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tv   Qian Wang Beautiful Country - A Memoir  CSPAN  November 29, 2021 12:00am-1:01am EST

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actors, you can't be serious and taste my life through food. and wrapping up our look at politics and pros bookstores is journalist steven roberts, attribute today life and career of late wife. >> thank you to all of you for supporting locally independent owned bookstore which is probably why you are here.
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i'm appearingy coiro, we are here to discuss beautiful country by gian wang. here is how to do that. hit the q&a button on the screen, type in your question and one request that you keep those sinc. if you're having trouble hearing or seeing us, restart your zoom and/or your computer and that should take care of any problems that you're having. someone points her to her web page, you see the credential, you say, this person could be raking in tons of money doing acquisitions working with multinational corporations, why
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would she focus on right to education? when you were raised without food security or any security and have to teach y yourself how to read because you'velf been shuttled off to a special ed class because you're not fluent in english, that's inspiration and her father baba left her and her mother in china. when they reunited in america it was not recipe of joy and easy life. it was just the o opposite. beautiful country as much as a memoir is kind of laying to rest painful memories of agonize childhood, beautiful read. qian julie, i'm so glad to be talking to you. >> thank you for having me, angie, that was touching and moving introduction, i'm so grateful being here and grateful for organizing this wonderful
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event. >> i'd have to tell you, i enjoyed doing booku interviews. it's what i do. i don't say anything i don't mean and this is the first book that i have read since high school and read the cover and cried. hadn't happened in 40 years. so it's the depth of your experience and the burying -- at the one -- it's deeply personal obviously. on the other side there's a universality to recognizing need and want. not at the level always that you went through in your childhood buth at some level we all feels humans, as a child per life is being diminished and spirit being diminished of the situation that she's gone through and you have arrived at a point and we see at the certain extent at the end of the book where you have done a lot of processing. clearly we will talk about the
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whole process and i wonder in retrospect when you look at that you still feel resentment for that deprivation and anger at your parents having periodically deserted you emotionally or reached a point where you have distanced from that? >> that's a really great question and i first want to apologize for having made you cry. that's high praise but sorry to put you there 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, deeply angry, deeply resentful but i'm not angry at my parents, i'm not angry about the things that happened to me because as you say thebe magic of therapy has helped me really heal that. i will always have those scars but i have healed that open
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wound and moved forward and i'm deeply cognizant of all of my impresence privileges that helped me get past it, my parents were extremely educated before we were -- found ourselves undocumented and impoverished and i'm neurotypical that most people godon't talk about. there were many things that were on my side and helped me, you know, get out of those circumstances, not the least of which was having a strong and wise mother who told me that it was temporary and that i could do anything that i wanted. so those are all privileges that help me move things forward which is why it makes me resentful and angry and make people hold my example as evidence that the american dream is for everyone and that anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. that's simply not true. i am deeply privileged and i just wanted to acknowledge that at the very outset.
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>> it's something to be able to tell yourself when we read about -- baby kid working in a sweat shop and that you did have to bring yourself up duh up to deprivation, there's something about it that makes us want to say, thank god that's not happening anymore. it is. that's all still happening. so, you know, it's too easy to close the cover on that and say, well, glad julie got through that and not happening to anybody else. i want to start with that departure from china. tell us not only why you had to go, first your dad and then you followed your dad with your mom and ten tell me about what you thought about as a child. >> we had to leave because my father grew up in the cultural revolution being marked hence a
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trader which w.h.o. my uncle 18 and my father was 6 or 7 year's old, for what my uncle wrote at young age, the period of ten years 1976 when chairman mao reached extreme up he'll and encouraged citizens to revolt against intellectual professors, scholars. my uncle was then in the age group that was most mobilized by chairman mao. chairman mao formed kind of an army ad hoc civilian army who were idealistic and truly believed in the mission of communityism that chairman mao spread and my uncle always loved reading band books and things critically from a very young age
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and wrote a people calling upon peers to think closely about what they were doing by persecuting teachers, principals, sometimes their own parents at the behest of government that at its core didn't care about citizens or wouldn't do to anybody in the country. my uncle was in prison, starved and tortured my and my father spent whole child being persecuted from being from a family. my father, i have no idea how but against all odds made it out and became an english literature professor precisely because he loved the social criticism that authors like dickens and mark
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twain reflected upon in their writing. but in his classrooms he quickly realized that he was controlled bynt the government and very muh subject to censorship, so when i was around 5 year's old that my parentsiv decided that it was better if he left and he had stars inif his eyes whenever he thought about america. this was the land of freedom of speech and civic engagement and there was no where else he would have wanted to go, so he left and we didn't know how long it would be. i was 5 year's old and time came around, so when i was 7 and my mother was growing desperate 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 or how permanent it was. r i mean, my parents didn't reay know either.
