The Chinese name for America, 美国/美國/měiguó, translates to “Beautiful Country”. We talked with author Jane Kuo about her experience as a 1.5-generation immigrant bridging Chinese, Taiwanese, and American identity. Her family’s pursuit of the American Dream inspired her debut novel In the Beautiful Country which is available for pre-order before its June 28 release (delayed from June 14 due to supply chain issues).
Featuring Jane Kuo:
- In the Beautiful Country by Jane Kuo
- janekuo.com for upcoming tour dates and projects
About Jane: Jane Kuo is a Chinese and Taiwanese American writer. She is an immigrant and the daughter of immigrants. Jane grew up in Los Angeles in the 1980s and as a child, she spent her weekends and summers working in her family’s fast food restaurant. Jane’s middle grade novel, In the Beautiful Country, is a fictional story inspired by the events of her childhood.
Other works mentioned:
- Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
- Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Wikipedia)
- Asian Comedian Destroys America!, Ronny Chieng’s first special on Netflix
English language writing by Taiwanese Americans about the May 15 shooting in Laguna Woods, California
- Brian Hioe for New Bloom Magazine, “Confusion About ‘Chinese’ Or ‘Taiwanese’ Identity Of Gunman After Shooting At Taiwanese Church In California”
- HoChie Tsai and Leona Chen for TaiwaneseAmerican.org, “We grieve the May 15th Shooting at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church”
- Jocelyn Chung for USA Today, “Church shooting is deeply personal for us as Taiwanese Americans”
- A prayer by Jocelyn’s ama for the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church (Instagram video in Taiwanese with English translation in the caption)
[0:00] Hi this is Angela.
Before we begin our episode I want to take a minute to address a major event this week that has shaken the Taiwanese community.
If it's too painful you can skip to the second chapter which begins at about 1 minute and 30 seconds in.
[0:18] On Sunday in a retirement community in Orange County California a gunman deliberately targeted the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church during a lunch honoring Pastor Billy Chang who had recently returned from Taiwan.
[0:34] There are still many facts to uncover about the shooters motivations but in our show notes.
We have linked to several articles written by prominent Taiwanese Americans that describe the nuances of the gunman's identity his potential political affiliations and the importance of the Presbyterian Church to the Taiwanese community.
[0:54] We want to honor Dr. John Cheng who courageously gave his life and we applaud the heroic members of the church many of whom are our parents and grandparents ages for successfully disarming the gunman to stop the shooting.
[1:10] This episode and our next episode or both recorded before this tragic event.
[1:18] "Even from the very first moment of stepping out of LAX and then taking that car ride I thought wow something is.
Is different and nothing will ever be the same". "Some of the key characters in the book passed away.
And I realized that wow if I don't document this story it's not going to be remembered so I kind of wanted to to have that for myself for my kids and for the Asian American community."
[2:00] Hearts in Taiwan podcast where we explore and celebrate our connections to Taiwan I'm Angela and I'm Annie.
And in this episode we're talking with a writer whose book is a powerful story of an immigrant girl's point of view on her experience coming to America and it takes a unique approach in its storytelling style.
In the past year I have read the most blocks compared to the rest of my entire adult life
come by I recognized it was because really I just needed to have things that spoke to me at a deeply personal level.
[2:33] I've never had an interest you in my adult life honestly to read anything because nothing really sparked my interest and and discovering all these books throughout our podcast.
Has really it what I would think reignited my, call it, middle school curiosity and the power of the written word because I think about what it is that motivated me
in middle school to be such a voracious reader and I really liked in that it's the feeling that I get that.
That inspiration to want to read certain things so I got to say hey we're all we're always learning new things about ourselves right.
[3:15] Yeah I mean there was a long time like maybe like a decade or two where I didn't make the time to read fiction.
Most of like if I picked up a book it was really for self-help it's really been nice being able to get back into fiction and like transport yourself into someone else's mindset and experiences because
we're paying a lot more attention to what Asian American authors are putting out a lot of the new energy coming out is in the
middle grade and young adults world and.
I think this is actually perfect right because that's kind of like where I left off reading fiction but we still have a lot to process from our past so I think this book is actually
a really great way to do that because it kind of revisits like if you were to go back and read your
journals are your Diaries from your childhood it's kind of like that but with someone who's maybe a little bit more
has little bit more depth than we we did or whatever we were writing about in our diaries or as the youth say a little less cringey,
we certainly wouldn't want to publish it.
Oh hell no oh my God can you also it would be the worst selling book ever so the book that is not cringey that we were talking about today is In the Beautiful Country by Jane Kuo.
And the main character is a 10-year old girl named Anna.
[4:45] Whose family is moving from Taiwan to America this experience is something that we haven't read a story before because what
most of the stories we hear are first-generation immigrants which is like moving immigrating to another country as an adult or second generation which is like us our parents were the ones who immigrated and we were born and raised in the new country.
