When I first started giving book talks and signings for Southern Fried Rice, my focus was to inform my audience about the story of our family living as the only Chinese in our town. As I gave more presentations I became increasingly aware of unanticipated outcomes. Most audiences seemed very interested in my content, but I soon noticed that different aspects of my story appealed to different audience members. Some identified with the laundry experiences, others with the cultural isolation, and others with racial prejudice. Some identified more with my mother, others with my father, etc.
With older audiences of Chinese, many recalled similar experiences of their own and seemed to 'enjoy' reliving those experiences. They seemed to feel 'validated' by hearing me tell my story that was essentially "their" story as much as it was mine. With younger and with nonChinese audiences, many of the details were almost beyond their grasp as society has changed in so many ways since the 1940s, mostly for the better. Yet they seemed to benefit from learning from first-hand accounts about what life must have been like for many of their parents and grandparents.
I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity of audiences that found my story compelling. My story touched upon some universal concerns, which allowed me to connect with most audience members. Anyone who grew up in isolated regions understood my story whether they were Chinese, African, or European Americans.
And, even those who found little to identify with, seemed to gain a better recognition and respect for the difficult struggles that most immigrants face in their survival in a land foreign and often hostile to them.
The success of Southern Fried Rice encouraged me to explore and write four more books on other aspects of the Chinese experience in North America and gave me many additional opportunities to do book talks. Regardless of whether my topic has been Chinese laundries, grocery stores, or restaurants, I have found positive responses to the content in my presentations that go beyond reciting historical facts and details. Perhaps due to my psychology career, I focus on stories about individuals, and their families, that were engaged in surviving in these businesses under some rather difficult social and economic conditions.
Invariably, a large percentage of the audience at any talk consists of people who once owned such businesses or knew people who did. Thus, much of what I say in my talks is nothing they do not already know about. I think they feel some pride or vindication that they are receiving recognition for their hard work and struggles to support their families, both here and often in China as well.