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all i really cared about that i had gotten a new bike and i had to lock it up before learning to ride it and had to lock my toys say good-bye to uncles and grandmaer and go to vain world where we had no real sense of what it was and china back then in the early to mid-90's it was very limited information about the u.s. there were stories about people being starved on the streets and stories about gold being found everywhere and i didn't really understand what to expect only that my mother desperately wanted to reunite with my father. i at that point had forgotten really what he looked like. so it seemed like, well, if my dad is there and has been there for two years, it can't be thatd bad. i followed my mother on the leap of faith, on the journey toward the person she loved. >> i was going to jump over to a
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question from barbara because it may have bearing on the rest of the conversation. she notes neurotypical and wants rbto know exactly what that meas and how did that have bearing on your experiences? >> well, it was particularly relevant because when my school kind of confined me to a room for students with disabilities and i was faced with an extremely overwhelmed young teach whore had many children with many different needs to attend to. i was left alone and because i was neurotypical which means my brain functions in the way that mainstream society portrays human brain to function, if i have a bad day, i can sleep and wake up and be happy. i can process words and images and each readily, all of those abilities gave me the capacity to sit there with book after
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book and press theok buttons tht had a star on it and said star. i had the power to process and understand, oh, in the shape of the star or word of star and apparently this is the english word in chinese. that's how i taught myself english. neurotypical elements i would not have learned english. i would have floundered and i would have been in the classroom for the rest of my schooling days and i never would have found the power of storytelling, found 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, as we go forward we will be talking more about your child. it was a joy to read and hear the book. you have an understand discovered acting gene. i don't know if you know.
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i do voiceover. not all authors should be reading their books. not all authors should read their own books and you have the acting gene in there. when i'm hearing you talk about your child, you not only have the language that depicts of a child, of a child's mind but you read and there's oneu point where you hear the child's joy using the word but like 5 times in the paragraph and you emphasize it like a little kid, like a little kid does and i will tell you how it is conscious but int the writing o keep the child's voice going asn well as the narrative about the child. >> so that experience of recording audio book taught me that audio book narrators, actors and actresses, anyone in the industry is not paid nearly enough. noit's exhausting. to be sitting in the booth and recording for 8 hours at a time it was -- it was a lot and i was thankful i had amazing director
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paula parker 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 audio book i just went back into that memory. so it was very natural for me to kind of channel little gian and the energy that she would have received everything that happened. in terms of writing the passages and the experiences it was very much familiar to my experience and 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, the joy that maybe she did not have the safety to feel at the time. >> you painted really well was the joyous relationship that you had with your mom before all the changes. your parents seem to take --
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when there's thrust into the situation having to grasp for any penny and find any food to feed you, it's understandable that everything goes to hell in terms of maintaining a healthy parent-child relationship but even understandable, common tragic, what was it like for you to revisit that? >> it made me appreciate a new -- what it was like to experience all of that through my participants' eyes, the act of writing the book necessarily required me to emphasize with my parents and step into their shoes while simultaneously holding my childhood troops as they were, so i was able to both recognize, okay, little gian, you were hungry, the parents were not the nicest to you at times and completely valid and feeling all of these things but yourco parents are only in their
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early 30's, they were never could have anticipated being in this situation much less with a very young child, what would you have done in this situation when you were younger in your early 30's and truly -- we say this a lot about parents, they do the best they can but they truly were doing the best they can and, yes, they felt short sometimes but what parent doesn't? >> we are starting to become who we are. and you learned from watching the simpsons, you know, you enjoyed them, the funny-looking puppy, they were enjoyable and you like watching them and you were seeing the white gaze and learning that your eyes looked funny. tell me about taking that in.