[5:09] We've heard like people who move as children to a new country that they call themselves The 1.5 generation because they're kind of in between a first generation and second generation.
I mean James
book gives us a really interesting view into the Immigrant experience that neither of us really knew directly from our own families because our parents are the first generation were the second generation and so reading this book.
Really not only gave me a better understanding of what that experience was like.
[5:41] But it also recognize that there are really also a lot of parallels across so many different immigrant experiences.
Not only in our parents generation but immigrants who are of our generations I related it so much to stories I've heard from my husband he's solidly second-generation his parents really immigrated as entrepreneurs.
[6:04] It's a whole nother layer of stress when you're moving to
a new country starting a new business and like dealing with both learning the language and serving customers in that language at the same time like livelihood your money your income
totally depends on your ability to communicate in this foreign language
one of the things that I really love about listening to my husband race experiences was his family owned a Chinese restaurant some of the things that
we're really different about his childhood from mine are things like they never got to take a vacation
or they if they take a vacation as a really big deal is like a once-a-year thing because if you shut down the restaurant there's nobody else to run the restaurant for you it's not like being at a corporate job and like I'm going to take my vacation days now and like everything else don't keep any no like your
your restaurant closes and you don't earn money anymore that's like that that was like one thing if not however having any relief.
But also he remembers his friends always assuming that they're rich just because they had a lot of food
around them yeah and so they would always like the friends would always come over and assume that like they could eat for free because like you know it's a restaurant it's full of food.
But really the margins are so thin that they really can't afford to not get paid.
[7:34] All of these things coming together for a child of immigrants who are.
Trying to run an entrepreneurial business infused.
[7:46] Like this whole level of stress in throughout his childhood and that's why he feels like.
He was robbed of a childhood his recurring dreams are still like he'll wake up in a sweat because he's he.
Thinking that he's still in the restaurant and like something terrible has happened and like all hands on deck.
I think that more consistently than any like stress dreams about present-day work.
Anna and her family have kind of a similar experience because they come to the country having invested in buying a restaurant and.
[8:22] Finding that the restaurant was not as it was advertised to them
so let's get into the interview I'm so excited that we got to talk with Jane the author and ask her a whole bunch of questions that came up.
[8:39] So we're so excited to have another writer in our midst Jane Kuo! So Jane Kuo is a Chinese and Taiwanese American writer she's an immigrant and the daughter of immigrants.
Jane grew up in Los Angeles in the 1980s and as a child she spent her weekends and summers working her family's fast food restaurant.
[8:56] Jane's middle grade novel in the beautiful country is a fictional story inspired by the events of her childhood.
So welcome Jane, we're so excited to have you thank you for taking the time today.
Thank you for having me I mean we have so many things that we want to talk to you about today but first I wanted to start off with.
Understanding your immigration experience so you know you're actually the first guest
on our podcast who's actually lived in Taiwan during such formative years so really want to try to understand like what were some of the creative differences between your actual experience and your books main character Anna.
[9:36] The main character my book it's a middle grade novel so she is 10 years old I actually immigrated when I was five.
I really wanted to kind of make the character a little bit older so I could write a bit more interiority into her experience and capture some of the things that
that maybe you know a five year olds wouldn't necessarily remember or be able to reflect on
so I used artistic license to kind of do that that's one of the great things about writing fiction is to be able to change things and make things up but I also feel like really at the heart of the story you know many things are
as true as can be about the experience the other thing is that in the book.
So it's about a child an only child who emigrates with her parents to LA county in 1980.
And in my own family there's actually.
Two of us so there's me and my sister but then I went ahead and just wrote my sister out of the Stone.
[10:44] Yeah so in some ways this character Anna is also a little bit of an amalgamation of my experience in my sister's experience.
The dynamic of just a family of three and an only child it really amplifies the feeling of loneliness and Anna having to process everything by herself
rather than being able to process with somebody else.
All right so Jane and why don't you tell us a bit more about the premise of the book I pitched the story as the story about
ten-year-old Anna who emigrates to the US with her parents and it's just about her experience navigating.
Entering into a new country navigating school and home and then
work life because she ends up working in her parents fast food restaurant after school and on the weekends
I think the time period is an important part of the context here when was this set and why did you choose that timing.
So I chose 1980s because or specifically 1980 and then.
[11:56] She ends up growing up and kind of living and navigating life and throughout the 80s.
Because that was really similar to my experience my immigration experience in some ways the book is a love letter to La which is where I grew up.
And to 1980s there's not like a ton of Pop Culture references but it really was a love letter also took my childhood so I just wanted to kind of.
Set it in that time period.
[12:27] It feels like a lot of Taiwanese immigrants that we've met have immigrated into the San Gabriel Valley area. Where around LA
was this set because it seemed like there was not a lot of connection with other Chinese immigrants in the story
Duarte is the is a town probably the biggest town that it is closest to is Pasadena.
