Qian Julie Wang: How Does It Feel When Obama Selects Your Book As One of His Favorites of the Year?
This Week on Twitterverse, a Show About Tweets and the Writers Who Send Them
You’re tuning into another dimension. A dimension of tweets and the writers who send them. You have just now entered the Twitterverse. Each week, Gabe Hudson welcomes one of his favorite writers and pulls four of their tweets. The guest reads one of those tweets out loud. Then Gabe and the guest use that tweet as an entry point into a conversation designed to illuminate the writer’s heart and mind. Rinse, repeat. Presented by Literary Hub and Best Case Studios.
New York Times Bestselling author Qian Julie Wang has one of the most incredible life stories you have ever heard. But her personal philosophy and inspired worldview may well be the most extraordinary thing about her. Full of deep feeling and keen intelligence, Qian Julie tells Gabe what it was like for her and her family to give up everything in China and move to Brooklyn when she was seven years old. To live as an undocumented child in NYC. Qian Julie eventually got her law degree from Yale and today, in addition to being a brilliant author, is a passionate litigator on behalf of undocumented members of society. She tells Gabe about the happiest place in America. And what it meant to her to have President Obama select her book as one of his favorite books of the year.
34 & still can’t turn on the garbage disposal without imagining my hand getting sucked in and butchered into a stump. when do i become a real adult?
— Qian Julie Wang🔸王乾 (@QianJulieWang) January 11, 2022
Qian Julie Wang: I think a healthy fear of the garbage disposal or monsters under the bed keeps us young and alive. I think that all of us probably spend all of our lives waiting to feel like an adult, like there’s going to be that one moment that will magically transform us into all knowing responsible, capable people.
Gabe Hudson: Do you feel the same thing goes for being a writer? Were you ever waiting for the magical click where you’re like, Okay, now I’m officially a writer.
Qian Julie Wang: Oh, absolutely. I thought that would happen when I got a book deal. I thought that would happen when my book came out, and it just hasn’t happened. That feeling of being an imposter, of questioning yourself: it’s always with me, especially at the start of any new book. But I think and I hope that that feeling and that doubt keeps our work product good and it keeps us continuing to challenge ourselves.
this afternoon, i am speaking to the teachers of my former elementary school, P.S. 124. i had previously asked if my favorite teacher was still on staff.
i just got this email from the principal 🥺🥺🥺 pic.twitter.com/vGXhcRPbjM
— Qian Julie Wang🔸王乾 (@QianJulieWang) January 24, 2022
Qian Julie Wang: Good teachers are so special, and they can really change the path of your life and your academic experience. I moved to New York at age seven, so in second grade my school was in Chinatown, Manhattan, because there were very few schools back then that had Chinese-speaking teachers on staff. And obviously I didn’t speak any English upon arrival, right? By third grade, I was a little bit more adept at English and fairly fluent, I would say. But I was still pushing myself to learn as many English words as possible, particularly because I was undocumented. It was really important to me to speak English like a true American, so no one would be suspicious.
Gabe Hudson: That would be like the ultimate defense, ultimate armor.
Qian Julie Wang: Even into third grade, certainly in second grade, I just I found the public library and I just was reading all of the time. So I had no books to my possession. I only had library books. My parents and I were very poor. We lived on $20 a week for food. There was just no discretionary spending. So she gave me my own volume and I looked at it, and it was Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, and she explained that she completely knew what I was going through because she moved from China to New York at a similar age, and all she could preoccupy herself with was learning English as perfectly as possible. And I didn’t know that she was an immigrant. So for her to tell me that gave me so much hope. And she said that that book, in particular, made her feel less lonely and gave her a lot of hope about the future because it’s all about friendship and standing up for each other. I still have that book. I have moved 21 times in my life, but no matter where I am living, I know exactly where it is in my apartment.
my parents are both Water Tigers- they turn 60 this year, and this is the first Water Tiger year since they were born in 1962. chinese superstition says that 本命年 can be bad luck, but this Fire Rabbit sees only brightness ahead in 2022 for her pair of intrepid Tigers ♥️ pic.twitter.com/Q9IqRBp8BC
— Qian Julie Wang🔸王乾 (@QianJulieWang) February 2, 2022
Qian Julie Wang: My dad was an English literature professor in China. My mother was a math professor in China. My mother was actually on the very forefront of developing computer science technology in the early nineties. And one of my first memories of her as she must have brought me to work in a stroller or something, and she was sitting in front of a giant black screen that’s about the size of half a room. And she’s typing code in black font on a keyboard. That’s my one of my first memories of my mother just at work developing this unknown thing.
