Skip to main content

tv   Qian Wang Beautiful Country - A Memoir  CSPAN  November 28, 2021 9:00pm-10:01pm EST

9:00 pm
the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. after that are memoirs by actors, kal penn you can't be serious, and stanley, taste, my life through food to wrapping up or look at politics and prose bookstore best-selling nonfiction books is journalist steven roberts tribute to the life and career of his late wife cokie roberts. some of these authors have appeared on booktv and you can watch their programs anytime at >> good evening, everyone. it's a good to have you here. for afo very special event produced by doubleday in partnership with three iconic independented bookstores. templars literary foundation associate with kepler books in menlo park. bookshop santa cruz in santa cruz, california, and book soup in west hollywood. thank you to all of you for supporting your local independent bookstore which is probably why you are here.
9:01 pm
i'm and your core, producer and host. tonight a of course were toger to discuss and celebrate "beautiful country" by qian wang will want to be part of the conversation with your questions and comments so here's howat too that. hit the q&a button on your screen, type in your question or comment. one request is youur keep those succinct. the briefer they are the more we can get to your paragraphs not so much, okay? if you're having trouble seeing or hearing as restart your resume and/or your computer and i and i should take care of any problems you're having. let's get right to business here. imagine you never heard of qian wang or "beautiful country" but you're having trouble getting your child an equal shot at education, classes, tuition, whatever. someone point you to her webpage. you see these credentials. you say, this person could be raking in tons of money doing acquisitions or worked with
9:02 pm
multinational corporations. why would she focus on right to education? her entrancing memoir will tell you all you need to know about that. when you've been raised without social security, without any kind of security, when you did teach yourself how to read because you been shuttled off to a special ed class because you're not fluent in english, that kind of inspiration for the rest of your life will let you focus on the rights of others. her father left her and her mother in china for reasons she was much too young to understand at the time. when they reunited in america it was not the recipe for joy or an easy life. it just the opposite. "beautiful country" as much as a memoir is a laying to rest of the painful memories of an agonized childhood. a beautiful read. qian wang, welcome. i'm so glad to be talking to you. . >> that was truly a very touching and moving introduction.
9:03 pm
i'm so grateful to be here and thank you to kepler's and bookshop for organizing this. >> i have to tell you i enjoyed doing book interviews. i don't see anything i don't mean and this is the first book i have written sincehigh school . when i post the cover. so it's the depth of your experience and the bearing of your soul. it's at the one side it's deeply personal obviously. on the other side there is a universality to recognizing need and wants, not at the level you went through in your childhood but at some level we all see as humans this is a child. her life is being diminished, her spirit is being diminished i this situation that she's gone through and you arrived at this point and we see that at the end of the book where you've done a lot
9:04 pm
of processing that, clearly. we're going to talk about that whole process but i wonder in retrospect when you look at that do you still feel resentment for that deprivation? do you still feel anger at your parents having periodically deserted you emotionally or have you reached the point where you moved on? >> i want to apologize for having made youcry . that is high praise. sorry to put you through that and to answer your question, i do not feel resentment. what i do get angry about is that it continues to happen. i see it in my current clients. that makes me deeply angry, deeply resentful but i am not angry at my parents. i'm not angry about things that happened to me because as you say, the magic of
9:05 pm
therapy has helped me heal that. i will always have those scars but i have healed that open wound and move forward and i am deeply cognizant of all my immense privileges thathelped me get past it . my parents were extremely educated before we found ourselves in undocumented and impoverished. i'm the road to the goal which is a huge privilege most people don't really talk about or acknowledge. there were many things that were on my side and helped me get out of those circumstances, not the least of which was having a strong and wise mother told me it was temporary and that i could do anything i wanted. those are all privileges that helped me move things forward which is why it makes me resentful and angry when i hear people hold up my example as evidence that the american dream is for everyone, that anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. that's simply not true. i am deeply privileged and i
9:06 pm
wanted to acknowledge that at the very outset. >> it's one thing to be able to tell yourself when we read about you, a baby kid working in a sweatshop and that you did have to bring yourself up through deprivation and through a school institution that to some extent through you away for a good period of your education . there's something about that that what makes us want to say thank god that's not happening anymore. it is so it's too easy to close the cover on that and say it's a good thing julie got through that and it's not happening to anyone else. i want to start with that departure from china. tell us not only why you had to go first, you followed your dad with your mom and tell me about what you thought as a child, what did you understand about why you were going?