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>> it felt like i standard stepped into an alternate universe. seeing the simpsons and how asian characters were depicted with eyes and weird voices, i had never seen that before. i had only been around people who look like me and seeing that and going on the streets and hearing slurs at me and took away from the natural childhood joy and exuberance that i had early in china. i knew no harm and didn't believe that people could be mean and felt like i was in a
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different world. i was hopeful that any minute now my parents would see that they were crazy to make the change and we would go back and i would find my bike and ride it around happily again. >> did you think some of the concepts of beauty because much later in the book you mentioned that the closer the eyes are of white people the more attractive, is that in china pel se or china immigrants to america because i'm wondering how pervasive the images are in china? >> ic that now -- i haven't lived in china for a long time but i would think that now the western influence is even bigger but even back then, yeah, people got surgery to make their noses larger. i remember walking around china and my mother's friends, oh, d she's going the need nose brie surgery because my nose is very flat and they are like, their eyes are big, so good and there were girls being told that their
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eyes were too small and they would have to get rid and back in china there was a sense that whiteness was ideal. i only knew what i was told and being a rebellious little kid i was like, i like my nose. when it started coming from all directions and then i was seeing in media all -- almost exclusively white faces. i realized that there was something very, very wrong with how flat my nose was and how flat my face was and how small relatively speaking my eyes were and it took a very long time to deprogram myself of that. i don't think that i'm done. i think even now i catch myself having those thoughts because how can anyone not when they live in a society that's populated with the images. >> the more your parents got
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frustrated with the situation later in the childhood they were taking out at you. you're getting frit the t and you're getting it from mom. >> yeah, for the listeningest time i was thinking why did they say i was fat. why did they keep saying that. like i was bloated from sodium. i just think memory from my early days in new york, everywhere i went i smelled this strange rest.
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smelled lake dog. what is this weird animal odor and it was everywhere and i discovered the cheese that stuck everywhere on my fingers, on my face and stretched and it was -- it was delightful and i actually kind of felt robbed, why hadn't i had this for 7 years of my life. >> there's a portion of your book that you have a through line. this is what's happening and this is analogous commentary and from a writer's point of view, i thought it was gorgeous. tellll me about the creation of the structure. >> the chapter specifically was one of the very first chapters i wrote. the first chapter i wrote was shopping day and then i wrote silk and they were my strongest visceral memories from my early time in america and i thought -- firmly believed up until not
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long ago that i would not be able to finish the book and tht maybe instead when i failed and inevitable i would publish chapters as essays so that's why the silk chapter is structured a little bit differently although the structure comes back in a few instances but i remember distinctly working in the sweat shop and thinking, oh, remember when you were a kid, like just a kid, six months ago at home with your grandma and she had the tv on and you were just watching tv and it was all fine games and then you got to ride around in the bike andar eat weird animals on sticks and i remember longing for that time and then looking back as an adult and the parallels they're in. it just made sense for me to kind of highlight the parallel and the exploitation of both
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animals and -- and their products as human beings. >> good time to let people know that you integrate mandarin through the your book and m wants to know how much to include and adds that i could understand but wondered if it would be distracting to other readers even though the translations are really right there. >> i was terrified that it would put everyone off of reading entirely. i second guessed that decision up until the end, my agent was amazing in ensuring me and margo, my editor assured me tha. it would not be a problem but i think in the world that's a country that's built on racism, it is good to be pessimistic in terms of your expectation but also still carry the idealism, i'm going to trust my readers to get this and embrace and i am so
