of love and finding home all add up to a great book.
I’ll admit, the first time I read it I thought, “Yeah–that’s good. There are a few good lines in here, but it’s not as good as When Africa Was Home.” Some days I have a hard time embracing non-African artifacts. I know there’s a big world out there. I’m just fond of my corners of it.
My second and subsequent readings have changed my mind. It’s just as good as any book about Africa. Different can be good.
The story centers on a TCK growing up in California. Her parents are Japanese immigrants. They call her Ma-Chan–a nickname for Masako; everyone else calls her May. After she graduates from high school, her parents decide to return to Japan and take her with them. May must attend high school all over again in order to learn both academic Japanese and her “home” culture. Her parents are determined to turn her into a “proper Japanese lady.”
Masako/May finally reacts as almost any young woman reared in America would–she returns to dressing like an American. Then she takes off for a dose of the city. One of my favorite passages comes from this part of the book.
“I’m a foreigner in my parents’ country, she thought. And they came back here because they didn’t want to be foreigners. But I wasn’t born here.”
What a perfect description of being a hidden immigrant in one’s passport country. How accurately Mr. Say captures the tension of a TCK’s concept of home and a TCK’s parent’s concept of home.
Eventually Masako harnesses her TCK superpowers and finds a job that allows her to bridge her cultures. In doing so, she not only finds fulfilling work and a sense of belonging (at least partially), but she also finds love and home with another TCK.
The artwork needs a mention, too. It’s amazing. The book is liberally illustrated with watercolors done by the author. They have a photographic quality with the soft edges of watercolor. They add to the richness of the text.
If you’re looking for a TCK book that focuses on a hidden immigrant, repatriation, and the idea of home, this is what you’re looking for.
Have you read Tea with Milk? What did you think? Keep those book suggestions coming!
book cover jacket as depicted on Barnes & Noble‘s website.