today, tomorrow, 1989

They are on my mind this year more than ever, those students who would have been my age now when they died twenty-two years ago.

Growing up in Hong Kong, I was never sure what to think about that day. Western media simplifies it down to one declaration: they died for democracy. But asking the people who were alive at the time, who were here, who were there, who kept up with everything as events unfolded, is mining a confusion of complexity, a myriad of viewpoints reflecting the uncertainty and the differing opinions of the time. And because the government won’t talk, the only thing I knew was that I didn’t know. For the most part, I still don’t.

I’m not sure what prompted me, but I found myself up until four in the morning last year, reading and searching for answers to something I desperately wanted to comprehend. The internet is not the most reliable source, but then again, what is? Wikipedia is at least a good a starting point as many others, if one cares to take the time and read through all of it. There are still snippets of footage haunting the ‘net. TIME also ran a short article last year that explains and highlights some of the subtleties that typical Western portrayals skip right over. The corruption among petty officials, the economic grievances, the continuing state intervention in daily life.

And then there are the conflicting stories I hear when I ask. About the sympathy and support (including financial) that the students gained from Hong Kong, Taiwan and other overseas Chinese communities. How some student leaders took to leading the high life in rich hotels with the money they received while others went hungry. The filthy conditions the square was in which, being government property, in all likelihood would have incurred the wrath of any country’s government. The divisions, the splits among the students. The hard-line leaders who had lived through the Sino-Japanese war, the civil war, the internal chaos incurred by the Cultural Revolution which had only ended ten years before, military men who knew about sacrificing a few to save the many from descending into turmoil once again. Deals that were made, deals refused. The students who wouldn’t leave. Some of the leaders who chose to escape. The ones who didn’t know they should.

Where does agenda end and truth begin? Is that even the right question? Somewhere in the mess of text and sound are the stories of what happened. I haven’t yet found them.

As I continue my uncertain unearthing this year, I have been reminded more than once how many people suffered and died in the past century alone. They are not remembered. These students are not more special or valuable simply because the world at large sees them standing under the banner of democracy; the others were every bit as important to their families as these students were to theirs. And I do not ever want to think that the others do not bear remembering.

But today and tomorrow, I want to remember these students in particular. As I pay my respects to them, I think of how young they were, how young I am, how much my mother treasures me, how much their mothers grieve for them. How much they all deserve something more than silence.

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