Worm tales: A Childhood Story from Helena Wong

By Bilha Fish

How do I tell my granddaughter that the silk blouse I gave her was made by a worm? I didn’t even remember that fact myself until I interviewed Helena about her life story for my book. Among other things, she told me about the year she worked on a silkworm farm when she was a little girl.


So I made up this story based a little on what Helena told me and a lot on what I imagined. Here it is:


I am only 7 years old but I speak Portuguese fluently because that is the language spoken in Brazil. My parents are Chinese, so naturally I look like them. I am short and my eyes are slanted so people who meet me think I am Chinese as well, but the truth is that I am Brazilian because I was born in Brazil. It may be confusing to some people but not to me. Even grown-ups don’t get it; they judge me by my looks.


My Chinese parents can only speak Chinese so I feel important in my household because I have an important job as a translator. Grown-ups get paid for this, but how can I charge my parents? Beside that, I also help them in their store because I happened to be good in math. I calculate all the money that come ins, which makes me an accountant.


My mother often says to me:


“Helena, you are so smart, you must concentrate on your studies. Paying for your school is the most important gift your father and I can give you.”


Sometimes I wish my parents would get me different kinds of gifts like beautiful dresses and fancy toys. But because we are poor I figured that it is not to be. So I found my own way to have fun with my girlfriends.


Occasionally, I secretly listen to my parents’ conversation. They complain how difficult it is for them to adjust being immigrants in a country that is not their own.


I do not feel this way. Brazil is the only country I know. I made many friends in school. In fact, my friend Laura and I are inseparable. We have sleepovers and, dressed in pajamas, we make up stories and confess dreams. She is the only one who knows that I would like to be a doctor when I grow up.


She actually thinks that I am pretty even though I do not look Brazilian.


I believe that it is easier for me to make friends because I am a good student.


One day a wonderful surprise came on my way when my parents decided to work in a silk farm and volunteered me to help.


I must admit that not many children have the opportunity to be introduced to these creatures. Thousands of them! I feed them mulberry leaves and watch them develop into butterflies. I think that they are more special than us humans because while we experience only one life, the silkworms have four lives.


I love to follow their transformation from eggs to cocoons as I am waiting for the worms to burst out of their silk blankets that they made for themselves in order to keep protected and warm – this is very smart and requires hard work. No wonder they are tired for a while and then the wings show up and off they fly (except that many of them go to “sleep” after leaving their silk cover).


My parents got me a beautiful purple silk dress for my birthday. I think it is from the worms!


I learned a lot watching the lives of the silkworms. First, they are adventurous: who else would dare experience different situations in life and move from one ‘state’ to another to improve their lives. (This reminds me of my immigrant parents.) The other lesson is to be creative, work hard, and enjoy giving.


P.S Helena grew up to become am American immigrant. She graduated from Wharton’s business school and is known as one of the most accomplished Americans women entrepreneurs.