Cover Photo: Photograph of an embroidery panel created by the author's grandmother, featuring a young woman feeding birds, surrounded by flowering plants; the face of the young woman is taken from an old photograph of the author's grandmother
Photograph courtesy of the author

Searching for Family History in My Grandmother’s Embroidery

Together, the photograph and the needlework clearly told a story, one beyond any we knew.

This is Invisible History, a column in which Lauren Alwan chronicles family stories of heritage and belonging and the complexities of her bicultural experience.

Photograph of embroidery panel courtesy of the author

My sister, my cousin, and I were also familiar with her embroidery. In our grandparents’ ranging Spanish house in Los Angeles, the only object that hung on the wall in the living room was an embroidered panel she’d made when she and my grandfather were first engaged. His sepia plate portrait was set at the center of a large silk panel embroidered with entwined leaves and garnet-colored flowers. Its prominent place was a testament to our grandfather, the family patriarch, as much as it was our grandmother’s brief but extraordinary practice of embroidery.

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Zemberekçi family in Constantinople, c. 1919 / Photograph courtesy of the author

Fausya Alwan in Brooklyn, c. 1925 / Photograph courtesy of the author

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There’s no life here for youGo to New York

Fausya Alwan on her wedding day, June 1921 / Photograph courtesy of the author

No one told me what marriage was likeHe was good to me. Always kind, always doing things for me. I couldn’t hate him

Fiction and essays in the O. Henry Prize Stories 2018, The Southern Review, ZYZZYVA  (Notable, Best American Essays 2016), Alaska Quarterly Review, StoryQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, The Rumpus, The Millions, Nimrod International, and others.  Prose editor at the museum of americana, staff contributor @LitStack. www.laurenalwan.com