So it's three cities over from Pasadena.
[12:57] At that time we were just one of the very few Asian families in that very small town and even now it's kind of a.
Still a small town even though it's part of that bigger LA County so I think I wanted to capture that to just this feeling of pure I was immigrating to America and I thought it was just going to be bigger and better and brighter
and I came from type hey and I was I was in a really.
Big town and then I end up in this kind of podunk area where there just weren't even many people walking around.
[13:32] I don't mean to say podunk
Pejoratively but it was just it was quite a contrast especially from Taipei being able to walk to and reach so many things where as in the story.
Like everything is like you can only get to what you can walk to but in the LA area so car-dependent that there's not a lot you can see between like walking from home too.
Your school or or in this case the restaurant that ends family hombres.
I mean one of the constants though was that my family we didn't have a car.
That was going to be something that would be may be addressed or tackled later so,
yeah I mean just the whole idea of living in l.a. without a car all the layers of culture shock right.
[14:23] Yeah it seems like a whole other layer of isolation on top of like all the other.
[14:32] I think that was really a theme for me when I reading it is that the family was really alone and only had each other.
To get through this this really tough time we noticed that both you and
Anna the character identify as Chinese and Taiwanese which usually when we meet people they identify as one or the other
and Annie and I only recently have consciously embraced both Chinese and Taiwanese identity so it's really
refreshing to see you and your your character that you bring to life embracing this dual identity so tell us more about when and how you decided to claim both identities,
yeah so I did grow up just saying that I was Chinese or Chinese-american I think mostly because that was just you know the easiest way or I didn't sort of really grow up that in touch with my Taiwanese culture.
From the perspective of myself as a young person whereas looking back now I realize that oh my gosh there was so much about you know Taiwanese culture that I was in Marston because my mom's Taiwanese my dad was from the mainland
so when I went to college and I went to Berkeley there was really a wakening about identity and about even just a sense of like.
[15:54] Political identity cultural identity so as I embraced being Asian American and even the whole idea of intersectionality so this whole idea that we're not just one thing we can be many things I began.
Saying to folks that I was Chinese and Taiwanese yeah so this would have been Berkeley in the 90s.
So yeah the really great place and.
I'd say an advanced place to be aware of intersectionality and your place in the world and how your identity interacts with influencing the rest of the world.
[16:31] Anna's dad has an interesting back story because he.
Came from China he had spent a large portion of his life in China and he refers to that as his law cha or old home in order to separate his China life from his
Taiwan and now American Life
he doesn't talk a lot about this large our he seems to put up a wall even within his family and how he talks with Anna and her mom about that time in China.
Why does he seem to not want to talk about that time it's really clear to me now as an adult.
[17:10] That there was just a lot of trauma for my father and and probably many people as they.
Emigrated to Taiwan my father's particular story was that as far as I can piece together and ironically a lot of my father's story is.
[17:29] Told to me through the filter of my mom that's how I think disassociated my father was you know and and I think how painful it was for him to.
Talk about his background so it was really important for me to put part of his story in there.
I don't know how many books I'm gonna have in me so I wanted to basically you know not home back and I wanted to you know honor him and honor his story,
so I think he ended up on the island like more like a 1947 because he was part of the Naval Academy and because of all of the fighting in China the time.
There was just a lot of upheaval and things so he didn't so he ended up on the island pre 1949 and then when things closed up in 1949 he ended up.
being in Taiwan and separated from his family from you know anybody everybody that he had ever you know known and loved and was cut off.
[18:33] And I think that that's you know in contrast I think to maybe some waishengren families that were able to come over
with the Kuomintang where they were like one person was able to come over and they were able to bring their wife and their kids and grandparents and stuff
that certainly happened but that wasn't my dad story it's really
so hard to imagine and understand what does that do to a person when they're cut off from their whole family support system
let alone worrying about what's happening to them in back back in the home country and then and then having to like basically.
I decide to make a life and move forward in this new place that you weren't intending to call home but there were there was a group of folks that kind of thought that.
The kuomintang government in Taiwan would at some point be able to take back the mainland yeah yeah so I think that for a short time my father was kind of part of that that group and just.
You know thought that he was.
[19:38] Going to be able to go back at some point so yeah it's really interesting it took him I think a while to realize that that wasn't going to happen and then that's when he decided to marry and start a family
I don't actually reference it in the book but my father is quite a bit older than my mom you know she do the math
by the time when he immigrated to the US and 1980 he would have been in his actually in his early 50s.
[20:07] I think that that's it's very Taiwanese or Chinese too, to kind of.
Your own story is really in meshed with your family story so even when I think about the trauma of my
immigration experience I think about sure but you know here I am sitting as a person speaking English it's my language but can you imagine immigrating to another country as a
50-something year-old and and trying to pick up a total like a third language or like a totally different language.
