By Douglas Yu
“The Chinese-American Dream,” featuring acclaimed author Anchee Min, took place May 23 as part of the Ford Hall Forum at Suffolk University. Elif Armbruster， associate professor of English at Suffolk University, hosted the presentation. Min talked about her book “The Cooked Seed,” based on her traumatic memories of the Cultural Revolution, arriving in America and having her first child.
When a seed is cooked, it doesn’t sprout. People can hardly grow in a land where they are repressed, have their hands tied behind their backs and are forced to keep their mouths shut.
Min came to the United States in 1980s with a help of a friend. When she first arrived, she could barely put two words together in English.
“At 17 years old, I was sent to a labor camp near the East China Sea,” she said. “I worked there for three years before being cast in a [Maoist] propaganda film.” She was labeled a political outcast when the film came out, since Mao died before it was released.
Min said that she did not know America well enough to make any judgments in her first few years. When asked what made her to wait 30 years to commit her memories to paper, she said, “I’m haunted by my past. After all these years, I think it’s enough for me to judge America.”
As a saying goes, distance creates beauty. Min repurposed her dark memories by weaving history, family and childhood together with courage and pain.
“Once I developed distance from my motherland, I started thinking about what I could get from my past and what I can contribute to America,” Min said.
Having been “tao tai” or cast out by society in China, Min said she put all her hope in surviving on $500 in her 20s.
Min endured rape, poverty and loneliness for years after she arrived in the United States. “I was working at a porn video store and those videos were my boyfriends for many years,” Min said. “I was so lonely on Christmas, Thanksgiving. But there was nobody that I could talk to.”
Min compared herself to a hunted animal, trying desperately to survive. “Have you seen a deer get caught?” she asked. “It jumps 20 feet when it’s caught.”
Min also talked about her daughter, as she did not want a girl. “I don’t want my daughter to mirror my life. When she was 16 years old, my daughter said to me, ‘I feel broken inside,’” Min said.
Min recalled how her daughter envied her inner-city peers at grade school and complained why she did not have stuffed animals, her own room and a computer. “My daughter would say, ‘Mom, I just want a normal American childhood.’”
A graduate student from Emerson College, Luke Jones, asked Min if she thought she represented the Asian-American community at large. Min replied that her book was about her individual experience, rather than Asian Americans as a collective whole. “If I want to publish my story, I just need to present it with authenticity and originality,” she said.
Min said her book is banned in China, but she appreciates how American society values everyone as a human. America gave Min and her daughter the confidence to right the wrongs in their lives.
Min published her debut novel “Red Azalea” in 1994. “The Cooked Seed” is her second memoir. She also published six novels, including “Becoming Madame Mao” and “Pearl of China.”
This post is also available in: Chinese