She talks about the hardships her grandparents had to face when they first moved to the US and how they created a future for themselves.
Stories of immigrants may be considered inspiring, but they are rather heartbreaking and emotional at the same time. Michelle Jing Chan, an artist and illustrator of children's books, remembers how her grandfather, at 92 years of age, recounted his experience of immigrating to the United States. Although he introduced it as a "funny story," Michelle and her family felt sorrow rather than amusement as they listened to his narrative, per Buzzfeed.
When Michelle enrolled in a comics class, she already had a story in mind that she wanted to share: "My Grandpa's Suits." Her grandfather's life story was the inspiration for the 13-page comic, which went viral online. Through her expressive illustrations, Michelle recounted how her grandfather grew up in Guangzhou, China, where he studied diligently, attended a prestigious university, and worked for the Southern Chinese Agriculture Department, wearing suits every day to work.
He married Michelle's grandmother, and they had three children, one of whom was Michelle's father. However, as famine and limited opportunities loomed, they made the difficult decision to move to Wyoming. Prior to their departure, Michelle's grandfather purchased nicer suits from a tailor in preparation for future job interviews in the US. After arriving in Wyoming, though, the family had to adapt to living in a one-bedroom home and faced discrimination as one of the few Chinese families in the area.
Due to their limited English proficiency, Michelle's grandparents were only able to secure low-paying jobs as dishwashers and cleaners. In a bold move, they eventually invested their savings into a Chinese restaurant and spent the next ten years working 14-hour days. However, Michelle's grandfather's collection of suits remained unworn and forgotten in their closet.
In the comic, Michelle illustrates how her grandfather put his own dreams on hold to support his family's dreams. By making this sacrifice, her grandfather allowed his children and grandchildren to pursue their own dreams. The story culminates with a shift from sepia-toned to colorized panels. Michelle's grandfather is finally seen in these panels wearing his nicer suits to her college graduation, symbolizing the fulfillment of his deferred dream. After finishing the comic, Michelle shared it on her Instagram account aka @michellieart, and it quickly gained popularity. The story resonated with many who not only related to it but also left heartfelt comments, sharing it on various social media platforms, including Facebook and Reddit.
For instance, one user @soakingthesunmh said, "So beautiful!!! This resonates so much [because] I’m an immigrant and it was so hard to live in the US when we first moved here," and another user, @michtd commented, "This is inspirational and a familiar backbone story to many immigrants. More voices like yours should be elevated and shared. Here's to love and sacrifices!"
Michelle said, "I was really blown away. I was very pleasantly surprised and honestly very humbled and touched. I didn't expect so many people from across different cultures and generations and experiences to be able to relate to some of the universal themes and messages in this comic, and that was really special." Michelle had considered writing and illustrating her own graphic novels in the past, but it wasn't until she enrolled in the comics class that she gained the confidence to do so. The positive response to "My Grandpa's Suits" was especially encouraging and motivating for her. Michelle reflected on the power of being an artist, saying that it allows you to share a part of yourself with the world and see the viewers' responses reflected back.
Michelle aimed to communicate through her comic that recognizing one's family's sacrifice is essential, but it also requires humanizing them. It involves acknowledging the dreams, traumas, hopes, and fears that influenced and shaped them. She said, "Our parents and grandparents and ancestors are human, too. Sometimes, we forget they have their own lives and dreams outside of who we know them as."