And then for myself I think there was a couple of chapters devoted to Anna's parents wanting to go to a church in order to connect with
community and the church that they chose was a seems like a Chinese Community Church and they take a bus to get there and she says this line, "Taiwanese have their own churches"
but their family didn't choose to go to a Taiwanese Church
the church that my mom went to was just an American church mostly white but then in high school I started going to a Taiwanese church and so I really saw that like Taiwanese Community connecting in the church.
[21:21] Another layer of the isolation was the Anna's family doesn't have that Taiwanese community in the church that they go to so why do you think that
choosing a church that was more just dies pork Chinese I mean partly because of just Logistics
they had to find a church that was close by enough within a bus ride
because no car and also in Anna's family I think the burden of in some ways choosing to kind of identify as China as a Chinese family because I feel like Asian culture is still quite patriarchal
so my family chose to identify as Chinese mostly like if we had to choose one hmm and also
just very practically also my father never learned Taiwanese.
[22:09] Yeah it would have been quite a hardship for him to go to a Taiwanese church so there it's just such a mixing of forces you know and and that's just
right like all of the all of the ways that we kind of tried to balance our choices to in this world it's it's part like practicality it's part
ways that we need to compromise you know with our partners and and then also just partly the ways that convenience
there's actually a line about the whole family having this experience of starting in the new country in America were Anna narrates I thought that here
in America the three of us would finally be the same thing American instead were Outsiders.
And it just it refers back to the meaning of.
[23:01] Her dad's identity in Taiwan as white children which basically means Outsider so he was an outsider in Taiwan once and then now he's an outsider again and in the rest of his family is also Outsiders together in America.
It's really disappointing for a lot of immigrants to come and expect to make this new place their home
and then be faced with so many unexpected.
Assimilation barriers was our key moment in your childhood in the US that you just really had the feeling that you didn't belong you were an outsider.
[23:40] Yeah I mean multiple so I do remember.
Some of the details but that feeling that sinking feeling when I entered into my kindergarten classroom and thinking oh my gosh this isn't what I expected and maybe this isn't gonna go so well
I also again realize that.
Even from the very first moment of stepping out of LAX and then taking that car ride pulling up into Duarte.
And into the apartment that we would be moving into I thought wow something is.
Is different and nothing will ever be the same.
Now if you consider yourself American like was there any time when you felt like you finally could own that and embrace that American identity.
Sure I can't but I can't really pinpoint a spot in time I had to become naturalized so,
I was in the big LA Convention Center getting naturalized with
probably 5,000 10,000 other people and passed out plastic flags with a barcode still on it so that was that was quite a memory
but I mean I think it's also very American right to question what it means to be an American it's also you know very American to kind of.
[25:00] Struggle with identity and to to kind of have Hang-Ups about it still or I think it's very
Asian American or for Americanized immigrants it still becomes like a lifelong struggle and so I think that that's also what I wanted to capture in the book I mean I basically just felt like
you know so my father passed away some of the key characters in the book passed away.
And I realized that wow if I don't document this story it's not going to be you know remembered so I kind of wanted to have that.
[25:36] For myself for my kids and you know for the Asian-American Community it's really wonderful to have things like this like a fictionalized story and then
us being able to talk on this podcast about our first person experiences and what we're learning from the other Generations in order to
to make sure that these experiences some stories are captured rather than maybe just in an academic context history book or something which really I think doesn't
capture the emotion in like the true experiences of what happens to people during these these major events.
I think in the book and it says that her father's English starts out better than the rest of the family the narrator's father as well as my father
he actually worked quite a while as a Merchant Marine so like I had said he.
[26:31] he was in the Navy but he had actually worked quite a while as a Merchant Marine so.
Traveling a lot on cargo ships delivering Goods that were made in Taiwan all over the world and I think.
Actually when when you do that the language of Commerce is English so my father's English was.
[26:56] Especially his written English was actually quite good the pronunciation wasn't.
Wasn't probably up to Snuff and the other thing I remember about my father was that even in Taiwan he would read the South China.
Post which was actually one of the few English language Chinese newspapers.
So that was his like treat was to get an english-language newspaper and read that on a Sunday
wow and that was so that was his level of English now when it comes to operating a fast food restaurant and all the colloquialisms and all of the ways of.
Making small talk with folks.
[27:44] That was actually sorely lacking that isn't something that you can learn from reading the newspaper you mentioned that.
Her family and your family owned and operated a restaurant.
I saw so many parallels in the story with my husband's experience because his he grew up in a Chinese restaurant basically his family owned and operated at a Chinese restaurant in Tulsa Oklahoma
[28:14] Oh my God just the things like Anna mixing all the sodas my husband was also a soda fountain Mixologist.
When he was growing up and that was like one of the perks of the restaurant life.
So I really want him to read this because of because I think he'll see his
own family's struggles in that and and not just like the fun stuff but really the I'd say the darker side of
a child having to help their parents through a lot of the American experiences like my husband had to
help with doing his parents taxes when he was a kid still because that's one of the things that can be really tricky with the language that is used on tax forms.