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very thankful and heartened that the latter has come into fruition. people don't seem bothered at all. i was entirely prepared for that to happen and in terms of the 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 if i put in too much chinese it would be hard to understand, so just trying to put myself in that initial bilingual brain and pulling out some of the important chinese terms for children or something that children used a lot and it was an -- important differentiators and making sure that the transmission was natural and my
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fluency grew over the chapters. >> how was your fluency? how much of your native language were you keeping as you grew up? >> my parents as you might into it from the book really encouraged me to embrace english and fine if you want to pretend that you never spoke chinese. we can speak english to you but that always felt disrespectful to me on some level so i never really spoke english to them but i also wasn't reading so many chinese books. so iok lost the ability to read pretty quickly and picked it up again when i was in college and took chinese courses, but out -- without use, it's really hard to maintain the ability to read and write. i speak pretty much like a m native speaker and going to china and people think that i have neverer left but then theyl use some sort of jargon or slang and i have no idea what's going on so they tend to think that i'm a little bit slow. what happens as a result but i
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would very much love to pick back up the ability to read and write fluently. >> your parents also told you repeatedly we are safe only with our own kind, i'm sure there was truth to that, some of that might have been exaggerated concerns. which of the fears were justified and which were on the overly concerned side? >> i really can't tell. i'm sure that to 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. i mentioned some of the kind men in the warehouse where she worked, she seemed much more trusting of other races and being a little bit more open but he was always cautioning her to a keep everything very close so nobody really knew what was
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going onat and, yeah, it really framed my experience of new york city. every step i talked was caution, number one fear, number 2, all of my hunger and i don't know, i don't know if my father had cautioned us differently if things would have been better or just, you know, telling. i mean, for him to have done that, he would have had to be a different perp which means all have unfolded differently. i would be a different person, yeah, i mean, he did as i say the best he could. i probably would have handled it a little bit differently, but it got us out at the end. >> do i want to talk about hunger and the sweat shop. let's start with hunger. it was the way that you put the imagery through the book. when you were in those situations and hunger was the predominant thing that you were dealing with personally, you would look at people and your
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first impressions would be, oh, they look like a dumpling, this room smells like fried whatever, it just s -- i wonder as a child how that hovering over you every day, how did you manage to do anything else, how did you manage to do homework when your stomach is growling all of the time? >> that's a great question. i remember very little of mornings of school. i remember only staring at the clock and trying to tell me stomach to not rumble because it would make sounds that were deeply embarrassing to me. as i describe to me, everyone looked like food and looked like walking dumplings and i was so hungry. after lunch was usually the period where at least i wasn't feeling hungry. it was more this intestinal discomfortable from having had my stomach empty for so
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listening and having food introduced to it. so those periods i was able to focus a little bit more. but i thinkk looking back and i suspect -- service drilled into me that literacy was our way out. i had to become fluent english speaker and i had to do well in school because that was the only way that i would find a future where i would not be worried about hunger for myself, for my parents, my future children and so that was where i directed all of my energies where i could direct it and sometimes, youme know, as i write in one chapter, the fear of something can trump that physical sense ration of hunger and probably i was operating on just a lot adrenaline and that helped me focus on what was right before me when i needed to. >> but you could start seeing at the same time this is where dysfunctional relationships start to show up between you and your family because you start lying to protect them, you lie about free breakfast.
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it's okay, they are feeding me at school and you thought your mom had to take the god-awful jobs that we had to talk about and that was your failures because you needed food. she had to do that. when did those creep? >> very quickly. i decided to open the book on the plane because that was the feeling when my mother was incredibly motion sick on the plane to new york city which i had to take care of her for the first time in my life. .. ..
