Talking about the Roots Plus Program

by Rev. Norman Fong

December 17, 2018

norman fong

In this article, I asked the leaders of the Roots program to explain the program they created to bring us Chinatown folks to China's villages. Here's what they said:

What is Roots Plus about?
Imagine yourself standing on the village rice fields in China where your grandparents worked the soil, or maybe sitting on the bed in the ancestral home where your parent was born. Now, imagine how you might feel as you meet people from your village family welcoming you “home” to where your ancestors are from. That's what 37 participants experienced this year at the culmination of months of research, conversations with family members, visits to the National Archives, collecting letters, photos, and other family documents, visiting old family grave sites, attending group meetings, and trying to figure out how the myriad puzzle pieces of our complex family history and genealogy fit together. The road to identifying and confirming our ancestral village can be complicated surnames on official records may not be consistent with actual surnames having used identities procured from somebody else, Chinese surnames written in English can be associated with a number of different but similar sounding Chinese surnames, some of our parents may have been adopted—everybody’s family has a story. But with persistent perseverance, patience, prayer, and a bit of luck, and undoubtedly some inexplicable assistance from our smiling ancestors, this year’s Roots Plus visits was rewarded with phenomenal success!

Who are the Roots Plus participants?
Roots plus participants can be individuals, family members, groups of friends, or some combination of all of the above. The typical age range varies by group as well and ranges from late twenties or thirty something through early eighties, and we’re a geographically diverse group too, coming from all over the United States, Canada, and even from Hong Kong. Some are fluent in Chinese, and some speak little or none at all.

The common denominator is a shared curiosity about their Chinese roots, their family history, a desire to learn more, and receptivity to being an active participant in an exploratory adventure.

roots plus program

roots plus program

roots plus program

What is the trip like?
While each trip is different because every village is different and the people on each trip bring unique life experiences and stories, there are common threads that seem to emerge on all trips. Our trips are an exploration into family ties and self discovery, and out of the mutual support that participants provide to each other at each person’s village, there is a bonding that comes from the shared understanding and appreciation of a deeply personal experience. The ongoing connections and friendships deepen long after the trips end!

The details of our trips are coordinated with an organization in China that we have been working with for years. They assist us in contacting and working with the local government officials, village leaders, and on research help that is often needed on the China side. The trip itself includes visits to historically and culturally significant in addition to ancestral villages. This year’s trip highlights Included visits to a famous martial arts school where we were treated to an amazing demonstration, the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, the Overseas Chinese Museum, and the Canton Tower. When we visit your village, other participants handle logistics, video and picture taking so that you can concentrate on the visit itself...meeting and talking with village leaders and any close or distant family members in the village, looking at the genealogy record if there is one, seeing the family home, if known, paying respects at family or village hall, exchanging photos, etc. The time passes quickly, but once these connections are made, it’s clear that you can come back and visit again. Hugs, handshakes, zai jian!

roots plus program

roots plus program

What next?
We see the trip as a step in one’s quest to a deeper understanding of self and family. It is about the connections that we all share and about where we come from; it is about our rich history as well as the hardships and sacrifices of those who came before us. It is about the proud sense of community that we see in our villages; it is about the community and connections that we want in our own lives, and as we stand on our village ground, understanding where that feeling comes from. And for that, we have much gratitude. It takes time to process the impact from the Roots Plus experience, and for each individual that evolutionary process and its pace will be unique, and hence the next steps that each person takes are likely to be different. Some participants have connected with close relatives that they had lost contact with, and have renewed those relationships; some discovered relatives that they met as children or recognized from photos, and have expanded their “extended” families, others have arranged for larger generational visits back to their villages after their personal Roots Plus visit, others have gone back on second and third visits. The universal sense is that each of us is touched in significant ways by our quest, and our lives are enriched by the experience.

Why do you volunteer your time to Roots Plus?
As volunteers, we derive great satisfaction and joy in our participants’ discoveries. We celebrate their perseverance and successes and are profoundly moved when their journeys take them to places, people and understanding that they had envisioned as only remotely possible. Some participants are our peers, colleagues, friends or even family members, and when this happens, as leaders, we are grateful to be invited to share and be part of their experience. On this trip, some of the 37 members, we met for the first time, others we have known for years and had the chance to deepen those relationships, some included reconnections after more than 50 years—for all of us, the trip will be one of memories that will be treasured forever. Interested in finding out more? Roots Plus Is a program of the Him Mark Lai Family History Project. For more information on the program go to

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on December 16, 2018

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