9:07 pm
>> we had to leave because my father grew up in the cultural revolution being marked as a dissident and hence the trader really for what my uncle who was in 18, my father being six or seven years old. my uncle wrote at a very young age. for those not familiar with chinese history, the cultural revolution is a period of 10 years through 1976 when chairman mao reached extreme upheaval and encouraged citizens to revoltagainst intellectual professors, scholars, writers . my uncle was then in the age group that was most mobilized bychairman mao . chairman mao formed kind of an ad hoc affiliate army called the red guard of teenagers who were idealistic and believed in this mission of communism that china now spread. my uncle who always loved
9:08 pm
reading banned books, looking at things critically from a young age so he wrote a paper calling upon his peers to think closely about what they were doing and persecuting their teachers, their principles, sometimes their own parents at the past of the government that at its core didn't really care about its citizens or it wouldn't do this to anybody in its country. it was quickly determined that my uncle was the one who wrote this paper and spread it around so my uncle was imprisoned , starved and tortured and my father spent his whole childhood being persecuted for being from a dissidents family. his earliest members are of my grandparents dragged out to the town square publicly beaten. against all odds my father made it out and became an english literature director
9:09 pm
because he loved the social criticism that authors like dickens and mark twain reflected upon in their writing. but in his classrooms he quickly realized he was still controlled by the government and very much subject to censorship so when i was around five years old my parents decided it was better if he left and he had stars in his eyes when he thought about america. this was the land of freedom of speech and civic engagement and there was nowhere else he would have wanted to go. so he left and we didn't know how long it would be. i was five years old and time came around when i was seven and my mother was growing desperate and worried that he was not going to come back so we followed at that point. when i left as with any child i guess i had no real sense of how long it would be for
9:10 pm
how permanent it was. my parents didn't really know either. all i cared about was i had to lock up my bike and say goodbye to my hands and uncles and grandmas and grandpas and my friends. and go to this strange world where we had no real sense of what it was. and china back then in the early to mid 90s, it was limited information about the last. there were stories about people being starved on the streets the stories about gold being found everywhere. and i didn't really understand what to expect, only that my mother desperately wanting to reunite with my father. i at that point had forgotten really what you look like. so it seems like well, if my dad is there and he's been therefor two years it can't be that bad . so yes, i followed my mother on that leap of faith and on that journey towards what she
9:11 pm
left i'm going to jump over to a question from barbara because it may have bearing on the rest of our conversation. she notes that you she wants to know what that means and how that did that have bearing on your experience at that conversation? >> it was particularly relevant because when my school kind of consigns me to a room for students with disabilities, and i was i would say it was an extremely overwhelmed young teacher who had many with many different needs to attend to i was left alone and because i was neuro- typical which means my brain functions in the way that mainstream society portrays human brains to function, if i have a bad day i can sleep and wake up and be happy. i can process words and images and speech readily. it was all of those abilities gave me the capacity to sit
9:12 pm
there with book after book and press the buttons that had a star on it and said star. i had the power to process and understand both, this is in the shape of the star and the word isáso apparently this is the english word for seeing in chinese. that was how i taught myself english. short of those neuro- typical elements, i would not have learned english. i would have floundered. i would have been in that classroom for the rest of my schooling days. i never would have found the power of storytelling, the power of narrative and felt that agency that i could pull myself up through this society that didn't seem to want me at all. >> two things about the writing i should mention at this point. it was a joy to both read and hear the book because you've
9:13 pm
got an undiscovered acting jean, i don't know ifyou know. i do voiceovers. not all authors should be reading their books . it is not all authors should read their own books and you have the acting jean in there. when i'm here you talk about your childhood, you not only have the language of the child you have the read and there's one point where you hear that child's voice, using the word but like five times in oneparagraph and you emphasize it just like a little kid . the way a little kid would. i wonder how much of that is conscious. not so much in the reading but in that writing to keep the child's voice going as well as the narrative about the child. >> experience of recording the audiobook taught me audiobook narrators, actors and actresses , anyone in the industry is not paid nearly enough.
9:14 pm
it is exhausting to be sitting in the booth and recording for eight hours at a time . it was a lot and i was thankful i have an amazing director who was an actress and kind of coached me the first day and then i was able to pick it up as we went. but it was not conscious at all in terms of the speech. when i was narrating the audiobook i just went back into that memory so it's natural for me to channel little chad and in terms of writing the passages and the experiences, it was very much similar to my experiences with therapy where i had to go back in my memory and let that little child feel for the first time the excitement, the sadness, the fear, joy that maybe she did not have the safety to feel at thetime .