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and they are a whole person again that they can focus on yoc as they perhaps once did. it was very natural and anyone who is been through this dynamic nose once it happens it's nearly impossible to reverse it. you cannot un- see-- before we left china i saw my mother as god all-knowing and all-powerful and i didn't need to worry about anything because she was there making sure i was clothed while writing computer science textbooks and math textbooks picks once we were on the plane and she was throwing up and pretty much not conscious, i was the one who had to figure out where we were going and how we were goingin to get there and oe you takehe that direction and yu take the lead it's hard to put down and not feel protective of your parents, but in a way that dynamic also helped me because he gave me the sense of agency like maybe i do know what i'm doing and maybe i can shield my
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parents and i understand the language better than my mother, the culture better than both of them and there are things, little lies and tricks i can do to ease their burden at least a little bit so hopefully they have more resources to devote to me. >> i couldn't help but think of you with your experience with hunger there was a move on behalf of the us government to extend the program because of the pandemic and there was a district of wisconsin that wanted to opt outut of additionl government money because they felt would teach the kids to not be self-sufficient and they felt it would give them the message that it wasn't up to them to make sure they themselves were fed and i thought of you trying to get food and i wonder when you hear about the politicization of that kind of thing, what goes through your mind to. >> shows made politicians and the lawyers behind that kind of argument have no idea about the
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humanity that's going on. the very idea that a 7-year old should be responsible for finding food on her own is absurd and it only bolsters the school to prison pipeline. young children born to poor families are just more likely to end up in prison because they don't have the resources to attend school and do school work and feed themselves so they end up dropping out of the school ended up committing a theft because there's no public resources for them to make sure their most basic needs are met and i was very concerned when the schools of started closing in the beginning of the pandemic that was the reason the new york city school system held out for as long as they did because officials were saying we are the front lines of defense. they are the front lines of defense especially for immigrant
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and undocumented immigrant families who don't have the right-- benefits the rest of us, where were parents going to get childcare, the money to feed their children to make up for the meals that those children would've otherwise gotten at school, so when i saw many of the school systems continue to offer free lunch pickup i was overjoyed and relieved that at least there was some movement in progress and that the distribution was happening in the schools because even if they had distributed-- distributed lunches from city hall, say that would've been a different dynamic entirely because again people do not feel safe going to city hall. they do know they can go to school and they have been going tole school for years and they d not been captured or deported, so this is all to say, however, that we need to think about how we public-- how public resources are doled out given to the most needy because it should not be
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that teachers and schools are the front line of defense.d the politicians and the lawyers and society thinking more deeply about the laws they are in acting and the humanity behind it, this would not be a problem at all. >> probably neither woods sweatshop so let's talk about the working conditions your mom had to endure. your dad fortunately did not have the greatest job in the world but hegr did not have a sweatshop to deal with t. aside from the sweatshop and what went on there i was so struck by your mom's determination. here she is an educated intellectual woman and when she decided it was time to work she hit the ground running. she went to the sweatshop business and she's a selling all day long immediately as though she just had the understanding that there was no lagging to be had here. this is what she had to do and she did it. >> my mother is incredible and heroic, but i also don't want to understate the resilience of
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humanity. i think any regular person if they were put in that situation they would just do what they needed p in front of them becaue what choice do you have cracks you have a hungry daughter next to you. you have to pay rent. you are in i this new world whee you don't speak the language or understand how to get jobs and you don't have the document for those jobs, what can you do, but just here are three articles of clothing. the faster i go in the longer i go, the more i can make, so i think yes, she definitely took on monumental burden and a shift that would've been psychologically damaging for all humans to go from a professor to that, butro i also think people inherently are resilient and in those darkest times we have to crawl towards the light and that's what she was doing. >> as a child you had this vision of walking into the
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sewing area and seeing hunchback's, people-- and by the end of your first shift together you understand these are people who are bent down over their work all day and even as a child with a resilient body you felt the pain of being there the first day. why were you there with your mom understanding-- you were working alongside herut. was that a way to keep you busy to contribute to what she was doing cracks why as a child were you doing that? >> i went with her because school had not yet started and she didn't feel safe leaving me alone at home and when i went there i don't think it was agreed upon that i would be working, but i saw what was happening and after what was-- asked her what was going on and she pretty much made it like a game as she did for me in china like peeling carrots was a game and washing vegetables and fruit was a game. she told me it was a game so as
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a kid i was like that looks like fun and is better than me just sitting here, so i wanted to get involved and i remember saying can i do something like i want to play also, so i got the one article clothing and i wasn't the only one, i was far from the only child in that roomro and i remember seeing a lot of little little boys doing the same and kind of in that environment i wanted to fit in and fitting in was being that rounded hunchback. i want to say i wrote that chapter with the reflection from an adult lens of how commonly asian americans and api people are pro- trade as mechanical and robotic in american culture and really wanted to have their readers think aboute when it was about this country and its condition that may be made us appear that way. >> then there was the sushi