[29:03] Anna has these experiences to of like feeling like a little bit
may be superior to her mother in some ways because her mother doesn't have as much understanding of the English language and so.
It's not that Anna has more life experience but more of that like her mother is out of place in this.
[29:22] Context in this area and so Anna has to help her mother get around and interpret things
which I think is a an accelerated growing up that a lot of immigrant children end up having to do
I really appreciate you sharing about your husband's experience and I think that's also just like one of the things I wanted to do with this book was I mean I know that it's for.
Technically it's for middle grade kids between ages like 8 to 12 but I really wanted this to kind of
be something for the Chinese and Taiwanese American community and greater Asian-American Community to Spur our stories because I need just hearing what you said I think there
husband has a novel in there yeah I agree yes he's a great Storyteller and he's just
it really amazing to hear him talk about these experiences which you know growing up being a fish out of water being the only
family the of your type in the in your community it's painful but then it really drives a lot of very interesting experiences that should be told.
[30:35] That's what I love about your book is that it captures something that we haven't heard a lot especially from the Taiwanese immigration
Naruto and I'm really glad that you've honored it even though for those of us who haven't had those specific experiences we know so many I can think of already more than a handful of my friends
who had very similar experiences growing up.
And I we hear very little about those when we're hanging out it's not just something that you want to talk about because it is it
it is very traumatic from the I can sense that and why would you want to talk about past trauma when you're out having Boba you know so but I do see how this can
can bring that and make it more comfortable and be a conversation starters like wow I can I can feel the raw emotion as I read the book.
And tie it to the people in my life.
[31:36] Whereas in a way that I never could before and I think that's that's just some that in of itself is something very special.
Yeah and I'm just hoping that more and more of these stories come out sometimes I feel a little embarrassed because I don't
want anybody to say oh it's just another immigration story and don't we have enough of these and I just feel like
no I mean stories are important and if it's not your cup of tea that's fine but I want to.
You know encourage these stories to come out and share I think the other thing is is that my father's past and if my father was still alive I don't think I would have been able to write
this story in this way because I really did try to be as honest as possible and not.
[32:22] Not sure cut things so I think it's I think they're like uncomfortability that Anna feels and also even this sense of like
yeah this was hard guys and maybe not you know the best choices like I wanted to honor my parents but I also wanted to be really
honest I think I think it comes out a little bit that maybe the father in the story is a little bit more literary and so so I think if my father was still alive.
I don't think I would have been what
been able to write the story the way that I had my mother is still alive she's read it her English isn't super great but she
powered through and she appreciated the story and I guess I knew that she could handle it and then I think that the cool thing about my mom is that
ever the entrepreneur whenever she wants to talk about the book with me she's like so how are you going to Market this thing what are you reaching out to me
give me a give me a sample book I'm going to send it to my friend you know and so it's just it's really cool
but that's the definition mom Powerhouse like I mean we've gotten books from Annie's moms like
my friend has this book to read it oh yeah my friend's daughter wrote this book or my friends desert is this and you should re I got a bunch of copies yeah and I think that's the other thing too is being able to.
[33:50] More empathize with our parents stories immigration stories not just our peers is seeing from,
that's eyes how hard it really is because I think we take a lot of that for granted of oh well we're here we have what we grew up with.
All of these things and this is just how our life is and not recognizing truly how hard.
[34:14] Doing that is and now I think about being in middle-aged like oh my God if I had.
To move to a country where I didn't know the language and as a 40 plus year old I don't know what I would do I got it just
not do it no it's 6 I used to leave and say nope not happen unless they speak English I don't know what I'm supposed to do here.
Yeah it's definitely an exercise in honoring and recognizing how courageous they were and taking the step but when you say that
you couldn't have right written the story the same way if your father was alive do you mean because it would have felt maybe a little disrespectful to criticize your experience
perhaps he would have interpreted it as disrespectful I mean I'm you know projecting so for example like I said.
Some of the stories that are in there about him were not even told to me by him they were told to me by my mom so and then for me to write it down and put it on the page for mass consumption.
I don't think that I am disrespecting his memory at all in fact I'm honoring his memory I'm hoping that there will be more and more stories so for example.
[35:34] Annie as you were saying oh it's not necessarily something that you talk about over Boba I also think that probably like my experience
as folks have more distance from
you know the trauma and the shame that more of these stories will come out because I think that that's what happened to me it was that I was finally able to come full circle.
[35:56] And make peace with my life and then this is a story that came out I mean basically I had wanted to try my hand at writing and I had
tried a lot of different things a lot of different stories
but then in the end I always came back to this I think a lot of immigrant children feel like they aren't allowed to complain in the moment
because the the weight of we're doing this for use for you to have a better future that now that there is distance now you can express those internal feelings that you
you had through your character complaining like.