9:15 pm
>> one that came across well was the joyous relationship you had with your mom before all these changes . your parents teamed to take such a delight in you and vice versa and when their crust into the situation of having these to grasp for every penny and find every food to feed you it's understandable that everything goes to hell in terms of maintaining a healthy child relationship. it's kind of near tragic. what was this like for you to revisit that? >> it made me appreciate i knew what it was like to experience all that through my parents i read the act of writing this book necessarily required me to emphasize with my parents and step into their shoes while simultaneously holding my childhood truth as they were. so i was able to both recognize okay little jan, you were hungry. your parents were not the
9:16 pm
nicest at are completely valid in feeling all these things but your parents are only in their early 30s. they were never could have anticipated being in this situation much less as a very young child, what would you have done in this situation. when you were younger in your early 30s? and it just made me feel they really truly. we say this a lot about parents. they do the best they can they truly were doing the best they could and yes they fell short sometimes. but what parent doesn't. >> it was interesting to watch you develop as a whole person which any child would do at that age . part of what you were adjusting was american pop culture and you learned from watching the simpsons. you enjoy them, the funny looking people, you liked watching them but at the same time you were seeing the white gays, you are learning your eyes lookedfunny .
9:17 pm
tell me about takingthat in . >> it felt like i had stepped into an alternate universe. seeing the simpsons and how asian characters were depicted with plenty eyes and sometimes weird voices, i have never ever seen that before. i had only been around people who look like me and seeing that and going on the streets and hearing were thrown at me and not knowing they are slurs and later learning there's a bad termfor what we are. what we are is bad . it was completely eye-opening and i think a lot of away from that natural childhood joy and excitement and exuberance that i had early in china, i was very gregarious, trusted everybody . new no harm. didn't believe that people could be mean. and it just felt like i was
9:18 pm
in a different world. so i very much longed to return to the safety of that first world that i knew and i was hopeful any minute now my parents either they were crazy to make this change and we would go back and i would find mybike and ride it around happily again . >> did you think some of this was beauty with you because you mentioned in china the closer the eyes of white people more attractive. is that i'm wondering how pervasive those american images are in china. >> i think now i haven't lived in china for a long time so i can only imagine but i would think that now the western influence is even bigger. but even back then, people got surgery to make their noses larger. i remember walking around china and my mother's friends telling me she's going to need nose bridge surgery when she grows up because my nose is very flat.
9:19 pm
but they were like her eyes are big so good. then they were called and told their eyes were toosmall . very much even back in china there was a sense that whiteness was ideal but i hadn't really seen the causes of those adult comments. i only knew what i was told and being a rebellious little kid i was like well, i like my nose. but then when it started coming at me from both directions and i was seeing in media all the white faces i realized there was something very very wrong with how flat my nose was and how i face was. how small relatively speaking my eyes were. it took a long time to be aware of that myself. i think even now i catch myself having those thoughts because how can anyone not when they live in a society
9:20 pm
that is just so populated with these images. >> at home as well because the more your parents got frustrated they took that out on you. you're getting it from the tv and from mom and dad. >> for the longest time i was picking why did they say i was fat? why did they keep saying that ? i was bloated in some of the photos but they wanted to assure themselves that their child wasn't starving because if theirchild was starving that meant they were failing as parents . and they just needed to say that out loud to believe it. >> on the flip side i love reading about your first experience with pizza. there was so much joy in that . >> i had no idea what cheese was but that is adistinct memory from my early days in new york .