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separationf business and hear both of you are in these floppy water protection suits. there's no protecting you against the cold. talk about what the conditions were like. >> it was freezing. i remembered two things, of course the smell of a fish, which was revolting even to myaw hungry stomach it was raw fish. it was a salmon processing plant and a second it was the freezing cold air, so to keep the salmon raw and fresh and edible condition, my mother had to work in freezing water as she was processing the fish into slices and stripping it of its gills and the entire procedure. there was a basement of water that ran through the room with ice cubes, but because the whole shop was in disrepair there were holes in the bottom of the basin that would drift out. it felt like daggers, daggers of
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ice and we were wearing boots that were too large for anyone, really. it would just drip into your shoes over the course of a 14 hour shift you end up standing in a puddle of ice waterer withn the boots and then on top of whatever we were wearing we covered ourselves with this thin blue plastic coat almost like a raincoat that people were in niagara falls. that's what i was reminded of when i first saw that and not nearly warm enough in my mother had to work with bare hands because she was handling knives and scissors and it was often rubber gloves or winter gloves while managing those utensils and i remember coming home at the end of each night's seeing just how purple and bulbous her hands were. they wouldn't stop shaking and as a child i think my body was
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just-- i was smaller and more compact and a little bit more resilient as you said. it was cold for me, but when you are at that age working in those conditions every day, which i was not. i was only going on weekends, it forever changes your skin. changes your body. to this day she has poor circulation. she's always cold. she's like wearing sweaters in the summer. it changed her body. >> i have the feeling that people who have not read stories like yours think there is the office of safety and health administration and they are out there looking at workspaces and making sure people are safe in thehe areas are controlled. what would you say to people that think that's universal? >> first, i think-- this is the reality of undocumented workers and the employers who prey on undocumented workers. they knew had-- we had no rights and we were terrified to talk to anyone, so there was no need to
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adhere to those conditions. a lot of the places were kind of unknown workplaces that could then pay us under the table and not ask it to me questions, but also even for the rest of us and as a lawyer who has been in some fancy places, i can tell you that i don't trust any governmental agency to thoroughly do its job. it's just beyond the pale of governments entity to do that thoroughly and be aware of the workplace violations that occurred to citizens or hinoncitizens across the countr, so as much as i would love to express faithld, i've simply sen too much in the law. >> i want to encourage people to put your questions and comments in the q&a box. she loves to see how proud your parents are of your book publication. did any part of the story surprised them that how-- now that they are reading it through
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your eyes versus living with you >> i was terrified. i waited until september seven, to give them and said i don't know if i can read it. it's justt too painful, but then my parents followed up and texted me and said that they could not put it down even as they were crying and they felt themselves healing with every single page and 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 hungry for years until i went to say until four years ago. my mother did not know. today she found out she didn't sleep all night. the next day she called me and was like i could not sleep ad wink. i was crying and just feeling like such an awful mother. they have never forgiven themselves for those years and i feared so much adding to that burden
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. the subway experience especially i never told anyone because i didn't want to make trouble and i just haven't asked them because what good can it do? they know i forgive them. they feel the love and my father said that, i feel the love through your words and the forgiveness and its help him find forgiveness for himself and i think they would just rather not talk to me about it. i'm fine, luckily, and i'm okay, so what more can i really ask for? >> kind of an extra layer of sadness about how you felt guilty putting your mom in a position and looking back retrospectively they feel guilty because you are lying about being fed. it's good to hear that you are both coming to some peace with it. you referred to therapy, have
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they gone to therapy, i mean, if you feel free to say so i'm how they dealt with this? >> they have not gone. the chinese-- chinese culture is very against therapy although, i think we as a people could benefit a lot of it given the upheaval of our national history. when i went to therapy my parents were deeply worried and thought if i went to 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 and so they were really concerned when i went in, but as i have grown and processed and they have seen the change in me, they have also begun to understand the power of just revisiting the stories you tell yourself your that's really what i think therapy is, what are the stories you've always told yourself about yourself and your life and how does that
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affect how you act on a daily basis and in what ways can you change the thought of that story and see it from a different perspective and therefore change how you engage with the world so that experience has been earth shattering and groundbreaking for me. changed myo relationship to my past self certainly, but also to my parents in terms of understanding it was not necessarily what they did to me, but what the system and society did to us and we were all at once w victims to the structures that became-- we came into. >> i want to talk about marilyn my cat. iar went to tell people this is not a relentlessly horrible book. it's not about my life suckedgi the end. there's a lot of fun stuff. your mom saying should we go back to china and saying yeah, because america smells like p.
