134: Beautiful Country, with Qian Julie Wang


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Dear White Women


Sometimes there are those books that are so hauntingly beautiful, disturbing, or touching (or all three) that you can’t stop thinking about them for days after you finally put them down after binge reading them. Some of those for us are The Handmaid’s Tale, or Americanah, or Song of Solomon. But recently, we found another book that we’ve been thinking about ever since putting it down - Beautiful Country. In her debut memoir, which she started writing in 2016 while on the subway on her iPhone, Qian Julie Wang tells her story of being an undocumented seven-year-old who arrives in New York City in 1994 with her parents from northern China - and all of the wonders and heartbreak and LIFE that happens as you come of age in a country that has expressly shown you that you don’t belong, in so many ways. Talking to her was like seeing this book come to life - but we didn’t just stop with the book. Listen in to hear about Beautiful Country, but also so much more, in this conversation that we didn’t want to end. Have questions, comments, or concerns? Email us at hello@dearwhitewomen.com What to listen for: What it felt like to risk everything and write openly about their move away from China Experiences growing up living in fear and poverty in New York, and how that’s shaped her current career as a lawyer Her thoughts on Afghani refugees, anti-Asian hate, and what we can all do to better understand the people in our communities About the book: In Chinese, the word for America, “Mei Guo,” translates directly to “Beautiful Country.” Yet when 7-year-old Qian is plucked from her comfortable life in China where she’s surrounded by friends and family and arrives in New York City in 1994, she finds the roads paved not with gold, but instead crushing fear and scarcity. Her professor parents now work in Chinatown sweatshops and sushi factories. Instead of laughing at her jokes, they fight constantly. She no longer loves school because she’s too hungry to pay attention. Her mother, her sole confidante, is too sick to get out of bed, but going to the doctor isn't an option. And most distressing of all: the number one rule in America is that she must go unnoticed—or risk losing everything.  It’s under this perpetual specter of deportation that we watch Qian Julie come of age. Yet, while Qian Julie’s is a story of hopes dashed, it’s also one of life lived tenaciously in their stead, with small, vital joys and glimmers of hope: a dollar slice of pizza, Rockefeller Center at Christmastime, a bedroom with her own door, or her very own Tamagotchi digital pet. About the author: Although the book ends when Qian Julie Wang’s family leaves the US 5 years later, her remarkable true story did not end there. She attended Swarthmore College and Yale Law School and, until recently, worked as a high-powered corporate litigator in Manhattan—in fact, she wrote the book almost entirely on her iPhone during her daily subway commute. She is now pursuing her advocacy work full-time and is managing partner of Gottlieb & Wang LLP, a firm dedicated to advocating for education and discrimination rights. She regularly speaks and writes on these issues, including recent op-eds for the New York Times and Washington Post.   Where to pre-order Dear White Women: Let’s Get (Un)comfortable Talking About Racism: https://thecollectivebook.studio/dear-white-women Like what you hear?  Don’t miss another episode and subscribe! Catch up on more commentary between episodes by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – and even more opinions and resources if you join our email list.