9:21 pm
everywhere i went i smelled this strange sense. it smelled like dog breath to me honestly as i say in the book. what is this weird animal owner, it was everywhere and then i discovered the cheese that got stuck everywhere on my face. and it stretched, it was delightful and i actually kind of law. why hadn't i had this the last seven years of my life. >> there's a portion of the book that you have a sirloin. this is what's happening and this is an analogous commentary coming from a writerly point of view, i thought that was gorgeous. tell me about the creationof that structure . >> that cactus specifically was one of the first chapters iwrote. the first chapter i wrote was shopping day and then i wrote self . i wrote those two because they were my strongest most visceral memories. from my early time in america, and ipods firmly
9:22 pm
believed up until not long ago that i would never be able to finish a book and that maybe instead when i failed inevitably i would get able to publish these chapters as essays. that's why the chapter is structured a little bit differently, all that stuff comes back in a few other instances. but i remember distinctly working in the sweatshop and thinking all i remember when you were a kid . just a kid, like six months ago at home with your grandma and she had the tv on and you were watching tv. it was all fun and games and you got to ride around on a bike and eat all these weird animals on sticks. i remember longing for that time and looking back as an adult, the clearer juxtaposition of that and the parallels therein. it just made sense for me to kind of highlight that
9:23 pm
parallel and the exploitation of both animals and their products as well as human beings. >> it's time to let people know that the integrate mandarin throughout this book and and wants to know how you decided how much to include and as i can understand but i it would be distracting even if those translations are right there. >> i was terrified it would put everyone offreading entirely . i second-guessed that decision until the end. my agent was amazing in ensuring me and marco, my editor assured me it would not be a problem but i think in a world that is a country that is built on racism it's good to be very pessimistic in terms of your expectations but also still carry that idealism i'm going to trust my readers. to get this.
9:24 pm
and to embrace it. i am so very thankful and heartened that the latter has come into fruition. people don't seem bothered by it all although i was entirely prepared for that to happen. in terms of how much chinese to put in, it was really just got. i wanted to convey the experience of a child learning english and becoming fluent over time. but i also knew that if i put into much chinese it would be hard tounderstand . so just trying to put myself in that initial filing low brain and then pulling out some of the important chinese terms for children. that's something that children use a lot and it was an important differentiator . and these were important once so with those kind of anchors in place, it's slowly just evolved and the editing of that was fun, just making sure transition was natural
9:25 pm
and my fluency grew over the course of the chapter. >> how was your fluency before that, how much of your native language were you keeping as you grew up . >> my parents as you might into it from the book encouraged me just to embrace english and it's fine if you want to pretend you never spoke chinese, we can speak english but that always felt disrespectful to me on some level so i never really english to them . i also wasn't reading so many chinese books so i lost the ability to read pretty quickly. and picked it up again when i was in college and took chinese courses. but without use, it's really hard to maintain the ability to readand write . i speak pretty much like a native speaker. i go to china and people think i have never left but then they'll use some sort of jargon and slang and i have no idea what's going on they tend to think i'm alittle bit slow .
9:26 pm
what happens as a result but i would very much love to pick back up the ability to write and read fluently . >> your parents told you repeatedly we're safe only with our own kind. i'm sure there was truth to that but might it have been exaggerated concern. which of those fears were justified which were maybe a little bit unfounded or on the overly concerned side? >> i can't tell. i'm sure that someone with my father's baggage and trauma everyone and everything was terrifying. and i'm sure as i relate to him now as an adult i see that his policy is just you can never be too careful. so my mother seemed more trusting. and then just some of the kind of man in the warehouse where she worked she seemed much more trusting of other races and being a little bit more open but she was always cautioningher to keep
9:27 pm
everything . close to the chest so nobody really knew what was going on. and it really framed my experience of new york city. every step i took it was cautioned number one, fear was number two followed by hunger. and i don't know. i don't know if my father had cautioned usdifferently if would have been better or worse . there's just no telling. for him to have done that you would have had to be a different person which means all of the this would have unfolded differently and i would be adifferent person . he did as i say i probably would have handled it a bit differently. but it's got us out at the end. >> i want to talk about hunger. let's start with the hunger. it was a way that you put the imagery through the book. when you were in new situations and hunger was the predominant thing you were
9:28 pm
dealing with personally and you would look at people in your first impressions would be theylook like a dumpling . this one smells like fried whatever. i wonder as the child, was that help hovering over you every day? how did you manage to get good grades or do homework when your stomach is growling all the time ? >> it's a great question. i remember very little of the mornings at school. i remember staring at the clock and trying to tell my stomach not rumble because it would make sounds that were deeplyembarrassing . everyone just looked like they were walking dumplings and i wanted to bite their heads off i was so hungry . after lunch was usually the period where at least i wasn't feeling hungry.