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finally having a cat. that's, fun. part of what you ran into with your parents was the day saying that face was bad luck, she had a symmetrical face and that was bad luck and you were alluding with two wets chinese culture it dictated to your parents. you are hearing things about saving face, which in that particular conversation i and tn there's thisnd poor cat who hasa long face and now she's bad luck [inaudible] you saying i don't believe the cats face is giving us bad luck. >> truism for a lot of immigrant communities that we become a frozen time cap civil andpe whatever was happening back in the motherland at the time we left, it's forever that motherland china even if people in china no longer believe in
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superstitions like a disproportionate face is bad luck, my parents will forever say that's a chinese thing and i will never know if it's real or not because i was not in china long enough to know your but, i can respect that that's what they were raised with because i certainly have these little superstitions that i was raised with and you can see some of it and when my mother went in the hospital and i felt like i had to count the tiles just to make sure she would live and be okay and 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 so reading these signs and looking at tea leaves was the control i myself thought of been trying to cross the street before the light changed, for instance. i also think that there is an inherently dissident rebellions blood in me where no matter what my parents said whether it was trueo or completely based in
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reality like they say, i was going to rebele and i'm pretty much resigned to that. if they had said age truism, i would reject that anyway. i needed to find out what i believed and what my world was and what my worldview was and that just made it easier for me too do so. >> let's talk about your literary growth. you taught yourself to read and found a joint libraries particularly relevant to this conversation is the line even though libraries were home, bookstores were from all of us bookstore people can you please explain that? >> first of all, thank you all bookstore people for all you do to me. you make it possible for authors to make a living and for that i will be eternally grateful. i didn't-- [inaudible] for me, it was more not allowing
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myself to see what i could not afford. at the library if i fell in love with a book i wanted to read the whole thing and i could take it home for free, but if i go to a bookstore and saw book and really wanted to read it, i would have had to pay $15 or whatever the going rate was and if i saw that the book was available at the bookstore, but not the library then it would have added to my mountain of deprivation and one particular blessing that i think i had was that i was around kids that mostly of the same class, so i didn't feel as deprived as i otherwise would have had i been in an upper or middle-class environment and this was another way. of just kind of-- of course i knew bookstores existed and i desperately wanted to goan in tm and the one time i did i really regretted it and then the next time i did was my free gift certificate and my dad made me
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choose a dictionary that i never read. it felt like a world it too far out of my reach until i could afford to buy anything and that bookstore that i wanted, which i am now in a position to do as you see from behind me. i just did not even want to taste a little bit of that world >> your relationship with things in the family, you refer to the shopping and for those that don't know, the shopping expeditions your family went on were basically scavenging in the streets. at a risk of briefly making this about myself, i remember passing a towel once in the street that someone had dropped and cars had run over repeatedly and mom pulled over and said get the towel. mom had six kids and dad was a mechanic and that towel was useful. never pse forgot, i would see tt towel clean and fluffing in the cabinet. it was always the towel we saw on the street to pick up and i wonder about your growing up,
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you were discovering gradually that what you did to go shopping was shameful. what you brought to a gift exchange was embarrassing i mean everything involved, you could not keep up. when did that shame start to fade? >> it really dictated my shopping habits. as soon as i had any semblance of disposable income, the minute i became a fancy lawyer 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 looked just like her and we look the same and i fit in and no one can question where you are from, why do you look different and that was the first few years of my lawyerly career and it's very easy to get sucked into that and you don't necessarily have to come from where i came from to feel that whole. again, it wasn't until therapy
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and i really looked at my relationship to things. i would buy things and there was a thrill that i had made it, absolutely made it and i'm past the old life 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 looked like the person next to me, but on the inside i didn't know who i was and what my relationship-- why did i buy this pair of crazy louis vuitton that could feed a ofamily for months, i don't actually feel good about this purchase and it doesn't actually represent who i am. then i was looking at the food i was buying and hoarding. i wasn't even able to throw away a single crop of rotted fruit even and what's going on there and then starting to be very mindful and conscious about what part of me is wanting to buy this right now. is this coming from a place of scarcity or is it coming from a place of joy and this is who i