And then in ’94, my mother and I moved to New York. My father had been born to a dissident family. His second oldest brother had written something during the Cultural Revolution criticizing Chairman Mao. And my father’s family had been known as dissidents for a long time before then. So the government kind of had its eyes on the family. And very shortly after his brother wrote that piece and distributed it publicly, his brother was thrown into prison and tortured and starved. His brother was only 18 at the time and my father was only six.
From then on, it was extremely difficult. Grandparents were dragged out to the town square for public humiliation and criticism and beatings. Red Guards would come to the house all the time. The only things that became truly sacred to my father was my uncle’s collection of banned books from America and from England that my father hid under the floorboards and moved around between raids to make sure that nobody ever got to them. Late at night, he would pull them out and under the candlelight read them to comfort himself.
So when my father became a professor against a lot of efforts, right, he realized that there were still things that he could not teach his students that were really important to discuss with regard to Western literature. And he became determined then, and I’m sure at many points of his childhood, to leave China, and it was very much in pursuit of America as much it was to leave China, because to his mind, as he grew up, America became a symbol of freedom and liberty and the ability to criticize the government in a way that he had not seen in his homeland. He was determined to embark on this for for me as much as for himself and so I might have a future of writing and criticizing. Right?
My mother was less enamored with this dream, but was loyal to her family first and foremost. So she gave up her whole burgeoning career to to follow him and to unite us. And from there, they worked at sweatshops, laundromats, sushi-processing plants, some really difficult physical labor because of our undocumented status and because of the language barrier and a lot of systemic problems. So I grew up seeing all of this and it convinced me early that I was not to take a single second of my life for granted, that this was something worth sacrificing for this land, this life. It was something that my father believed was worth giving up his whole life for, and that I, too, had to fight for it for my parents. They just said, it’s all temporary. We’ll make it out. Well, we’ll find our way back again. This is just a stepping stone. And that mentality, when I am at my lowest and I feel beaten down like and very close to giving up, that mentality sees me through.
I questioned whether I was dreaming in 2016 when President Obama called me “fellow American” on video during my naturalization.
Now I’m questioning it again. My book criticizes his administration in its first pages. Thank you, Mr. President, for inspiring faith in our democracy https://t.co/hbq1rBIs5P
— Qian Julie Wang🔸王乾 (@QianJulieWang) December 15, 2021
Qian Julie Wang: For anyone who has not been to a naturalization ceremony, I highly recommend to you attending one. It is, I would say, the most diverse cross-section of American society. You go there and you see people in all shades and they’re almost always there with a family and they’re all dressed up in their fanciest clothing, in suits and dresses and with flowers and jewelry. And there is just, first of all, not a dry eye in the house, but also you can’t find a single person that’s not smiling. It is the happiest place in America.
And I go and I see all of these happy, joyous families from all corners of the earth together in one room. And it is so incredibly moving. And the judge greets us and pulls down the screen at the front of the room. And this video of President Obama comes on and he says, hello, fellow Americans. And I don’t even hear the rest of what he says because I’m stuck at the word. “Fellow Americans.” Yeah. I just start bawling and ugly sobbing. And it is in the safety of those words from the President of the United States that I was able to finally acknowledge to myself how badly I had wanted this for so much of my life and how I just did not feel like it would ever come to fruition. It was in that room that I realized what I was receiving that day was a profound privilege, a privilege that so many millions of undocumented Americans out there might never see.
With that privilege came a duty for me. It was my duty to shed light on the humanity and the hope and the patriotism of what it means to be undocumented, to choose to live in America under such rejection and hardship and impoverishment, but still choose America every day that you wake up. It requires so much love for this country that I think people do not understand or see. And so that was when I decided to start writing my book.
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Qian Julie Wang is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Beautiful Country. She is a graduate of Yale Law School and Swarthmore College. She is managing partner of Gottlieb & Wang LLP, an educational civil rights law firm, and her writing has appeared in major publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two rescue dogs, Salty and Peppers.