9:29 pm
it was more this intestinal discomfort from having had my stomach empty so long and having introduced. those times i was able to focus a little bit more but i think looking back and i suspect it was so drilled into me that literacy was our way out. i had to become a fluent english speaker and do well in school because that was the only way i would find the future where i would not be worried about hunger for myself or my parents or my futurechildren so that's where i directed all my energy when i could directed . sometimes as i write in one chapter the fear of something can trump that physical sensation of hunger. probably i was operating on just a lot of adrenaline and that helped me focus on what was in front of me when i needed to. >> you could start seeing this is where a dysfunctional relationship starts to show
9:30 pm
up. you start lying to protect them. >> .. >> i had to take care of her for the very first time in my life. the flight attendant would ask me, i'd like it so i had to lie and that was the first time i lied. this is very common for immigrant children and children of really any parent who's going through something very difficult. you learn to assume that position a caretaker because you
9:31 pm
hope that if you can meet your parents need and their whole person again that they can then focus on you and doubt on you as the perhaps once did. so it was very natural and anyone who's been through this dynamic nose once it happens it's nearly impossible to reverse. you can't unseat your parents. before >> she was all-knowing and all-powerful and i didn't need to worry about anything because she was there making sure i was close awhile writing computer tescience textbooks and mathtextbooks . once she was throwing up and not conscious i was the one who had to figure out where we were going and how we had to get there . no one could take that lead and it's hard to put down and not feel protective of your parents and in a way that
9:32 pm
dynamic help to me because it gave me that sense of urgency like maybe i do know what i'm doing and maybe i can shield my parents. i understand the language better than my mother and the culture better than both of them . there are things i can do to ease their burden a little bit so hopefully they have more resources to devote to me . >> it's a little field of the book but i couldn't help but think of you in your experience with hunger . there was a move to extend the programming to feed students and there was a district of wisconsin that wanted to opt out of that additional government enmoney because they felt it would make the kids not be self-sufficient and give them the message that it wasn't up to them to make sure they keep themselves fed and i thought of julie trying to get food and i wondered when you hear about the politicization ofthat kind of thing what goes through your mind ?mi
9:33 pm
>> it shows me the politicians and lawyers find that argument have no idea about the humanity that's going on. the very idea that a seven-year-old should be responsible for finding food on her own is observed and it only bolsters the school to prison pipeline. young poor children born to for families are just more likely to end up in prison because they don't have the resources to be able to do schoolwork and feed themselves so they end up dropping out of school and committing that's because there are no public resources for them to rmake sure that they are their needs are met. i feel concerned when the schools are enclosing in the beginning of thepandemic . that was the new york city school system held out as long as they did officials were saying we are the front-line.
9:34 pm
they are the front lines of defense especially immigrants and undocumented immigrant families who are not subject to the benefitsthat the rest of us are . where are these parents going to get money to feed their children and make up for t those meals those children would have otherwise gotten in school. when i saw that many of the school systems continue to offer free lunch pickups, i was overjoyed and relieved that there was some movement and progress. and that the distribution was happening in schools because even if they had distributed lunches from city hall, that would have been a different dynamic environment because again people do not feel safe going to city hall but what do you know if they're able to go to schooland they have been going to school for years . so this is all to say however that we need to think about how these public resources are gold that is given to the
9:35 pm
most needy because it should not be that teachers and schools are the front-line. the politicians and lawyers were thinking more deeply about the laws they are and acting and the humanity behind it, this would not be a problem at all. >> let's talk about the working conditions your mom had to endure. your dad fortunately didn't find the greatest jobs shin the world but he didn't have a sweatshop to deal with. aside from the contents of the sweatshop the ice so stop by your mom's determination . is an intellectual woman and when she decides to doits time to work she hits the ground running . she's sewing all day long immediately. it's as though she just had the understanding that there was no lag to be hadhere . this is what she had to do and she did . >> my mother is incredible and heroic i also don't want
9:36 pm
to understate the resilience of massey. i think if any regular person were put in that situation they would do what they needed in front of them because what choice do you have? you have a hungry daughter next to you. you have to pay rent. you're in this world whereyou don't understand how toget jobs and you don't have the documents to get those jobs . what can you do ? the faster i go longer i go, the more of those three sums i can make so yes, she definitely took on a monumental burden and a shift that would have been psychologically damaging for all humans to go through but i think people inherently are resilience in those darkest times we have to crawl for the white and that's what she was doing.