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am and so i went to embrace it and support the person who produced this product, so it became a real unearthing and really a turnaround of my life and how i related to money, the commerce and capitalism and shopping. >> one of the lines with staying power from the book was you cannot know that some things are not enough until you have them. that really has staying power. we are-- let me get to as many questions as i can. kathy wants to know how your father was able to get his a law degree and latter part of the book, why did you think canada was so much more welcoming? >> canada certainly has its own issues. i was very grateful and my whole family was grateful canada took us. it has its own issues of racism and sexism and i think americans like to think of canada as like
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this perfect place and i think canadians may be won't openly tell you, but i will be the first to tell you it's not and it's similary to america in a lt of ways, but at the time canada was very short on people and didn't have a huge population and so sought to attract immigrants especially educated immigrants as my parents were ande. having lived in canada foa while i know a big issue for them is what they call the brain drain, highly educated talented people tend to migrate south to the uss and they had trouble for some reason holding on to the highly credentialed people and they thought immigrants and embracing immigration was the 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, never really wanted to leave. america was his a soulmate. i know no bigger patriot so he wanted to come back to law school and by then my mother was
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able to make a pretty good rliving in canada as a computer programmer, so she put him through school while i was in high school, i mean, she's a remarkable woman. i don't know how she did it all, but she did. >> amber, as an adult what normal everyday privileges still make you feel huge motions? >> my dog, being able to be-- feed them the fanciest food on the marketet, probably the biggt joy i have that i don't need to worry about whether someone might throw my dogs out or what they had to eat. being able to eat anything i want is a huge thing and shoes, if you have read my book you know i had one pair of shoes a year and now i probably have a 200 pairs of shoes and it's become a real obsession, but it's a joy that i have realized and comes from a deeper part of me than the one that was trying to fill the stereotype of
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whether i belong to or not, so yeah, i'm very fortunate to have all of those things in my life. >> i've listened it to a number of interviews with you and there was onete that i am sure is a famous anecdote of you trying to squeeze in time to write what leads to you is writing this book on your cell phone, but one thing you said that struck me was she refused to use the delete button because you were too busy thinking you are stupid so you constantly would go back and correct yourself and you wouldn't do that and i had to tthink about, you were offereda partnership in a prestigious firm and turned it down. you t are doing civil rights wo. you are who you are and you've done all the things you've done, kind of disturbing to hear that you still think you are so stupid you better not use the delete button. >> self-doubt is endemic to being human. my husband said to me recently,
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she's the most confident and selfish person i know and i see that she has self-doubt and makes me except that it myself. i will always question myself and i will always wonder if what i'm doing is good enough and is my all, but i think that's just part of this whole thing of being alive and being a person in the world. >> last question. you said in the book when being recognized as humand requires no luck and there's work you are hadoing to that and then i wondr what sort of progress you feel you're making towards the. >> i think there is more recognition of the problems, the barriers, not complete recognition, but there is more awareness of the barriers for children with disabilities, for immigrant children c, for famils who come here without any support monetary or familial and
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there are a lot of talking points as a result around the. i'm not yet seen the tipping point to the next step, which is changes, concrete changes, but i do think the conversation is there. it's moving there, the shift has happened where people are starting to think about these problems and that's where progress starts. it has to start somewhere, so this is a marathon. i try to be, as i said, pessimistic about the reality, but also hold onto the idealism of we are moving forward and it is a long journey and no one has that view of the big pictureg, but as the conversation shift i see it slowly and in time morphing into systemic and structural changes of how we educate children, how we welcome families into our country and the barriers that we are starting to knock down one by one. t
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>> the book is so beautiful and it's painful and i think it's important i think you so much for writing it and i thank you for joining us to talk about it. >> thank you so much, angie, for your thoughtful engagement and thank you for everyone who chose to spend the night with me. it's been if you were joe-- joy to be here. j books, bookshop sa cruz in santa cruz california, books soup in west hollywood, all of which have plenty of copies of "beautiful country" so avail yourself of them now. i am angie coro, , i'm wishing u a grant and


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