Saturday, December 24, 2022

Beautiful Country

  Beautiful Country: A Memoir
Author:  Qian Julie Wang
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2021. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0385547218 / 978-0385547215
Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "My story starts decades before my birth."

Favorite Quote:  "Secrets. They have so much power, don't they?"

"Whatever happens, say that you were born here, that you’ve always lived here." This is the lesson repeated time and again in Qian Julie Wang's childhood in New York City. What she knows is that she and her parents leave China for a new home in America because they have to. She is seven. Her life in New York becomes the only life she has ever known. It is life of struggle as her parents work in sweatshops, adapt to a new country, a new language, and a new way of life. Within that confine, they seek to provide their daughter an education.

To her, this is the only home she has ever known. She wants to fit in and belong. It is her parents at times who seems restrictive and challenged and different. 

What she does not realize is that her parents and she remain in the United States in the shadows, long after their temporary visas expire. They do no have a legal means of remaining in the country. In China, both parents were professors - one of English, the other of mathematics. Here, they take whatever job they can find simply to survive. This memoir is an adult looking back on this childhood narrative through the eyes of that young girl who does not know any of this and does not understand.

The understanding of the adult is the retrospective at the end of the narrative:
  • "First and foremost, thank you to the members of the undocumented community, and in particular, the Dreamers and DACA recipients. To those whose stories I know and those whose stories I've yet to hear:  your courage and resilience are my inspiration, and I look forward to continuing to learn from you. I am now privileged beyond belief but I will stand with you for as long as you will have me."
  • "And finally to Ba Ba ... and to Ma Ma ... When you had nothing, you somehow managed to give me everything. For that alchemy, no thank you can every be enough."
  • "I like that I could help Ba Ba believe that one day, no one would think we were immigrants, that we really and truly belonged here."
Spoiler alert .... Although not really a spoiler if you read author biographies first. Qian Julie Wang is a Yale law graduate and managing partner in a law firm specializing in education and civil rights. Clearly, she and her family found a way to survive and thrive. My read of this book is not a conversation on the legality or illegality of the immigration. The law is the law, and the decision made were those of adults. 

To me, this is a compelling story about a child who has no hand and no control in those decisions, a child who has no knowledge of that decision, a child whose mother hides an illness for fear of what a doctor's visit will mean for her undocumented family, a child who has no home other than the known streets of New York. What is to become of this undocumented child as she becomes an adult? Where is home? Where does this child belong? What does a parent's decision mean for the life of this child?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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