In The Rising Podcast

Episode 114: A moment with Qian Julie Wang- author of Beautiful Country

November 09, 2021 Bettina M. Brown
In The Rising Podcast
Episode 114: A moment with Qian Julie Wang- author of Beautiful Country
Show Notes Transcript

After reading Qian Julie Wang's story in Beautiful Country, I felt as though I was there with her- a silent observer on the wall or in her classroom.  Qian Julie shares her story of a girl who moves to the Beautiful Country, as it is and has been known to so many people wanting to move here.

To read her story, as a born American, and as a person that had it "easier" I was awed by her resilience and embarrassed that this Beautiful Country can be so very ugly sometimes. Her story is one of wonder, and will create a sense of beauty in the hearts of many for years to come. 

Website
Penguin House
NPR article



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Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to in the Ryzen podcast. My name is Tina, and this is the platform I've chosen to talk about living a life. That is your dream, your hope, and almost the thing that you never imagined, because it's better than what you imagined and leaving behind the shame blame game that does nothing for you. And so my guest today is Shen Julie Wong national bestseller of beautiful country. And whenever you read this book, you're just with her right in that moment. And she shares her story as being an immigrant in the United States, but she starts off her life elsewhere. And I so encourage you to read this book, especially after you hear what she has to say.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much for your time today and sharing your , your story with this wonderful work of art. This book that you publish . Thank you for being on my podcast today.

Speaker 3:

Thank you so much for having me. It's a true delight to be here.

Speaker 2:

So you have written this, what I call is a work of art and it comes from your childhood story. And I like right before we started, I said, I was there with you when , uh , when you were overseas, when you came here, but I really felt a huge , um, a loss. When your , when your father, your Baba came over first and you felt a change within your mom, it seemed like there was a change throughout looking back on that time. How would you, how do you see your mom now through that time of , of figuring out how to get her and you together again, as a family,

Speaker 3:

You know, writing this book has been transformative for me in particularly transformative in my relationship to my parents. I think as a child, like most children, I just picked up that my mother who was once playful and talented in all facets and in control, and all-knowing became nervous and scared and stressed out and angry. And I couldn't understand why that was. And all I knew to do was to be an easy child to do, to make things easier for her, to the extent that I could, because I had developed a quicker fluency in English, a better understanding of the social mores in America, but looking back on her from my adult self, while writing this book and , and really in the process of drafting, it required me to both hold true to my childhood perspective, but also see things from my mother's angle. She was younger than I was than I am. Now. She was in her early thirties when all of this happened. And I don't think anything in life can quite prepare you to uproot yourself from the only country, the only province really she knew from all the family and friends she had in the world to this completely different continent, where she didn't know anybody, she didn't know the language and she could not use her credentialed skills because of the issue of immigration status and how very difficult and traumatic. It must have been from an adult lens to resign yourself from going from being a professor or a writer of textbooks, a lecturer to someone who works in sweatshops and in freezing cold water in sushi processing plants. You know, for me as a child, I was just like, I don't know why we're doing this, but we're doing it. Okay. Like that's what children are like, right. They take immediately in front of them and they just roll with it. And everything is kind of temporary. You're not thinking about the big picture, but I'm sure for my mother, she was thinking, is this the rest of my life? How did I go from that to this? So the act of revisiting those memories and seeing things through her eyes really made me appreciate how remarkable she was and also how resilient the human spirit is. I think any of us, if put in that situation with a young daughter would do whatever we could to get food on the table to pay rent. And , um, it was lucky for me that I got to see that grit and resilience play out so early in my life.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And you know, you talk about the beautiful country and as you tell the story of when you first came here and the , what you went through, it didn't seem that the beautiful country was very kind, was very beautiful to you. How do you feel now, looking back on that,

Speaker 3:

There were indeed, there, there is indeed two Americas and there was at that time, and that was really the image that was painted for me before we got here, nobody in China, in the nineties really knew what America was actually like, because it was so much censorship and so much filtering through government controlled media. So we were told it was either a place where streets were paved with goals and everybody's lived in luxury or a place where streets were lined with homeless and hungry, and everyone was fighting for breadcrumbs. And I saw both really, you know, there are moments of fog in my memory when I am taken aback at the lights of New York city, the skyscrapers and the majestic quality of America and of New York city. And I realized that there was something outside my immediate circle, but in my day-to-day life, I was very much consigned to , um, that latter version, something akin to that latter version of America, where I dealt with hunger for the very first time. But I think because there was that promise or that sense that, that other America was there. Um, and my mother's that it was in fact there, and that I could get us there and that our current situation was nearly temporary. There was always hope.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Yeah. With that too, you talked a lot about going to the library and then right before you left for, you know , Canada, that you had to turn in your library books, and now you've written a book that will be in a library. How did books transform that view of hope for you?

Speaker 3:

It was really a blessing in disguise that I was taken away from my entire family and all my friends. And I was saying, I would have chosen it even looking back, but, but it gave me a gift in that I immediately learned to find friends and family in books. And I learned early on that literacy fluency in English, what get us out of that situation. And so being so immersed in the public library and stories and, and my fictional characters who are friends and family, it was instilled in me very early on that there was significant power in storytelling and a narrative. And specifically the narratives that we shape that we tell ourselves about our lives. And that had been the underlying principle , uh , that, that drives everything I do as an adult in my career, both as a lawyer and an author.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Yeah. And you touched on that , that you are a lawyer, you are in New York, it's almost like you are truly living on the other side of America. Now that you've been through. How do you reflect back? Do you ever drive through your old neighborhoods or, you know, where, what, you've, how you've risen up to where you are now?