I didn't want this I didn't ask for this they why am I going through this terrible life I don't think this is better where if you had said that out loud.
[36:41] When you are a child he would have gotten you know a very bad reaction from your parents
that would have been really hard to say in the moment it is the right time
to process the those childhood feelings and and honor them actually like your own feelings not just your parents perspective I mean we've talked about you know there's a lot of different immigrant
experiences right some that are kind of like your family's and then we've also talked about,
in the past on our podcast about also how many Taiwanese immigrants in the 60s and 70s came for grad school so that path obviously came with privilege because they graduate into,
engineering jobs higher paying jobs it really set them up to be a part of the middle class and your story represents a different experience where your family
bought a small business and income was obviously much less predictable and so you know the book.
[37:38] Hints that Anna's dad had also fled from China to Taiwan without means so this is fundamentally his second experience
immigrating without stability what do you think drives him to uproot his family after 30 years of making a life in Taiwan to,
almost kind of repeat this life and at fifty, no less, right? I think that just goes to show you that he probably.
Didn't I mean he had friends he felt comfortable in Taiwan but Taiwan never really became home for him.
It just goes to show you that he was always like longing for something more.
When he did the cost-benefit analysis you know in his head, the opportunity cost and one segments and all of that that it was a no-brainer.
[38:30] Many people made that calculation right even many people with families and we're very rooted but I think for my father it wasn't
hard at all now I think the more interesting question is why was it okay for my mom and I guess for that I have to talk it up to the kind of that,
entrepreneurial spirit and maybe that personality like.
The the personality test that you folks talked about and I think that there might be like a hint of rebellion in there to you know an 8 on the Enneagram for going it's family I don't something,
my parents disagreed about a lot of things but one thing was that they had agreed about immigrating Angela here with an editor's note.
Jane just mentioned the episode where we took personality tests and found out that we're both Enneagram 3 and we connected a lot of our present-day motivations to our upbringing by immigrant parents.
To learn how we're using that knowledge to take a healthier approach to life listen to season 2 episode 5 called inner critics.
Some podcasts apps don't list episode numbers so you can find it chronologically as the episode published April 6 2022.
[39:45] Well you know I think about the title of your book in the mei guo means beautiful country which means America so,
but in the book Anna seems to think that beautiful country is a bit of a misnomer for the America that she's seeing and experiencing so how do you feel like America has lived up to or failed that that name beautiful country.
[40:08] I think that I'm sitting here today able to have written a book which in some ways is such a middle class
thing right to be able to like have the time to write a book so I think I can say it's worked out pretty well for me
but I think I want to acknowledge that.
Doesn't work out well for everybody I think this really speaks to this concept also of the American dream that I know we've all heard about in various different ways as we've been growing up and
would love to get your take on what do you think of the American dream of the 80s and how does that.
Compared to what you see is today.
I think it's hard for me to speak more specifically for immigrants today because I do think that the laws are just so much more stringent but yeah I mean I think that
there has just always been such a longing for America
there's this phrase that popped into my head coming out of my Dad's mouth, "There's nothing more Chinese than the American dream."
[41:16] That is so true it remains to be seen right and 2022 and going forward.
Whether that's still going to be the case I think less so but yet here I am firmly in middle age that is what.
[41:31] I've lived in for most of my life and so I'm I'm sticking to that
I'm not going to be imitating anywhere when I'm 50 in many ways I think you're proof that the the dream paid off you know it was it's tough in the beginning but within a generation
yo your well ahead of your parents status I think that is the dream
and so it makes me think I'm wonder if you felt like your parents experiences and the US had changed versus if you had stayed and grew up in Taiwan do you feel like that has
going back again to this whole thing about having the privilege of being able to do the things that we want for my parents there was such a focus on
survival like when you think about Maslow's hierarchy of needs there was kind of a you know maybe like rent and savings and whatever and then
for me there's the ability to kind of have that top tier which is self-actualization.
Yeah and I think we think about it at the end of the day all of our parents probably whether they realize it or not is really that's that's what they wanted for us that's what they still want for us they did what they set out to do regardless of the path that they took,
it would have been hard to break out of the usual tracks in Taiwan I think because it's in Taiwan the.
[42:56] It's such a system and I only learned about cram school recently but that's very common in Asian countries because the academic system kind of forms.
A very clear definition of what is successful and it's very narrow whereas in America it feels like there are a lot more.
[43:18] Opportunities in paths to success and that I think ultimately is the dream is that your child be able to pick whatever they want to do.
[43:28] One of the things that I really wanted to talk with you about is the style of your book
because I don't think many people will know until they actually open it but it is not like other novels it's written I think it's in the descriptions it says it's written in verse
and so it looks like a poem.
Getting over like oh this is all so it'll be a very quick read because it there's fewer words on the page but why did you choose this writing style.
