The idea of true love lies within the memories of those you truly were close to, who surrounded you in life and in death continue to celebrate the beauty you’ve left behind. For our latest featured face of the past, there is more than just a glowing smile and children and grandchildren proudly beside her. For Jeffrey Wang, the face of his late grandmother can only remind him of the strength and joy she maintained for her family in light of the obstacles.
Pearl Wang is that face for which her family forever admires as being a beacon of true hope and determination. “My grandmother once told me that the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality,” Jeff Wang recalls. “Even in her darkest and most hopeless days, she found the strength to find and cling to any reason for living. For my grandmother, it was her children that forged meaning and gave her purpose. Where there is love, there is life.” The life she found with her husband, in post-war Taiwan, never strayed away from their passions and devotion to each other, even in the face of differences in their social status and the unseen death of Pearl’s husband in a motorcycle accident, just 7 years after their marriage.
Born in 1932, the Taiwan that Pearl grew up in was under heavy military Japanese rule. By the time World War II had come to the Pacific the Japanese fervently sought the war effort participation in the country’s own citizens. It was also during the war that the Kōminka movement began, putting into practice the ideals of simulating the Taiwanese into Japanese culture. The harsh reality behind this plan was imperialistic exploitation, providing little opportunities to the Taiwanese who were now reduced to second-class citizens.
When Pearl met her husband, it was a mere chance at a great job for herself working as an assistant in a photographer’s studio, the photographer being her future husband. While he was born into an upper-middle-class family in a southern port city where his father ran a successful fishing business that could afford him to go to school ( a rare privilege for few Taiwanese under Japanese rule), Pearl’s family was less fortunate, her father having died when she was very young, and forcing her to work as a young girl into womanhood to support her mother and two sisters.
Pearl’s husband found joy in his profession as a wedding photographer, perfectly capturing love in a single frame for each of his clients. With him, and Pearl, it was an instant connection, Pearl falling in love with his passion for photography, and he with her passion for life in spite of the hardships she faced. Spending long hours together at work in the studio, it wasn’t before long that the two of them soon started musing about how one day, it would be their own weddings photos that would be shot right there beneath the lights.
He knew she was the one. But it was ultimately convincing his parents to consent to their marriage. Given Pearl’s lower class status, they immediately objected, to which Pearl’s husband boldly– and cleverly– declared,
“If you don’t allow me to marry Pearl, I will never give you grandchildren.”
The next morning, their engagement was announced.
After her husband’s death, Pearl and her children remained with his family, under harsh conditions that she work in servitude to them to which she reluctantly accepted, as there was nowhere else for her and the family to go. To her in-laws, she was seen as “the terrible omen that took their son away.” Depressed, and even at times contemplating suicide, Pearl held on to the strength that had kept her going through her childhood, her many jobs, and now, besides her children who absolutely needed her the most. In such a tragic situation, it’s easy to fall into deep despair and loss of hope, or to take this moment to find inner strength. It was the latter for Pearl, her own woes met with the real challenges of doing what she needed for her family in order to maintain any sense of hope and happiness, especially not in vain for the love of her life she had tragically and unexpectedly lost.
The vitality in Pearl Wang paved the way for the life she continued on for her and her husband, actualizing the dreams of her own son and two daughters, leaving with them memories of a compassionate, selfless woman filled with optimism. It was seen in the colorful dresses she wore, the heavy perfumes she smelled wonderfully of, and the delicious Japanese-inspired dishes she cooked. “I can still hear her jingling jewelry,” Jeff thinks back, “and her deep, infectious laugh.”
Even more than the strong matriarch of the Wangs, Pearl pushed through social taboos surrounding single parents in 20th Century Asia, and the notion that they weren’t allowed to succeed. She persevered, took her fighting chances with the right attitudes and accomplished exactly what she and her husband had in mind for their growing family. By keeping close to heart her children and the memory of her beloved husband, there was nothing stopping Pearl from enjoying the best of life, even at its worst.
As Pearl lives on through her family through these values, so will the beautiful romance that gave way to the proud legacy of the Wang family. “These are rare photos of my late grandmother and grandfather taken shortly after their wedding,” Jeff explains, referring to the rich photos shown here, nothing short of true love and happiness– found a small white envelope underneath a jewelry box in the back of Pearl’s closet, intentionally hidden from the world to see. As a child, Jeff would hear countless stories of the man that swept his grandmother off of her feet, and upon discovering these these photos after her death, he can now encapsulate their pure, unrequited love for one another.
“My grandfather died shortly after these photos were taken. I never had a chance to know him, but I wish I did.”
Photos Courtesy of Jeffrey Wang