9:37 pm
>> as a child you had this vision of walking into the filling area and seeing on facts, people humbled over and by the first of and of your first ships together you understand these are people who are bent down over their work all day. you felt the pain of being in that first day. why were you there with your mom understanding that obviously she needed it somewhere but rkyou were working alongside her. did that keep you busy or contribute to what she was earning, why are you as a childworking ? >> i went with her because school had not yet started and she didn't feel safe leaving me at home and i don't think it was agreed upon i would be working but i saw what was happening and after what was going on, she pretty much made it like a game as she commonly did for me in china. the act of feeling feeling
9:38 pm
carrots was a game and fruits and vegetables was a game so as a kid i was like that was fun, it's better than me this sitting and staring so i wanted to get involved and i remember saying i want to do something. so i got though i call a clothing task and i wasn't the only one. i was far from the only child in that room and i remember seeing lots of little girls and boys doing the same and kind of in that environment i wanted to fit in and sitting in was that ingrounded on spec and i want to say chapter with the reflection from the lens of how commonly asian americans and people are portrayed as mechanical and robotics in americanculture . i really wanted to have the reader think about what it was about this country and its conditions that maybe made us appear that way.
9:39 pm
>> then there was the sushi business and your both of you are in these sloppy water protection suits. there's no protecting against the cold. and talk about what the conditions were like . >> was freezing. first there was the smell of fish which was revolting even to my stomach, it was raw fish.. and the second was the freezing cold air so the famine raw and fresh and animal, we had, my mother had to work in freezing water as she was processing the fish into slices and stripping it of its bills and that the entire procedure. there was a basin of water ran through a river of ice cubes but because the whole shop was in disrepair there were holes in the bottom of
9:40 pm
the bases that would drip out. it felt like daggers of ice and we were wearing these ,foods were too large for anyone and it would just drift into your shoes so over the course of a 14 hour shift you end up standing in a puddle of ice water and then on top of whatever we were wearing we covered ourselves with this thin blue plastic coat, almost like a raincoat that peoplewore at night in niagara falls . and then not nearly warm enough and my mother had to work with their hands because she was carrying knives and scissors and there were these winter gloves while managing those utensils and i remember coming home at the end of each month and seeing just how purple and bolus her hands were. and ulthey wouldn't stop
9:41 pm
shaking. as a child i think my body i was smaller and more compact and more resilient. it was full for me but when you're at that age and working on conditions every day which i was not, i was only on the weekends it forever changes your skin. it's always cold. she's like eawearing sweaters in the summer. changed her body profoundly. >> i have this feeling that people who haven't restored, it's the office of safety and healthadministration . they are making sure people are safe and these areas are controlled and people think, what do people think of that universe? >> first this is the reality of undocumented workers and those who prey on undocumented workers h. they knew we were terrified
9:42 pm
to talk to anybody so there was no need to hear from those conditions. a lot of these places were unknown workplaces that paid us under the table and not ask too many questions but for the rest of us and as a lawyer was then in this, i do not trust any environmental agencies. it's just beyond the pale of a government entity to do it that thoroughly and be aware of all the workplace violations that occurred to citizens or noncitizens across this country . as much as i would love to express faith in our government i simply have seen too much of the law. >> i want to encourage people to put your questions and comments in the q and a box . she wants to she says wants to know how proud your parents are of your book
9:43 pm
publication and did any part of the story the price them now that they're reading it through your eyes as his living that. i'm curious about the retail and these terrible times you lived through. >> i waited until september 7 to get them copies of the book and they said i don't know if i can bring myself to read it, it's too painful but then my parents followed up and texted me and said they could not put it down even as they were crying and they felt all this feeling with every single page . i know that there are events in this book that they didn't know about. they didn't know i was hungry going to school for years until i want to say three or four years ago. my mother did not know. that day she found out she ndidn't sleep a wink and the next day he called me and said i could not sleep. i was crying and justfeeling like such an awful mother .