There's a book called Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai and I came across that book
and I basically just fell in love with the ways that
novel and verse can really get to the essence of a story really quickly you're basically jumping through a lot of different scenes you don't have to spend time with Exposition you don't have to spend time with
too much set up but you can just kind of with each poem.
Jump in to a scene or a thought and then be able to to get to the essence of it and then pull out quickly so yeah so I think.
Final draft that entire book is only about 22 thousand words which is about a third you know less of like.
[44:53] Typical middle grade novels but 50,000 words to 75,000 but I really felt like that.
Economy of language allowed me to get to the voice of the girl.
Which was the most important thing right and I were talking about this last night it wasn't so much that it was great to like be able to get through it faster it was more that we felt the emotion stronger.
[45:20] By having these fewer words rather than having a lot of a lot of words in a narrative that like.
Explains or rationalizes the things that are happening it's very observation this happened I felt this in.
There's no softening of it.
[45:39] It like really punches you in the face every other good away the punch in the face that it gives you is.
It drives home the point I think that you're trying to make in each and every,
chapter every verse because there isn't necessarily a resolution it shows that something can happen and then you have to move on.
[46:02] And I felt so accomplished because I was like oh my God I read this whole book in less than a week.
I don't really it should have taken me less than that but I'm a very slow reader it feels more stream-of-consciousness it feels more like the words that.
She would have thought at that age in that time in that way it feels more true especially because these are short sentences it actually feels more reflective of.
Someone with limited English skills.
In processing this at that time I don't know if you ever have a memory of like when you stopped thinking in Chinese and start thinking in English,
like did you have a distinct memory of ever thinking in Chinese when I reflect back on all of my memories.
[46:53] There narrated an English like my own thoughts there narrated an English even though of course they couldn't be but I guess that that's like one of the things that.
[47:04] Memory how memory Works they say sometimes that if I'm getting this correctly that when you keep revisiting a memory you're actually imprinting on.
A new memory onto that and so it's in some ways it's like the memories getting recreated.
As opposed to your revisiting the exact same memory yeah so there are some memories like for example in the book where she's,
harkening back to even before her father had left for the states she's writing on a motorcycle you know she's sandwiched between her father and her mother I distinctly remember having the memory of like everything is
fine in the world you know everything's going to be okay
of course I didn't know what okay was or I mean even that word okay because I was thinking this in Mandarin not English.
But the words are in English.
[47:57] But I found that the novel in verse form is just tremendously freeing for me I think because of that ability
not have to worry about complete sentences although most of the sections could be complete sentences and then just feeling like yeah if I wanted to only spend you know what is the equivalent of a paragraph
to describe Like A month's worth of time I can do that whereas if I want to describe something that happened in 10 seconds but I want to take a.
Two pages to do that I can do that
but then you know I was also a little embarrassed like oh my gosh I'm asking people to buy a whole book and it's only twenty two thousand words most of the sections are heavily massage I mean it was it was a lot of work I mean in terms of
all the words that I've written easily 120,000 words.
And then edited and edited and edited well it turned out beautifully I'm very curious is your second novel also inverse yes.
Ah my we look forward to it even more yes it's really effective yeah that's writing style.
[49:06] You talked about how you realize that by telling your story you're giving a gift
because you wrote this book as a gift to the girl and others like her so they might see their experience reflected on the page
especially wrote this book for anyone who's ever struggled to find their place in this vast beautiful world
so tell us more about what inspired this realization how did you how did you come to this my story is deeply personal.
[49:37] Right on one hand it's like okay I'm I wrote a story I'm trying to get people to buy my book but on the other hand it's like this is my life.
And I'm not just trying to make a buck there's less painful ways of like putting oneself out there but I again really felt like
this was a story that I wanted to give folks because I had come full circle again in terms of figuring out for myself how I felt about my childhood and all that my family had gone through I wanted to.
Be very specific in this story because I think that specificity really on one hand it's very true and honest and
like I had said previously about how this is like a love letter to Allah I love letter to 1980s but at the same time I also know that all the feelings that.
[50:30] The character experience like the loneliness that displacement the fear I think that it's very human and so on one hand.
[50:42] I don't think this book is just for me or Taiwanese Americans or Asian Americans I think it's like for anybody who's ever experienced those things,
and so so I'm hoping that even out of that that there will be just more empathy in the world you know I'm hoping that like.
Someday like maybe somebody will read this book and then they'll think twice when they go into a mom-and-pop.
Fast food place and how they behave or interact I'm hoping that like this will like touch hearts of folks that might be tempted to perpetuate like anti-asian violence but I'm also hoping that like.
Kids and adults will read it and really kind of see themselves in Anna even if they're thousands of miles away I think it is a gift to people who are going through the struggle but.
I think it's really important for my son my eight year old to read stories like this because
and I talked a lot about raising children in Silicon Valley if they're in a bubble there they have a lot of privilege and they grow up not even knowing a lot of the struggles that.
[51:52] Their family members went through but others in their Community other in their peers among their peers.