Speaker 3:

I do, but I don't need to do that to see shadows of my past life. I sometimes walking to my apartment or my office, we'll see an immigrant Chinese woman sifting through the trash with her daughter for recyclable cans that they can then deposit for 5 cents a piece. And in that moment, my heart breaks, I don't think I will ever be. I don't think there is the other side. I think the scars that are within me while heels will always be there, I will always feel them. And I will always feel this call and this almost , um, nostalgia, nostalgic longing for that other life where I felt like I was just my oneself. I think this trajectory that the American dream as formulated really supports is one that forces someone to drag themselves out of the lower class and into the upper class. But one that necessarily divides them from their roots where they're come from their oldest friends, the formative experiences of their lives. And I just don't think it accounts for the psychological toll that it takes much less, you know, in my work now in immigration work and education work, I'm still seeing the very same barriers that were thrown up before me. And it is heartbreaking. I mean, I will continue pushing progress forward. I am hopeful that changes incremental, especially in social change, especially in legal change, but it is not without pain that I find myself here because there's so much guilt involved. And I don't feel that I can ever do enough to repay all the luck and privilege that I've been lucky to receive and to make sure that no other little girl has to encounter any of the things that I did.

Speaker 2:

You had mentioned in your book that you had traveled to Canada and the person said welcome home. And then at the end, it says you're back in New York city. And I did wonder what made you, what drew you back to this country rather than a country that actually said welcome home.

Speaker 3:

I felt like there was unfinished business here, but my dad left China. It was both running form China, but very much running toward America. America to him was the land of mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway. And it was a land that he wanted to be in because it was the very first model, I guess, of democracy and of accountable Clements . And when we left it's I love Canada. I'm very grateful to the people of Canada for taking us in. I think they do a lot of things differently and better, but when we left, I felt like I was being chased out. And so when we got to Canada, there was no sense of peace. Like, oh, I chose this land. It was more, I was not allowed to make a home where I wanted to make a home and being of dissident blood and a rebellious streak. I wanted to make a home in that place that continuously rejected me. And so I just felt like I couldn't , um, you know, find peace until I came back here and made away legally.

Speaker 2:

Yeah . And what made you decide then to become a lawyer and, and delve into the type of work that you are in now?

Speaker 3:

I decided I was going to be a lawyer when I was eight. It was in the public library and I found condensed biographies of Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And I said, then I'm going to be the Ruth and Thurgood of the immigrants. And then single-mindedly pursued law school, but some were in law school. And after I lost my way, and I think it was because the scars of poverty and hunger were still very much open and alive in me. I just needed that sense of financial security before I could attend to anything else. But during the process of writing and editing this book and putting it out in the world, I was reacquainted with the very reason why I wanted to be a lawyer. And it was to give back to the very communities that carried me here. So when I was offered partnership at a big fancy firm, I turned it down and opened up my own firm, Gottlieb and Wong LLP focused on representing and according really the same caliber of legal service that wealthy corporations get, but to marginalized communities, children with disabilities and immigrant families. And I really do believe that is the first step. If the legal resources can be equitably more equitably distributed, that is the first step to eroding these systemic barriers. So I am cautiously hopeful that , um, the little me inside is as proud of where I am now. And I have to say there's a, not, not a minute now, when I feel like I'm working, because I just know it was what I was meant to do and what I was put here to do. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

And when you said the systemic barriers, these , you see them, but the first step was micro. Those, those micro schisms that we have to create is to actually be aware of it. Because if you're not, if that's not your world, you don't know what's a problem. And to , to have, I do believe in the human spirit and the human love that we don't all know the different, the different scenarios, right? Whether you're born in a country or have traveled around, you don't know until someone like you shares their story and you can walk with them through that story to see what your own country, even though beautiful has its scars and some parts that are not so beautiful, it doesn't make it less beautiful overall, but we can work on that to create a even better country. What would you say now to another, another child eight, nine years old about, you know, maybe for example, the daughter of the person you saw on the street, what would you tell her now about her potential and her possibilities in this beautiful country? Now

Speaker 3:

I would tell her first and foremost, something that I needed to hear as a kid. And it is that it's not her fault. It's so easy to blame yourself as, as any person, but especially as a child in that situation, that there's something inherently wrong with you that, you know, resigns you to the slot in life versus the girl sitting next to you in class. The other message, I would say something that my mother told me often, which is it is all temporary. You can create for yourself. Anything that you dare to dream of. It might not be easy. It might be very painful and there will be many people telling you that you are crazy and it's impossible, but as long as you can envision it, you can bring it about. And I think with those two pieces of messages, children so resilient, so joyful, so hopeful. I think they can make it through a lot.

Speaker 1:

Wow. When you read her book, you're , you're just there with her and you have a new respect for resilience. You have a new respect for either your own ancestors that have been immigrants. You have new respect for the people who are immigrants now in 2020 and 2021, but it is just, it is just a show of the human spirit. And if you know that more is possible than what her mom said is absolutely true. If you can envision it, it can happen. So I want to thank you for your time today for listening. If you appreciated this sort of podcast, I encourage you to leave a five-star review. It does so much to move the needle forward for in the rising and put it in the hands and ears of those that would really benefit. And until next time let's keep building one another

Speaker 4:

[inaudible] .