9:44 pm
they have never forgiven themselves for those years and i fear it so much adding to that burden. the subway experience especially i never told anybody. at least i didn't want to make trouble and i just haven't asked them because what good can it do? them know that i forgive . they feel the love and my father said i feel the love through your words and the forgiveness and it has helped him find forgiveness for himself and i think itwould just rather not talk to me about it . and you know, i'm fine luckily and i'm okay. so what more really can i ask for ? >> it adds an extra layer of sadness. we talked about how you felt guilty putting your mom in position to save you and what it looks like in retrospect is now they feel guilty were lying about being fed. it's doubly sad.d. you're both coming to some
9:45 pm
case of it, you referred to therapy as have they gone to any kind offamily therapy ? how have you dealt with this? >> the chinese are not a monolith but chinese culture is very against therapy although i think we as a people could benefit a lot from it given the upheaval in our national history. i went i went through therapy my parents were worried because they thought if i fowent into therapy there was something profoundly wrong with me and i'm not saying there wasn't but they thought there was something they had done profoundly wrong and it was their fault so they were concerned when i went in but as i have grown and processed and they've seen the change in me, they too have begun to understand the power of just revisiting the stories you
9:46 pm
tell yourself. that's what really i think therapy is. what are the stories you have always told yourself about your life and how does that affect how you act on a daily basis and in what way can you change the thought of that story and see it from a different perspective and therefore change how you engage with the world? that experience has been shattering and groundbreaking for me. it changed my relationship to my past self certainly but also to my parents in terms of understanding that it was not necessarily what they did to me what the system and society did to us and we were all at once victims to the structures that became, that we came into. >> i want to talk about marilyn the cat. i want to tell people this is not a enhorrible book, about my life sucks, but the end. there's a lot of fun stuff. your mom saying let's go back
9:47 pm
to china and you said yes because america smells like he. it's about having a cat, talking about taxes fund and part of the tension you ran into with your parents is there saying that they have an asymmetrical face and that was bad luck. you were just alluding to what chinese culture into your parents. you were coming up as an american girl hearing things about saving face which in that particular rtconversation don't try so hard, and then there's this forecast who has c a long face . talk about squaring respect for your parents with what you might have grown up seeing saying this is not how i want to live. i don't believe this cats face is giving us bad luck. >> it's a truism for a lot of immigrant families that we become a frozen time capsule and whatever was happening in the motherland at the time we left his forever that
9:48 pm
motherland, china even though people in china no longer believe in superstitions like a disproportionate face is bad luck. my parents would forever say that the chinese thing and i will never know it's that's if that's real or not but i was not in china long enough to know. but i did respect that that is what they were raised with because i would have these superstitions i was raised with and you can see some of it in when my mother was in thehospital and i felt i had to count the tiles to make sure she would live and be okay . i see it more as when you are so powerless and helpless you need to grab onto something and have some semblance of control and for them reading the signs and slooking at the leaves was that control that i myself sought in trying to cross the street before the light changed for instance . and i also think there's just an inherently dissident rebellious blood in me where
9:49 pm
no matter what my parents said whether it was true or completely not based in reality like, i was going to rebel. and i am pretty much resigned to that. if they had said a truism i was going to just reject that anyway. i just needed to find out what i believed in life and what my role was and that just made it easier for me to do so. >> we already mentioned you taught yourself to read. you found absolute joy in libraries particularly relevant to this conversation is this line. even thoughlibraries were home bookstores were dangerous . can you please explain that? >> first of all thank you all bookstore people for all you authors. you make it possible for authors to make a living and for thati will be eternally grateful . i did not need to slight you
9:50 pm
by any means. for me it was more of not allowing myself to see what i could support. if in libraries if i wanted to leave read the whole thing at all 200 pages i could take it home for free. if i went to a bookstore and saw a book and wanted to read it i would have had to pay $15 or whatever the going rate was. and if i saw that that book was available at the bookstore but not at the library, that would have added to my mountain of degradation and one particular blessing that i think i had with that, i was around kids mostly of the same class so i didn't feel as deprived as i otherwise would have if i had been upper middle or middle class environment. this was another way eirof just i knew that bookstores existed and i wanted to go in them and the one time i did i regretted it . the next time i did was my
9:51 pm
free gift certificate and my dad made me choose a dictionary that i never read. it just felt like a world too far out of my reach until i could afford to buy anything in that bookstore that iwanted which i had no position to do . and i just did not even want to taste a little bit of that world. >> your relationship with things in family you revert to the shopping and for those whodon't know the shopping excursions your families went on basically scavenging . at risk of briefly making this about myself, i remember passing towel ones that people had run over repeatedly and mom said get that towel. that towel was perfectly useful. i never forgot. i would see that towel clean
9:52 pm