I think it's important for him to read stories like this because he'll.
[52:05] Get some empathy and he'll start to recognize that his experience is not the same as everybody else's experience.
[52:13] This has been an amazing conversation before we.
Finish up here definitely want to ask you as we ask all of our guests our signature closing question which is what do you think it means to be Taiwanese.
[52:26] I think it means to be for the people of Taiwan and to be for Taiwan.
That's just the simplest way that I can see I can say it I have been so embraced by Taiwanese folks and and really icy
I see the ways that being Taiwanese is just deeply integrated into who I am I just want.
Let's fast for Taiwan and for the Taiwanese people all right so
we're hearing that you have another novel in the works I think where can people find in the beautiful country and how can they get updates from you so that they can find out when your next novel also comes out.
[53:10] Yeah so the book releases on June 14 it's available pre-orders right now all the places
my website is my name so Janekuo.com and if you
if you go and check out the website there's a few photos of me like one at the store there's only a few and there's information
that will be uploaded I think in the coming weeks for just like book launch events that will be happening online as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area
I'm also like on Instagram Facebook and Twitter @Janekuowrites.
Thank you very much I so appreciate the ways that your passion project and your self-actualization has been such a benefit to the Taiwanese American community.
[54:09] I am so appreciative of people like Jane for telling these types of stories I mean so unfiltered and so raw and candid it really helps people like us any reader really feel seeing.
And also creates more empathy really because then other people who are reading this books who maybe don't necessarily see themselves reflected in this can at least start recognizing the variety of experiences of the people all around them
definitely expanded my my empathy and awareness and appreciation for that experience so when someone says they're a child of immigrants from Taiwan we can't assume that it's all the same thing but they're all like exactly like how we grew up
[54:52] Oh my God you know what we forgot to talk about even with all of our preparation she has an entire chapter dedicated to coaching side
I know and I it was so ridiculous that because I remember.
Very clearly when I read that part of the book I just like mind blown by like oh my God Angela I have to talk about this of course.
[55:17] So Countryside we talked at length about this in season 1 episode 9 which was a flavors of Taiwan basically our memories of food that we associate with Taiwan
like how it's our favorite vegetable and we always have to order it off menu.
[55:35] It's classified in the US as a noxious vegetable meaning like a weed that isn't allowed to be grown we translated to hollow heart vegetable because the stems of the vegetable are hollow inside the book is
translates it to empty heart vegetable I think it's an interesting translation because it's related to like.
[55:57] A dish that her Mom prepares for guests for guests who are also Taiwanese immigrants and those guests being really
I'd say cold to her family and and unwelcoming part of the reason that her family's experience here in America is so difficult so I thought it was a really interesting that she translated to empty heart
vegetable which is kind of symbolic for how those those yes
Hearts do you think it was about the guests or do you think it was about her family having empty Hearts my first thought was that it
was more about her and her family oh who knows what the reality is her intention because we forgot to ask her because I think I felt like
there are so burnt from trying to make this dream work and it was just this small most like putting a face right there trying to feed this to these fellow immigrants it's so empty
because you're so hot from this other stuff that's going on that this is like it looks like your harp there's nothing left oh that's that's heartbreaking.
[57:06] Well so the other thing right the title I thought was really interesting too and I had been thinking about it throughout this entire time it says in the beautiful country and you know she talked about how.
It was Meg wall which is it's the direct translation the words for America in Chinese honestly I never thought.
Ever about what Meg well actually meant.
[57:32] When I was growing up I didn't say I was actually proud because I was like oh thank goodness they called our country beautiful because like what are they just called it like.
Corn country or something like based on like what we grew or what was abundant country
well you are definitely more thoughtful than I ever was growing up because the first time that I ever thought about it was when Ronnie Chang.
Came out with this verse Netflix special which was what maybe a year ago where he does have a mention in there about the direct translation of what make well means,
that made me start thinking about how interesting it was that the name for our country is beautiful country and literally what did that end up.
Meaning for the immigrants who basically put all their hopes and dreams into coming to this beautiful country.
To fulfill their image really of what a beautiful country should and could be like.
[58:31] When you have these expectations that are so high.
[58:35] It means that it's gonna you have a lot of opportunity for missing that that expectation because it's set so high.
There's a lot of recognition that we live in.
A really privileged place not just because our country was called beautiful country but also is being in California and learning about the gold rush and people believing that a lot of wealth was stored literally in the land here and then.
Further like growing up around the growth of Silicon Valley that being like a whole nother kind of Gold Rush or people are.
Really looking at this place as a place to build wealth very quickly.
[59:20] Thanks so much for joining us for hearts and Taiwan make sure to check out our show notes in the episode description for links to all the things we share today.
[59:28] We would love to hear from you are diems are always open or you can email us at hello at hearts and Taiwan.com.
[59:35] Until then follow your curiosity and follow your heart.