and fluffy and in the cabinet, always the towel that we had to pick up and i wonder about your growing up, you were discovering gradually what you did to go shopping, what changed? what you brought to thegift exchange was embarrassing . but you could not keep up. and when did that changestart to fade ? >> it really dictated my shopping habits as soon as i had any semblance of disposable income. then i became a fancy lawyer and i slathered myself with designer stuff and it was really just what is the person next to me buying? i'm going to buy that so i look like her and i fit in and no one can question where you're from, why do you look different? that was the first few years of my lawyer career and it's very easy to get sucked into that and you don't
9:53 pm
necessarily have to come from where i come from to feel that. again, it wasn't until therapy that i looked at my relationship. i would buy things for the thrill that i've made it, i absolutely made it. i'm past the old of shopping day, that version of scavenging. i can buy whatever i want and it would fade just as quickly and i would feel like a fraud. on the outside i look like the person next to me on the inside i didn't know who i was and why did i buy this crazy loubotin's that could feed a family and it doesn't represent who i am. i was looking at the food i was buying, i wouldn't even be able to throw away a rsingle crime of rotted food and what's going on there? then starting to be conscious about what part of me is wanting to buy this right now
9:54 pm
? is it coming from a place of erscarcity or is it coming from a place of joy and this is who i am so i want to raise that in support of theperson who produced this product . so it became a real unearthing and really a turnaround of my life and how i related to money as commerce and capitalism. >> one particular line from the book is you can't know somethings arenot enough until you have them . where coming up on the end so let me get to as many questions as i can. kathy wants to know how your father was able to get his law degree and in the latter part of the book why you think canada was so much more welcoming. >> canada has its own issues. i was very grateful and my family was told that canada has its own issues of racism
9:55 pm
and sexism and i think americans like to think of canada as a perfect place and i think canadians maybe won't openly tell you but i will be the first to tell you it is not, it's similar to america in a lot of ways but at the time canada was short on people . it didn't have a large population so it sought to attract immigrants and especially educated immigrants as my parents were . and having lived in canada for a while i know a big issue iswhat they call the brain drain . all the highly educated talent tends to migrate to the us and they have trouble holding hon to the highly credentialed people and they thought that immigrants and embracing immigration wasthe way to do this and i think they were wise to do that . my father went to law school when i was in high school. he deeply missed america heand never really wanted to leave. america was his soulmate. i know he wanted to come back
9:56 pm
to law school and by then my mother was able to make a pretty good living in canada as a computer programmer. she put him through school while i was in high school . i don't know how she did it all. >> as an adult what normal everyday privileges make you feel huge emotions ? >> my dogs. being able to feed them the fanciest food on the market is probably the biggest joy that i have that i do not need to worryabout . whether someone would throw my dogs out or whether they be able to eat anything iwant is a huge thing and shoes . if you read my book you know i had one pair of shoes a year and now i have probably 200 pairs of shoes. it's become a real obsession but it's a joy that i have
9:57 pm
realized comes from a deeper part of me than the one that was trying to fill this stereotype of whether i hebelonged or not. so yes, i'm very fortunate to have all those things in my life. >> i've listened to a number of interviews with you and there was one where you were talking about what is a famous anecdote of you trying to take some time to write this book on your cell phone starting out that way but one thing you said about what struck me was you refused to hit the mute button because you were too busy thinking you were stupid so you constantly go back and sweat yourself and you wouldn't do that and i had to think about you were offered a partnership in a prestigious firm. you're doing civil rights work. you've done all these things you've done. it's kind of disturbing to hear that you still think you need to use the deletebutton . >> self-doubt is endemic to
9:58 pm
be in the human. my husband said to me recently she's the most confident and self-assured person i know aand i see that she has immense self-doubt and itmakes me doubt myself . i will always question myself and always wonder if what i am doing is good enough but i think that's just part of the whole thing of being alive and being a person in the world. >> last question. you said in the book i dream of the day when being recognized as human requires no luck. there's work that you are doing to that end and i wonder what sort of progress you feel we are making towardsthat . >> i think there is more recognition of the problems, the barriers not simply recognition but there is more awareness of the barriers for children with disabilities, for immigrant children. for families who come here
9:59 pm
without any support monetary or familiar and there are a lot of talking points as per result around that. i'm not yet seeing that tipping point to the next step which is changes, concrete changes and i do think the conversation is there. it's moving there. the shift has happened where it is in the ether and people are starting to think about these problems and that's where progress starts. it has to start somewhere. this is a marathon. i tried to be as i said pessimistic about the reality but also hold on to that idealism of we are moving forward and it is a long journey and no one has that view of the big picture but as the conversation shifts i see it slowly and in time morphing into some systemic and structural changes of how we welcome families into our country and the barriers that
10:00 pm
we arestarting to knock down one by one . >> it is painful and i think i thank you so much for writing it and thank you for joining us to talk about it. >> thank you angie for your thoughtful engagementand thank you to everyone who chose to spend the night with me. it's been a pure joy to be here . >> thank you from doubleday and kepler's books in menlo park. in santa cruz california, all of which have plenty of copies so avail yourself of them now. i am wishing you a grand good night, happy health, be well. good night. >> up next on "after words", entrepreneur vivek ramaswamy argues corporate america is


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on